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Sensory Bin for Play-Based Learning

Sensory bin activities engage a child's senses and enhance learning. Follow the steps below to make a sensory bin that encourages exploration and growth.

Sensory Bin for Play-Based Learning

Sensory Bin for Play-Based Learning

Sensory exploration plays a pivotal role in a child's development and there's no better tool to stimulate their senses and ignite their curiosity than a sensory bin. These simple yet captivating containers filled with various materials provide endless opportunities for learning and discovery. From the squishiness of play dough to the smoothness of sand, sensory bins engage children in hands-on experiences that promote cognitive, physical, and social-emotional growth.

In this article, we’ll elaborate on everything you need to know about sensory bins, including their main benefits and instructions on how to make them.

Sensory bin for preschoolersSource

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is any container like a plastic tub, box, tray, or bucket filled with materials to stimulate a child’s senses. Sensory bins vary in size; however, the most critical considerations are choosing a large enough container and child-friendly sensory play materials.

Sensory bin play activities are an excellent way to introduce children to different textures for exploration. A sensory bin can contain one or different filler varieties. What you decide depends on your goal. Examples of filler materials to include in a sensory bin include:

  • Colored rice
  • Water
  • Snow
  • Birdseed
  • Craft sand
  • Shredded paper
  • Water beads
  • Dry pasta 
  • Ice
  • Mud
  • Rocks
  • Marbles
  • Dry beans

Why is a sensory bin important?

A sensory bin is a great way to introduce sensory play, allowing children to explore objects and develop sensory skills through tactile play. They also promote the development of other crucial skills for a child’s development. 

The best part is that they have unlimited use. You can use sensory bins at home or school to promote child development. Below we explore more benefits of sensory bins.

Facilitates sensory exploration

A sensory bin allows preschoolers to explore and develop their primary senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. This technique works since sensory bins can stimulate multiple senses simultaneously. 

You should consider filling a sensory tub with all types of filler objects of different textures. It helps children understand that objects can be smooth, rough, warm, or cold. 

Promotes body awareness

Body awareness is crucial for self-regulation. Sensory bin play activities allow children to know how different body parts like limbs, eyes, and ears relate. They also need self-regulation skills to control emotions and maintain a steady balance.

For example, sensory play activities are calming and excellent for regulating a child’s emotions. Try different sensory play activities to find what calms your children when their emotions are high.

Supports learning and language development

Sensory bin play activities support learning and language development by stimulating multiple senses simultaneously. With a multisensory learning approach, children are engaging multiple senses and several different brain regions as they are learning, allowing them to build connections in the brain that help them retain information.  

Learning through sensory play is descriptive and provides many opportunities for children to learn new concepts and vocabulary words in a hands-on way. For example, sensory bin activities can help teach concepts like “empty and full”, “up and down”, “sort and pour”, or “above and below”. 

Fosters motor skills development

Motor skills are crucial for a child's physical strength and movement. Children use motor skills to crawl, run, walk, jump, eat, write, or draw. There are two types of motor skills: fine and gross motor skills.

Fine motor skills involve small muscle movements and are responsible for writing, drawing, zipping, and unzipping. On the other hand, gross motor skills involve large muscle movements and are responsible for walking, running, or jumping.

Sensory bin play activities are one way to promote motor skills development. For example, playing with mud, play dough, or rice in a sensory bin helps develop fine motor skills. Also, moving from one sensory bin station to another helps develop motor skills since children mostly explore through hands-on activities.

Aids math skills

In preschool, children are exposed to early math concepts like counting, sorting, volume, and shapes. A sensory bin aids math skills development as children play with different filler materials.

For example, they can practice counting by adding things like marbles to a bin. They can also learn about sorting and volume by separating similarly shaped objects and filling or emptying a sensory bin.

Encourages social skills development 

Social skills set the foundation for how children relate with their peers at school, siblings, educators, and caregivers. Sensory bin activities promote social skills development in many ways. 

These activities teach children how to take turns and work as a team, especially when playing with peers or siblings. They also learn how to coexist peacefully and respond to social situations.

Supports cognitive development

Sensory bin play activities for toddlers and preschoolers promote cognitive development. Some activities, like sorting objects, require problem-solving skills since the child has to identify similarities and differences to separate similar objects.

For example, you can ask them to sort out objects based on color or shape. This exercise stimulates their mind, helping to develop it further.

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Types of sensory bin activities

There are two primary types of sensory bin activities: wet and dry sensory bin activities. The type of sensory bin activity determines what fillers you use. Wet sensory bin activities use wet or sticky fillers, while dry sensory bin activities use dry fillers.

Wet sensory bin play activities use the following fillers:


On the other hand, dry sensory bin play activities use the following filters:

  • Gardening soil
  • Beads
  • Corn meal
  • Sand
  • Dry pasta
  • Dry beans
  • Dry rice

How to make a sensory bin

Making a sensory bin is fun, easy, and affordable since you can use materials you already have in your classroom or home. It’s more exciting when you involve the children in making one. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to make a sensory bin.

Step 1: Choose a sensory bin container 

You can use a variety of containers like boxes, trays, or buckets. The size of the container will depend on the number of children playing with the bin and your learning objectives.

Step 2: Pick a theme 

Consider a theme your children are passionate about as this will make them more engaged in the learning process.

Step 3: Choose sensory bin fillers

Sensory bin fillers are also known as base materials. These can be relevant to your preferred theme and be interesting to look at and touch. This way, children are engaged while playing.

The most common sensory bin fillers are:

  • Dry rice
  • Dry pasta 
  • Dry beans or lentils
  • Oatmeal
  • Mud
  • Sand
  • Water beads
  • Aquarium stones
  • Shaving cream

Step 4: Add more fun tools and objects

Adding tools, toys, and other child-friendly objects to the sensory bin makes the play more interesting. Examples of tools and objects you can add to a sensory bin include:

  • Natural materials like leaves, sticks, stones, pinecones, and sea shells
  • Tools like tweezers, tongs, scoops, and small spoons
  • Toys like dinosaurs, turtles, cars, fish, and snails

Sensory bin ideas

To support holistic development, consider dry and wet sensory bin ideas. Below are five different sensory bin ideas to help you get started.  

Dinosaur sensory bin

A dinosaur sensory bin is a messy sensory play activity full of fun. You’ll need:

  • Plastic bin
  • Sand
  • Plastic dinosaurs and trees
  • River rocks
  • Scoopers

Fill the plastic bin with sand. Arrange the rocks and plastic trees around the bin. Add the toy dinosaurs. Children can sort or count the dinosaurs or make dinosaur tracks in the sand. They can also try burying the dinosaurs and digging them out with the scoopers.

plastic dinosaurs and trees on sandSource

Dishwashing sensory bin

For this activity, you’ll need:

  • Plastic container
  • Dish soap
  • Plastic dishes, cups, utensils
  • Scrub brush

Lay a beach towel on the floor. Fill the plastic container with warm water and dish soap. Stir to make soapy water. Place the container on top of the beach towel to catch any water spills. Add the dishes, cups, utensils, and scrub brush. Let the children play and splash in the water and “wash” the dishes!

a child pretending to wash dishes in a plastic bin of soapy waterSource

Weather sensory bin

This is a great sensory bin for preschool and can be paired with other activities focused on the weather theme. You’ll need:

  • Dyed blue and white rice
  • Large cotton balls (for clouds)
  • Small white/silver poms (for snow)
  • Medium blue poms (for rain)
  • Wooden craft sun
  • Wooden craft rainbow
  • Golden pipe cleaners (bent for lightening)
  • Plastic bin

To dye jasmine rice blue, fill a gallon plastic ziploc bag with rice and a few drops of blue food coloring. Seal the bag and shake around to coat the rice with the dye. Open the bag and allow the rice to air dry for 10 minutes before pouring into the plastic bin. Add the cotton balls, poms, pipe cleaners, wooden craft sun, and rainbow to your bin.

weather sensory bin with rice, cotton balls and pipe cleanersSource

Shaving cream sensory bin

A shaving cream sensory bin is budget-friendly and easy to make. You’ll need:

  • Shaving cream
  • Pool noodles
  • Large tub

Cut different colored pool noodles into slices and place in a large tub or container. Fill the tub with shaving cream and mix the noodle slices around. Have children sort or count the noodle slices or stack them into a tower. 

child playing in a shaving cream sensory binSource

Car-themed sensory bin

You’ll need the following materials:

  • Black beans
  • Yellow straws
  • Scissors
  • Red, green and yellow pom poms
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Toy cars
  • Plastic bin

Pour dry black beans into a plastic container or bin. Cut up the yellow straws and place them in the bins to represent lines on a road. Add red, yellow, and green pom poms to look like traffic lights. Stick toilet paper rolls into the beans and add the toy cars!

car sensory bin with black beans and toy carsSource

These five sensory bin ideas are enough to get you started. Other sensory bin ideas you may consider include:

Sensory bin play rules

Sensory bins for toddlers and preschoolers have many benefits and are a great way to incorporate a fun, hands-on activity into daily learning. But before you get started, there are some ground rules to keep in mind. Here are some sensory bin play rules to familiarize yourself with:

  • Be wary of choking hazards.
  • Check sensory items' shelf-life to ensure you don’t use expired materials.
  • Focus on the sensory bin activities that children love and enjoy.
  • Have towels nearby, especially when indulging in messy sensory bin activities. The children can use the towels to wipe off their hands when they’re done playing.

Wrapping up

sensory bins are a powerful tool that ignites a child's imagination, curiosity, and learning potential. By engaging their senses, these bins provide children with valuable hands-on experiences that promote cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development.

From exploring different textures to enhancing fine motor skills, sensory bins offer endless opportunities for growth and discovery. Incorporating sensory bins into early childhood education not only makes learning fun, but also fosters a lifelong love for exploration and creativity.

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