A boy playing in a sensory bin

Best Sensory Bins For Preschoolers

Sensory Bin Fun

My kiddos love to stay close by as they play. It has always been this way and it is sweet. I love hanging out with them all day.

The only problem is that sometimes things have to get done, and little “helpers” can add a lot of time to tasks you are trying to accomplish.

So I went on a hunt for ways to keep my kids occupied that don’t include screen time. You guys, I found the solution! Ready? Sensory Bins!

I love to pull out sensory bins when I’m cooking dinner. It is a great calm, post-nap activity. The kiddos are still close by at the kitchen table, and the best part, the bins occupy them for a LONG time.

Obviously, you can use them whenever it is convenient for you, but this has worked great for our family. I love having an activity that occupies them and engages them in such a significant learning experience.

Sensory bin ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

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What are Sensory Bins?

Sensory bins are tubs or containers that contain your choice of filler that stimulates the child’s senses.

You can put different add-ins that enhance the child’s play and encourage them to practice their fine-motor skills.

Sensory Bin Filler Ideas

Sensory Bin Add-In Ideas

  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • tongs
  • egg cartons
  • muffin tin
  • cups
  • bowls
  • ice cube tray
  • animal figurines
  • funnels
  • tweezers
  • scoops

The Best Sensory Bins

Below are some of our favorite sensory bin ideas. I love making bins that go with the unit that we are studying that week.

Sometimes the bin fits a science topic, a book, or a season. But sometimes, the kids want to play with a specific texture and so we go with that.

Kinetic Sand

You may see the word “sand” and think, “Not a chance.” Hear me out-this “sand” sticks together and has a heavier feel to it. It does not stick to hands or get dispersed like regular sand does.

Also, it is extremely easy to get out of clothes and can be easily vacuumed or swept up. It has a bit of a damp feel to it but does not dry out. So many wins!

Kinetic sand sensory bin

The Kinetic Sand sensory bin is probably my kids’ favorite and occupies them the longest. This is always an option for them since they love it so much. And I love it because I don’t have to do anything to prep this bin.

Nature Sensory Bin

This bin is fun to make after a nature walk adventure.

The kids can choose things in nature that they are drawn to and put them in their bin.

There are many sensory bin fillers to choose from. I use rice for this one, then add in their nature finds, a magnifying glass, and a couple measuring cups and…voila! Quiet, busy kids!

Nature Sensory Bin

Water Beads 

Water beads are another really fun option for a sensory bin.

They are tiny in their purchased state, but after soaking in water for about 8 hours they grow to the size of marbles. They expand A LOT, so a little goes a long way.

Make sure you soak them in a container that is big enough. Check the directions for the ratio of beads to water for the brand you buy. I use 1 Tbsp. of beads per 6 cups of water.

They are not sticky at all, but they are wet. I usually add some cups, bowls and spoons to this bin and that’s really all the kids want.

Water beads to use in preschool sensory bins

You can get multi-colored beads, or if you want to focus on a certain color for the week you can get a single color pack.

I got yellow water beads when we did a unit on the “Yellow Ball” for our Before Five in a Row curriculum. It was fun to have a sensory bin that fit so well with the book.

Buttons

For this bin, I dump the buttons in, add some shoe laces and pipe cleaners and call it a day.

This is a great activity for practicing fine motor skills since the kids usually get busy lacing right away.

Another bonus is that when you have this bin on hand, you can pull it out at any time to practice patterning, counting, sorting and even graphing.

This bin is a great go-along activity if you are doing a unit on Corduroy. We love Corduroy at our house!

Farm Bin

This is a really fun go-along sensory bin when you are in a farm unit, but it can be used at any time.

Put dry corn as the filler and add in some plastic farm animals and some farm “Little People” and the bin is ready!

Farm Sensory Bin

Ant Life Cycle Bin

I make this sensory bin when we are studying the life cycle of ants.

I use beans to represent dirt and shredded green paper to represent grass. Plastic ants and toddler tweezers are great fillers for fine motor skills and counting!

I also like to add figurines that represent the different stages of the life cycle, so that the kids can practice putting them in order and have a better visual of the concept.

Taping a picture of the ant life cycle on the lid helps the kids remember the order and helps me remember to review the vocabulary with them as I hand them the bin.

Life Cycle of an Ant Sensory Bin

Garden Bin

This is a fun bin to make in the spring time or really any time you are talking about gardening.

I use beans for the “dirt” and some toy gardening tools. Something like this would work well.

You can also add any toy vegetables that you want to grow in your “garden.” I like the idea of using root vegetables, so that the kiddos can have them “growing” and then pull them out for harvest.

We did a unit on carrots, so we used plastic carrots in their bins. The kids loved their garden!

Benefits of Sensory Play

There are many benefits to sensory play. This article does a good job of explaining it, but here is an excerpt that summarizes it well:


“…Specialists collectively understand that the five key benefits of sensory play are as follows;

  1. Sensory play builds nerve connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways, which trigger a child’s inclination for and ability in competing more complex learning tasks
  2. Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction
  3. Sensory play aids in developing and enhancing memory functioning
  4. Sensory play is great for calming an anxious or frustrated child
  5. Sensory play helps children learn vitally important sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, dry, etc)”

Benefits of Sensory Play

Extra Tips For Sensory Bin Play

1. Be near by for safety

Stay nearby your kids when they are playing with sensory bins.

It might be tempting to walk away and get something done in the other room since your kids are so occupied, but please remember that some these bins contain objects that little ones can choke on.

Put their bins close to where you will be, so that you can still get plenty done and keep an eye on them.

2. Choose sensory tubs that will work well for you

There are many options for what containers you can use for your sensory bins. I like to use a clear plastic shoe container. A lot of people prefer a larger 25 quart bin, but I go with a smaller size for several reasons:

First, I already had them on hand, and they are inexpensive.

Second, they are easier to store because they don’t require as much space.

Third, since they are smaller, I don’t have to put as much filler in, which also makes it more economical.

Finally, my kids sit at the kitchen table when they play with their sensory bins, so having a bin that is any taller than a shoe box would make it hard for them to reach.

Think about what will work best for you and go with that!

Sensory tubs

3. Contain the Mess

Most sensory bins will have at least a little bit of spillage and mess. Personally, I don’t mind the few minutes it takes me to sweep up since my kids stay occupies for so long.

But if you want to minimize the mess, you could spread out a flat sheet and have them play with their bins on the sheet. When they are done, just shake it out outside.

Of course there will be some fillers that can’t go outside (we don’t want little animals to choke on water beads!), but for the most part, this trick helps.

Another option is to just take it outside! This makes the clean up even easier, especially on warm summer days.

Taking water sensory play outside!

4. Set the Rules

Prior to giving the sensory bin to your kiddos, explain the rules. The common ones that we have are:

  • No putting things in your mouth (unless it’s an edible sensory bin)
  • Be gentle so that things stay in the bin
  • No throwing

If the kids don’t follow a rule, the bin goes in time out. Being consistent is the key here.

Once they realize that fun will be taken away if they don’t listen they will be much more likely to follow the rules.

Sensory Bins

Dive In!

Now go have fun exploring with sensory bins!

Don’t get overwhelmed with making a bunch at once. Just start with one and go from there.

I hope this post gave you some fun ideas! If you found it helpful, please share. And if you have a favorite sensory bin, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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