The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins - Intentional By Grace

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins {100+ ideas to get you started!}

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins - Intentional By Grace
I love sensory bins. A new sensory bin usually warrants thirty minutes of (relatively) quiet play from my boys, and that is a blessing to any mama, right?

I often share pictures of what we’re doing in our home preschool or during intentional toddler time on Instagram. It never fails that after I post a picture of a sensory bin or messy play activity, I get a load of questions about sensory bins.

  • What are they?
  • How do you use them?
  • Where do you store your materials?
  • And more!

After the 100th time I was asked about them, I decided to just write a post. I’m calling this the Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins because I hope to answer all of your questions so you, too, can create fun sensory bins for your little ones.

Therefore, be warned! This post is long. It is full of information, resources, and help to guide you through creating and using sensory bins. I wanted to be as thorough as possible and truly make this a valuable resource for you.

So let’s get started!

sensory bin together

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is usually a small tub or bin filled with materials that will stimulate the senses of your child. Ideally, the sensory bin will allow for exploration of all five senses, but that’s not always the case or even necessary. Often times a sensory bin will have a theme, but that, too, is not necessary or always the case.

Personally, I enjoy themed sensory bins because I think it adds an extra layer of learning. Not to mention, they are easy to put together.

The only rule of a sensory bin is that the contents stay inside (or near) the bin. The play is corralled to one location, which makes it easy to clean up and pull out again later.

Cars Sensory Bin

Why should I use sensory bins?

Sensory bins help your child retain information

Children, as well as adults, learn best and retain more information when they can engage their senses.

Think about it for a second. What are some of your favorite memories?

When I smell cotton, I always think of crawling into the bed at my grandmother’s house and slipping into the cool, clean sheets. Her sheets were always so soft and smelled of fresh cotton. Additionally, the color white or Spring weather takes me back to those sheets and those memories as well.

Why? Because my senses were full engaged. I learned and retained the information because multiple senses were involved.

The same thing goes for our children as they explore their world. Sensory bins are a great way to help our children retain what they learn because they are fully engaged with multiple senses.

goodnight moon sensory bin

Sensory bins introduce new topics or subjects to your child

In addition, sensory bins are a great way to introduce new topics or subjects to your children. This is why thematic sensory bins are so fun.

By filling a bin full of materials that bring a book to life, or introduce a new color scheme to your baby, or create an atmosphere of controlled messy play you are creating a wonderful creative outlet for your child.

Plus sensory bins are open-ended play, which means the children can explore to their hearts’ content.

Sensory bins can be calming and therapeutic for your child

I like to pull the sensory bins out in the afternoon when my children are wired and worn out. They’ve been playing hard all day, and a sensory bin always helps to calm and soothe them.

I’ve found this particularly helpful for my oldest boy. He’s more easily over-stimulated. Loud noises bother him and he can get sensory overload if he’s not given enough time to decompress. He comes by this rightfully as I’m a highly sensitive person.

Sensory bins are soothing for him.

brothers sensory

Sensory bins make teaching multiples easier

Now that I have two children to teach and play with each day, I’ve found sensory bins to be the answer to my teaching conundrum.

My oldest loves school time, but with a little toddler who can’t sit still to read a single book, I was struggling to figure out how to feed the need of my oldest while accommodating my youngest as well.

Sensory bins help me to engage both of them right where they are at. We can work on sorting, counting, and fine motor skills together while they each explore in their own way. I can practice counting by two’s with my oldest as we sort buttons into colored containers, which teaches my youngest color recognition.

Plus they learn to play together, which is great at building social skills. Sharing, taking turns, and being patient are only a few things we get to work on each day.

Sensory bins can be a creative outlet for you

Creating sensory bins is a great creative outlet for me, as well as for my children when they get their hands on what I created for them.

We were made by God to be creators of beauty. We are made in His image after all. Therefore, I’ve found sensory bins to be one way I can create in my home for the benefit of my family.

This may not be the case for everyone, but I wanted to be sure to mention it because for me it is a fun creative outlet.

A simple birthday sensory bin idea!

How do I make a sensory bin?

Sensory bins can be as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be.

However, they all follow a general rule of thumb. You fill a container with a base material, provide tools for exploring, and add any fun extras you can think of.

The base is the bulk of the bin, and the possibilities are endless.

Here are some ideas for the base:

  • rice
  • popcorn
  • dried beans
  • dried lentils
  • jewels
  • buttons
  • rocks
  • shredded paper
  • pom poms
  • pasta (dried or cooked)
  • oats
  • sand
  • water
  • water beads
  • mud
  • cornmeal
  • shaving cream
  • cotton balls
  • fish rocks
  • lids

pond life sensory sink

The tools are the materials your child will use to engage with the contents of the bin.

Think: scoop, sort, pour, mix, etc.

Here are some ideas for tools:

  • tongs
  • spoons
  • scoops
  • bowls
  • cups
  • egg carton
  • cupcake liners
  • muffin tin
  • ice cube trays
  • piggy bank
  • funnels
  • droppers
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • small mirrors

The fun extras are the icing on the cake for you and your child.

This is where you can get really creative! What’s fun about the extras is that anything goes! This is when you can really fit the bin to your child’s interest and needs.

Here are some ideas of extras to add to your bin:

  • Feathers
  • Puzzle pieces
  • Letter magnets (or any magnets)
  • Toy animals
  • Musical instruments
  • Christmas bows
  • Pom poms
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Stir sticks
  • Balls
  • Jello packets (added to water for color and smell)
  • Essential oils (like lavender)


Where do I find materials for my sensory bins?

You can find materials for your sensory bins just about anywhere! Whenever I’m out and about, I keep the idea of sensory bins tucked into my mind.

Here are some places I’ve found my sensory materials:

  • Dollar Tree
  • Clearance aisles at Target, Wal-Mart, etc.
  • Craft section at any store
  • Thrift stores
  • Garage sales
  • Zulily
  • Amazon

Don’t forget to shop your own home!

sorting hard soft

How do I use a sensory bin to teach my child?

Sensory bins are great for independent play (with you supervising, of course), but it’s also a great time get on the floor and play with your children.

I usually let my children explore the contents of the bin for as long as they like while I observe close by. Once I notice their attention has begun to wane a bit, I’ll get on the floor and prolong the learning time by asking them questions and guiding them through some early learning skills activities.

Here’s some questions I might ask:

  • Can you sort these into piles of hard objects and soft objects?
  • What sound did that marble make when you dropped it into the tin can?
  • Can you put all the blue objects in the blue bowl?
  • Can you count how many feathers are in the bin?
  • How many blocks can you stack before they fall?
  • Can you tell me what comes next in this pattern? Feather, button, feather, button … what comes next?
  • What word can you think of to rhyme with ball?
  • Can you tell me a story about the items in the bin?
  • What letters can you make with these stir sticks?
  • Does that feel sticky or slimy?
  • What do you smell?
  • I spy _______. Can you find it?

Just think about what your child is naturally interested in at the time, or what early learning skills you want to develop, and gear your questions and play toward teaching those skills.

sensory bin mess

How do you contain the mess?

I don’t care about mess. The more messes my children make the happier I am. Why? Because they are happy, and it’s really just selfishness of my own to not want to deal with a “mess.”

Mamas, lighten up. Okay? It’s just a mess. It cleans up quickly. Most of the time, it takes just 5 minutes to clean up. It feels like it will take a lot longer. Mess is outside our comfort zones. But it never takes that long to clean up. So, look past the mess. Look at your kid’s face and see that smile. Let it go. Okay? Just let it go. 😉

There now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Let me help you with a few tips for containing the mess!

1. Put down a mess mat or cloth

I always put a white sheet under my children when they are playing with their sensory bin. They are instructed to keep the items of the bin on the white cloth.

If the materials are wet, then I’ll either set them up outside, put them in the bath tub, or lay out towels under the cloth.

sensory bin

2. Give clear instructions and expectations for behavior

Like I said above, my children are instructed to keep the materials on the white cloth (or whatever my mess containment method is at the time).

The minute they disobey, I give them a solemn warning that this is their only chance to correct the behavior. If they cannot keep the items on the sheet, they will not get to play with the bin.

Most of the time, a warning is all that it takes for my children. They love their sensory bins.

However, if they disobey again, I calmly ask them to help me put the materials away, and we put the sensory bin away entirely for the rest of the day. They lost their privilege to play with the sensory bin.

I can only think of one time this happened. It actually happened just the other day. I was sad because I lost my time to knock out a task on the computer, but it was worth it because the next day we talked about behavior before setting up our sensory bin again. This time, they followed directions and played for half an hour without interruption.

foam sensory

3. Choose the correct bin

One problem many moms mention is that their child will instantly dump the contents of the bin the minute it is placed in front of them.

Understandable! Especially for a young child who is still in the dump and fill stage.

The above picture is an example of a bad choice for containers! It took my little one .5 seconds to dump this fun water bin out. My oldest was devastated.

Training is key and patience on your part as you teach the correct behavior, but also choosing the correct bin size can help.

I have found that larger bins that are heavier for my child means he plays with what is inside the bin rather than trying to dump it out the second I turn him loose. The harder it is to pick up the less likely it will be that your child will instantly dump the bin.

How often do you do sensory bins?

I try to create a thematic sensory bin each week, and then I keep one or two extras put together to pull out as well. This means we have about three sensory bins I can rotate through each week.

However, life happens and sometimes we’ll go weeks without doing any sort of sensory bin or sensory activity. Therefore, my rule of thumb is do them as often as you and your children are enjoying them.

How do I store my sensory materials?

Storing sensory materials can get frustrating. When you obtain a good collection of materials, it can get overwhelming.

I store my materials individually in various ways.

ikea storage for manipulatives

Some materials like my pom poms, beans, and stir sticks, I put in glass jars and store on a shelf. They become decorations when they aren’t in use!

sensory pom pom

Other materials I store in plastic bins (pictured above) that I snagged at the Dollar Tree one day. I love these little bins! I will stack them on the shelf beside my jars or store in a closet.

closet storage

Finally, materials that just don’t make great decorating fun, I store in plastic bags. I keep them in a storage container in the closet that I can pull out and dig through when it’s time to put a new sensory bin together.

Why can I not just send my children outside?

As I think back over my childhood, many of my favorite memories are playing out of doors. My brother and I rarely played indoors even if it was raining outside.

I’d like to think my children have just as much time out of doors as I did, but it’s not true. There are varying reasons why they don’t, one of which is that we live where there is snow for two thirds of the year (thankfully we’re moving soon!).

Intentional Toddler Time 20.5 Outside

During the summer months, my children are outside digging and shoveling and exploring nature just as I remember doing as a child. However, we can’t deny that our world has changed drastically since we were children. Don’t believe me? Look at the top 50 toys over the last 100 years. It’s shocking!

As a whole, our children spend far less time playing than ever before. What, with all the organized activities, church events, etc., and not to mention, there’s little time for open ended play when we’re at home because we’re bombarded with electronics and cartoon network.

messy play sensory

I admit, it’s far easier to hand my kid the iPad for some learning games than it is to set up a sensory bin for him. However, my husband and I work hard to protect our children’s play time.

As a culture, it’s easy to get bombarded and let open-ended play time for our children slip by as we worry about whether they’re reading by age three, holding a pencil correctly by age two, and counting to 100 by age four or even involved in dance, music, and t-ball each and every week.

Yes, I’m being a little dramatic, but I think the point remains – our times have changed and this means open-ended play time is decreasing for our children unless we, as parents, do something about it.

So, by all means, send your children outside to play! Sensory bins are a supplement for our family. One that allows me to continually engage my children’s senses and exploration even when I can’t send them outside.

apple oat sensory

When we’re inside, sensory bins replace TV time, iPad time, or even drilling academics (although my oldest son has a high need for “school time”). It’s a fun way to play with my children or let them play alone while I supervise from my perch of laundry.

Sensory bins are my way of ensuring that my children are getting ample opportunities for open-ended play. However, if I’m able, I send my children outside to play too!

Now here are 100+ ideas to get you started with sensory bins of your own!

Holidays (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace


Valentine’s Sensory Soup @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Find the Hearts Valentine’s Sensory Bin @ Gift of Curiosity

Valentine’s Sensory Box @ Learning and Exploring through Play

My Valentine’s Sensory Box @ Our Daily Craft

St. Patrick’s Day Bin @ Golden Reflections Blog

St. Patrick’s Day Jello Pot of Gold Sensory Activity @ Mommy’s Bundle

Sensory for St. Patrick’s Day @ Our Daily Craft

Easter Discovery Bucket @ Our Daily Craft

4th of July Sensory Bin @ Gift of Curiosity

Halloween Sensory Bin @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Halloween {Black Bean} Sensory Bin @ Cutting Tiny Bites

Thanksgiving Sensory Bin @ Still Playing School

Christmas Bin @ Intentional by Grace

Christmas Sensory Bin @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Christmas Sensory Bin Take 2 @ Learning and Exploring though Play

{All Natural} Christmas Sensory Bin @ Cutting Tiny Bites

Seasons (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace


Sparkle Snow @ Growing a Jeweled Rose

Winter Wonderland Sensory Bin @ The Chaos and the Clutter

Winter {Epsom Salt} Sensory Bin @ Cutting Tiny Bites

Wintery Sensory Bin @ My Mundane and Miraculous Life

Frozen Winter Sensory Bin @ Learning 2 Walk

3-in-1 Spring Sensory Tub @ Building Blocks and Acorns

Spring Sensory Box @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Summer Luau Sensory Bin @ Excite and Explore

Tropical Fruits Sensory Rice @ Kids Play Box

Fall on the Farm Sensory Bin @ Gift of Curiosity

Fall Sensory Box @ Cutting Tiny Bites

Autumn Theme Bin @ Intentional by Grace

Autumn Leaf Fine Motor & Sensory Play @ My Mundane and Miraculous Life

Cinnamon Scented Fall Colored Rice Sensory Bins @ Mom vs. The Boys

Water Based Bins (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Water Based Bins

Calming Lavender Sensory Bin @ The Chaos and the Clutter

Water Kit @ Smarter Each Day

Gelibaff Goo! @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Winter Soup @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Snowflake Soup @ Learning and Exploring through Play

Pool Noodle Boats Water Sensory Bin @ Frogs Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Googly Eye Soup  @ Fun at Home with Kids

Rainbow Stone Sensory Soup @ And Next Comes L

Foamy Sensory Bin @ Craftulate

Letters, Numbers, Shapes and Colors (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Letters, Numbers, Shapes, & Colors

Shape Themed Bin @ Intentional by Grace

Hide and Seek Alphabet Puzzle @ I Can Teach my Child

Rainbow Tactile Sensory Bin @ In the Playroom

Matching Pairs Hide and Seek @ The Imagination Tree

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Alphabet Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Birthday Bin @ Intentional by Grace

Simple Affordable Sensory Table @ Mama Smiles

Magnets, Measuring and More @ Mama Smiles

Rainy Day Sensory Treasure Hunt @ Beauty through Imperfection

Rainy Day Sensory Bin @ Cutting Tiny Bites

Cloud Dough Sensory Word Hunt {Letter X} @ In the Playroom

Ice Cream Sensory Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Number Cereal Sensory Bin @ Adventures of Adam

Children's Books (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Children’s Books

Goodnight Moon Bin @ Intentional by Grace

History Sensory Bin @ The Chaos and the Clutter

The Snowy Day: Fizzy “Snow” Painting @ Intentional by Grace

Jack and the Beanstalk Sensory Tub @ Building Blocks & Acorns

Little Red Riding Hood Sensory Small World @ Learning and Exploring through Play

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Sensory Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs @ I Can Teach My Child

Ten Apples Up on Top @ Little Bins for Little Hands

Climates, Habitats and Nature Themes (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Climates, Habitats & Nature Themes

Ocean Themed Sensory Bin  @ Intentional by Grace (My FIRST ever sensory bin!)

Sea Side Sensory Bin @ The Chaos and the Clutter

Arctic Sensory Bin @ Life Lesson Plans

Dinosaur Small World Sensory Tub @ Building Blocks & Acorns

Dinosaur Swamp Sensory Bin Activity @ Mommy’s Bundle

Beach in a Bin: Small World Sensory Play @ Mommy’s Bundle

Nutrition Sensory Bin @ the Chaos and the Clutter

Gardening” @ Smarter Each Day

Sensory Bin with Sticks @ Danya Banya

Frog Sensory Bin @ The Chaos and the Clutter

Ocean Sensory Play @ My Nearest and Dearest

Quick Set up Sensory Play @ Teach Me Mommy

Bird Themed Sensory Bin @ My Nearest and Dearest

Chicken Sensory Bin @ Best Toys 4 Toddlers

Gardening Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Sensory Play with Whole Spices and Beans @ My Nearest and Dearest

{Bubbly} Marine Life Sensory Bin @ Parenting Chaos

Under the Sea Sensory Tub @ Building Blocks & Acorns

Ladybug Sensory Bin @ Gift of Curiosity

Fragments of a Fairy Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Space Sensory Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Neon Space Sensory Bin @ Adventures of Adam

Toddlers and Fine Motor Skills (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Toddlers & Fine Motor Skills

Colander and Pipe Cleaners @ Smarter Each Day

Magnets, Measuring and More @ Mama Smiles

Ice Cream Scooper” @ Smarter Each Day

Rice and Cups @ Smarter Each Day

Ziti to String on Pipe Cleaners @ Smarter Each Day

Coffee Bean Sensory Play @ My Nearest and Dearest

Magnet Sensory Bin @ Gift of Curiosity

Boys, Messes and Dirt (The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins) - Intentional By Grace

Boys, Messes & Dirt

Sand and Diggers @ Smarter Each Day

Super Sensory Play Sludge @ Picklebums

Construction Bin using Dried Beans  @ Modern Parents Messy Kids

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles @ Intentional by Grace

Rainy Day Shaving Cream Art @ Beauty through Imperfection

Car Wash Sensory Bin @ My Mundane and Miraculous Life

Cloud Dough Sensory Word Hunt {Letter X} @ In the Playroom

Fizzy “Snow” Painting @ Intentional by Grace

Dinosaurs and Chocolate Cloud Dough @ In the Playroom

On the Farm Small World Sensory Bin @ In the Playroom

Creepy Crawlies Sensory Bin @ Learning 2 Walk

Gardening Bin @ Rubberboots and Elf Shoes

Dirt and Worms Sensory Play @ Growing a Jeweled Rose

Wow! Okay. That was a lot of information about sensory bins! I hope you found it helpful.

Feel free to ask questions in the comment section and don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest. I’m constantly on the look out for new sensory bin ideas!

Follow Leigh Ann @ Intentional By Grace’s board Sensory Activities on Pinterest.

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing all this with us. I was looking into sensory bins and games for a while. Your post is so helpful. Thanks again, I know how difficult can be write a post like this with the little ones.

  2. This is an amazing post! Thanks so much for so many inspiring ideas! I was doing some activity planning for my daughter and came across your post. I’m headed out shopping first thing tomorrow! 🙂