The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins for Beginners 2024 - Entertain Your Toddler (2024)

Sensory bins are an easy activity to set up for your kids. They’re engaging, hands-on, and so much fun! Let’s talk more about it.

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins for Beginners 2024 - Entertain Your Toddler (1)

What Is a Sensory Bin?

So what exactly is a sensory bin?

In a nutshell, a sensory bin is a container filled with some kind of fun-to-touch base.

With a sensory bin, you can provide a simple, hands-on, sense-engaging experience in a contained area.

Who can Use A Sensory BIn?

Kids aged 2 and up. Basically whenever they stop trying to eat everything, they can start playing with sensory bins.

However, some sensory bins can be made with taste-safe or edible materials, so toddlers younger than 2 can get involved.

To be on the safe side, I’d recommend using a sensory bag or bottle for toddlers under 2.

We know two things:1. The hardest part of keeping your kids entertained at home is starting a new routine and keeping with it. 2. It's super difficult to come up with a new routine when life is chaotic, and you don't know where to start.The Activity Playground is meant to take you past those two obstacles.


Benefits to Sensory Play

Kids learn best when they can touch and interact with something.

Sensory bins provide them with opportunities for:

  • open-ended play
  • sensory stimulation and exploration
  • language development
  • learning early concepts of measurement
  • creativity and imaginative play
  • fine motor skills
  • critical thinking skills
  • practicing independent play

*Do you want to dig a little deeper into sensory bin play? Sneak a peek at our sensory bins online course here.*

Why Use Bins for Sensory Play?

Sensory play isn’t limited to bins. For example, play dough, slime, playing outside, and even cooking together in the kitchen can provide kids with sensory stimulation.

But what I particularly like about sensory bins are that they’re:

  • easy to make and inexpensive
  • compact and easy to pack away
  • super versatile (change them up easily)
  • contained (the only rule I enforce during sensory bin play is to keep the filler inside the bin)
  • easy to put together indoors when you can’t go outside or leave home

How Do I Make a Sensory Bin?

There’s only two steps! Pick a container, then fill it with stuff.

Let’s break that down for you.

Step One: Pick a Container

First you’ll need a container. Nearly any wide, open, waterproof container can be used as a sensory bin.

This is where you can make your sensory bin as fancy or as cost-effective as you’d like.

I like using a clear 3 gallon plastic storage container (roughly 15″Lx11″Wx5″H) for our everyday sensory bin, but I’ve also used a smaller, shallower galvanized metal tray for special sensory bin set-ups.

We also typically put our sensory bin inside a larger bin or a full-size baking sheet to help contain spills. Other options include a large concrete mixing tray or even kiddie pool.

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Sensory Bin Options

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Here are a few good beginner options to get you started:

This short list is just a starting point. Be creative. You may already have something at home to use as a dedicated sensory bin. If so, use it!

When you are ready to upgrade, your kids might really enjoy a full-fledged sensory table.

Also, check out this DIY sensory table option.

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STEP TWO: Fill Your Bin

At this point, you can decide on a theme (fall, ocean, farm, etc.). (Also, you don’t have to do a theme! Sometimes just having a fun filler or fancy tool is enough.)

Pick a sensory bin filler that goes with your theme, or one that you just happen to have or want to try. Pour that in your bin.

Then add a few tools and extras, like animal figurines, trucks, natural objects, or whatever goes with theme.

Sensory Bin Fillers

Check out this post for a huge list of sensory bin fillers.

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Sensory Bin Tools and Extras

It’s great to have a few tools and extras in your bin for kids to manipulate the filler and be inspired to play.

These are some ideas to get you started:

Safety Tips For Sensory Bins

Supervise. Always supervise. Sensory bin playtime is a perfect time to sit back with a cup of hot coffee and just watch the kids play for a minute.

Use non-choking hazard fillers if your kid likes to mouth. Or, you can always put the filler in a bag and make a sensory bag.

If a child has had an infectious disease recently, dispose of filler and sanitize all other materials.

Of course, it goes without saying, make sure the filler you’re using isn’t moldy and gross. Playing with stale cereal and reusing dry rice is OK in my book, but if a filler has gotten smelly or weird-looking, then it’s NOT OK anymore!

*Do you want to dig a little deeper into sensory bin play? Sneak a peek at our sensory bins online course here.*

9 Tips for Storing and Cleaning up

These are my top tips for storing and cleaning up messy sensory bins.

Most of these clean-up tips are preventative!

If you can prepare for the worst ahead of time, clean up will be a breeze. Even our messiest sensory bin (see muddy farm) takes me less than 5 minutes to clean up.

  1. Put a blanket down under the bin for dry fillers. You can shake the spills right back into the bin when finished, or into the trash for easy clean up.
  2. Put a shower curtain liner down for wet stuff. Shower curtain liners are also machine washable!
  3. Keep individual fillers in separate zip-top bags in your sensory bin so all your stuff is together. I also have another bag with all our sensory bin tools.
  4. Set out small amounts of filler until you feel comfortable with larger amounts. Less filler = less to clean up if it all gets dumped on the floor.
  5. The vacuum is your friend. Use it well. We recently upgraded our old vacuum to this awesome cordless one. And I have to say it has gotten way more use than our old plug-in vacuum.
  6. Take the bin outside whenever possible.
  7. Be smart about location. The bathroom or another tiled floor area are easy clean-up spots for wet sensory bins. Whatever you do, don’t choose an area filled with white furniture or expensive rugs.
  8. Keep rags nearby for quick clean-ups during wet and messy sensory bin play.
  9. Ask kids to help you clean up. Keep a little dustpan and broom for them to use. Toddlers love to “help,” and we really need to take advantage of this stage before they figure out that cleaning is a chore!
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Keeping Kids from Going Wild

It’s impossible to let kids explore and create without any mess at all. So first, have the expectation that a little mess is going to happen and try to be OK with that! Messy play is awesome for kids.

Next, set ground rules for sensory bin play and actually enforce them.

With the exception of pom poms (don’t ask how pom poms got excluded, it was a moment of weakness!), our girls are not allowed to throw any of the sensory bin items.

If they disobey, the bin gets taken away for the rest of the day.

The first few times kids disobey and you have to take the sensory bin away, it’ll be really hard not to give in and give it back, especially if you both have been waiting to try it.

But stay strong, and they’ll eventually see that your rules are not to be messed around with!

Keep in mind that the first (and possibly second and third) times you do this, will likely be the messiest. Kids will learn to self-regulate and hold themselves back a little better each time they play.

Supervise! Even if it’s from afar, do NOT leave them all alone with a sensory bin. You know why.

Or join in on the fun and make some memories. Some of our best times are when the girls and I experience some messy fun together.

How To Engage Kids with a Sensory Bin

There are many ways to engage and interact with your kids using a sensory bin.

  1. Ask open-ended questions.
  2. Be elaborative and descriptive when you speak.
  3. Use sensory bin as a backdrop for your child’s favorite story.
  4. Make up new stories together.
  5. Talk about using senses and describe what you see, feel, hear, etc.

You can also just let them play. Let them create, discover, and just be kids.

The best part about open-ended play is that the world seems to slow down for kids. Just this once, they can go at their own pace without being rushed or controlled.

They’re free to immerse themselves in their imagination and just play.

Kids are great at entertaining themselves if we provide them with the opportunity and teach them how to play.

*Do you want to dig a little deeper into sensory bin play? Sneak a peek at our sensory bins online course here.*

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Sensory Bin Ideas from Entertain Your Toddler

Hope you’re ready to get started with sensory bins!

If you’re a total beginner, start with a water-based bin! My next favorite for beginners would be dried beans or pasta.

Browse through this list of our best sensory bin ideas. Each photo is linked to the full post.

Dino Dig with Salt Dough Fossils

Floating Pom Poms and Color Sorting

Flower Tea Sensory Bin

Valentine’s Day Colored Moon Sand

Cereal Safari for Toddlers

Pom Pom Eggs in the Grass Sensory Bin

Fill-an-Ornament Sensory Bin

How to Make Bubble Soup

Snowballs and Snowplows Play Tray

Colorful Pasta Sensory Bin

Halloween Fine Motor Sensory Bin

Cereal Sensory Bin

Oatmeal Farm Sensory Tray

Construction Rock Quarry Sensory Bin

Ice Cream Parlor Dramatic Play Activity

Water Play: The Ultimate Free, No-Setup, Indoor Activity

How to Make Cookie Dough for Sensory Play

Build Your Own Valentine’s Day Sensory Bin

Alphabet Wash: Indoor Water Play

Peppermint Jingle Bells Sensory Bin

Popcorn Kernel Sensory Bin for Kids

Color Sorting Sensory Bin for Kids

13 Spooky Sensory Bins for Halloween

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins for Beginners 2024 - Entertain Your Toddler (2024)
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