Sensory Bin: A Smart Addition to Any Home or Daycare


Are you looking for a simple, inexpensive, creative, and educationally rich activity for young children? Sensory bins help children develop a wide variety of important skills as they do what children do best: play!

Young children practice manners and social skills as they wait their turn for tools and ask politely for what they want. They develop fine motor skills by pincer grasping, manipulating, and handling bin objects. Scientific thinking is fostered as children notice, search for, and sort items by physical attributes. Counting and comparing amounts encourage basic math skills. Depending on what a sensory bin is filled with, early reading and phonics concepts can be introduced, as well. Setting all educational benefits aside, sensory bins are just plain fun!



As with anything relating to young children, safety always comes first. The two main safety rules of sensory bins are:

  1. An adult is present and actively watching at all times
  2. Nothing goes in the mouth – not even food items

As a responsible caregiver who knows the personalities, abilities, health concerns, and skill levels of the children you care for, you will use your judgment about what is safe for play and exploration, even with your constant supervision. That said, let’s get started!


You can purchase an sensory bin for several hundred dollars at a school supply shop, but it’s easy and much less expensive to make your own. Use any container from a large dishpan to an under-bed storage container, and your sensory bin will be about the right size. Ideally, the sides should be about six to eight inches high. This is tall enough to keep objects inside, but low enough for a small child to reach the bottom easily. A concrete mixing container from a local DIY hardware store is about 2 feet wide by 3 feet long, 8 inches deep, costs under $20.00, and will last for years.

Whatever you choose, you can set your bin on a low play table, the floor, or the dining room table. Use the space options you have.


Children will examine, touch, squish, and play with the bin items. They will also want to scoop, pour, and fill. This is all part of the magic! A quick trip to a dollar store will give you an inexpensive, well-stocked Bin Exploration Kit that will remain with your bin permanently. Some basic items include:

Several scoops – measuring spoons, measuring cups, spatulas, ladles

Containers for filling: small baskets, cups, bowls, and plastic boxes, bottles and containers

Tongs and/or plastic tweezers – these help build fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination as children grasp small objects

Magnifying glass

Extras – special “tools” like sifters, pails, safety scissors, etc. added to the kit to go with new items inside the bin.


This is the fun part! Keeping safety in mind, let’s get started!

While you can fill the sensory bin with items of any size, shape, and texture, you will get an interesting variety if you fill your bin in three stages. These are general guidelines, and some items will fit into more than one category. This is okay! Sensory bins are about fun exploration, not strict rules, so enjoy the creative process!

  1. Filler. This is the main ingredient. It can cover the bottom of the bin and may even fill it halfway. It does not need to be complicated or expensive. Sand, water, Easter basket grass, wadded paper, silk leaves and flowers, cotton balls, colored tissue paper squares, and dry pasta are all potential fillers. Think about what you already have. (Again – you will not leave children unattended!)
  2. Medium-sized Additions. Use about 8 – 10. Children will hunt for these in the filler, and will pick them up to examine them more closely. Plastic animals, blocks, shells, smooth rocks or pebbles, large pom-poms, and Easter eggs are all candidates – use your imagination and have fun!
  3. Little Things. Use as many as you like. These will help develop children’s fine motor coordination as they pick them up, move them around, and pour them in and out of containers. If you have a child who still puts everything directly into their mouth, you may want to skip this level! Otherwise, consider fish tank marbles, pebbles, themed erasers from craft stores, and large table confetti.


Are you having trouble picturing a filled bin? Here are some examples of seasonally themed bins. Feel free to use your own ideas, keeping in mind what is safe and appropriate for the ages of your children.


Filler: Ice, colored water, or sand

Medium Additions: Seashells, sand dollars, coconuts (open and closed), sun glasses,

Little Things: Plastic fish or sea animals, pebbles, aquarium marbles (may not be appropriate for the smallest toddlers)

For the Exploration Kit: Sand shovel, small beach pail,


Filler: Silk leaves, real leaves, pine needles, or orange gift basket filler

Medium Additions: Small gourds, fall ribbon, fake apples, twigs

Little Things: Acorns, nuts, smaller fake apples, small pieces of burlap

For the Exploration Kit: Plastic sand rake


Filler: Cotton balls, pine garland, torn wrapping paper, or white facial tissues

Medium Additions: Plastic Christmas balls, silk flowers heads, twigs from outside, cinnamon sticks, ribbon bows from packages

Little Things: Bells, colored pom-poms, walnuts (if no nut allergies!)

For the Exploration Kit: A drawstring bag, a stocking, a small gift box


Filler: Potting soil, silk flowers, Easter basket grass or grass from outside,

Medium Additions: Real flower heads (be ready for children to pick them apart!), small plastic or stuffed animals (birds, bunnies, baby anything – no living creatures, please), plastic Easter eggs

Little Things: Large seeds, plastic worms, craft sticks with small flower labels attached (especially fun when used with potting soil and seeds), bird feathers from the craft store

For the Exploration Kit: Small garden gloves, small garden spade


Alphabet: Plastic letters, refrigerator magnet letters, objects beginning with specific letters, letter blocks, laminated letters

Dinosaurs: Sand (damp sand allows children to experiment with making imprints from dinosaurs), plastic dinosaurs, small plastic trees and plants, different sized rocks, twigs

Magnets: Colored tissue paper squares, various shaped magnets, magnetic and non-magnetic objects, metal cookie sheet, magnet attached to a string for “fishing.”

From these examples, you can probably think of bin ideas to go with holidays, birthdays, storybooks, etc. To maintain high interest, keep your themes and fillings simple and inexpensive, and change them often – perhaps every week or two. And don’t be surprised if grown-ups want to play, too!


If you try sensory bins at your home or daycare, snap a picture and share it on our Facebook page – we love to see creativity in action!

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