Sensory Bins: Explore!

We love exploring sensory bins, bags and bottles in our home! Creating these simple sensory experiences for your children (or with them) is an equally satisfying experience. I’ve shared some sensory bin ideas below, in hopes it inspires you to give it a try!

Sensory Bin Basics

Simply put, a sensory bin is a container filled with items that provoke a tactile experience and stimulates all the senses. Babies and young children naturally seek out these sensory experiences to understand the world around them.

They get a chance to explore, discover and test out materials/ideas. My favorite part of sensory play is that there is no right or wrong way to do it! Cheers to open-ended play!

There are so many benefits of sensory play experiences, but I’ll list a few:

  • Helps build nerve connections in the brain
  • Supports language development
  • Encourages motor skills
  • Promotes problem solving (scientific thinking)
  • Supports creativity (by being an open-ended play experience)

The most fun comes when we can pair observations of our child (& their interests) with an intentionally created sensory bin. I’ve shared below how to make a sensory bin from my infant’s interests, as an example.

Infant Observation: I noticed that my 8 month old baby really enjoys grasping hard objects and hitting them together. He also loves grabbing for peoples zippers, necklaces and drawstrings.

Sensory Bin Idea: An easy sensory bin would be a handful of wooden teething rings mixed with a variety of fold over elastic strips. I’ve added the silky textured ones and the glittery (rough) looking ones!

Making the Bins: What do I need to get started?

An imagination! Most of the time you already have all the “ingredients” for an amazing sensory bin in your home.

At home, I help my children, sort of, “train” for these sensory bin experiences.  What I mean by this is, we start small and simple. After sensory bottles and bags have been experienced, we’ll work up to a more traditional sensory bin. I use a giant drop cloth (a waterproof-type fabric tablecloth) on the ground, especially when it’s their first experiences.

I might even add a baking sheet or low tray underneath the bin. Having a small dustpan and brush nearby is also helpful.  I found that my daughter got a lot of enjoyment from being able to tidy up her own spills.

One of my daughter’s favorite beginner bins was a dollar store dish bin filled with rice and seashells. and placed the container in the middle. I added a couple of stainless steel cups as I saw her interest in dumping heighten.

Inspirations: Things to Help Your Creativity Flow

Books: Is there a book your child is loving right now? See if you can connect the sensory bin contents with the book!

Seasons: Does your child notice the Autumn leaves on walks? Collect some crunchy leaves with them and add to a sensory bin!

Cooking: Does your child love to chop food with you? Playdough and wooden knives/cooking tools could be a great way to give them extra practice!

Buried Treasures: “Hide” some novelty-type toys/materials (glittery foam stickers/big coins/sea shells) inside the filler of your choice. Older children? Create a challenge around finding and sorting the “treasures” found!

Container Ideas:

  • Dish bin
  • Round Trays
  • baking pan
  • storage tub
  • Utensil Tray (with several compartments)
  • Empty train/lego table (take top off and use the inside for the bin! Great for infants that are wanting to stand too)

Non-Food “Filler” Ideas

  • Water (you could add food coloring to this too!)
  • Water beads
  • Ice/Snow
  • Playdough
  • Shredded Paper
  • Stones
  • Shaving Cream
  • Dirt (try some “chocolate cloud dough” if you’re not comfortable with real dirt)
  • Seashells
  • Crepe paper/tissue paper
  • Fabric Remnants (check out other ways to use these in this past post on NNM.)
  • Ribbons

“Food” Filler Ideas

(I do want to point out that using actual food in play is something that some prefer to avoid, since it can be seen as a waste. Always go with your gut when selecting items to see if it is aligned with your family values.)

  • Cornmeal
  • Oobleck (cornstarch and water mixture)
  • Rice (black/white/wild; lots of variations out there!)
  • Lentils
  • Beans (Again, lots of varieties and colors to pick from)
  • Seeds
  • Dry Noodles
  • Corn kernels
  • Oats (uncooked)
  • Birdseed

Other items to consider adding to your bins!

  • Egg cartons
  • Plastic food inserts (ie. from a cookie container or box of chocolates)
  • Acrylic lipstick organizers
  • Funnels
  • Kitchen cooking tools

Things to Consider..

Always trust your gut. If you feel uneasy with a certain filler, skip it! Find something that you are comfortable with hem exploring in a handful of ways. Always ask yourself if the setup is one that requires supervision or is one that appears to be safe for you to leave and rejoin later on.

Start small and Keep it Simple: Consider having a bin set out for the week and tweaking it with modifications (adding tools/changing the filler/setting on table vs. floor etc)

Get Messy! This is a very difficult step for a lot of people! Try to figure out what you can do to feel comfortable having these types of play available to your children.

It might mean, encouraging and supporting your children in independently tidying up spills or it might look like setting these bins up outside/on a big blanket/setting some basic rules.

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