Sensory bins or sensory trays are a great way to contain messy and sensory play and, if you’re lucky, provide hours of entertainment. They can be put together in minutes, used over and over again and encourage imaginative play through open-ended materials and loose parts.

I was asked the other day “how do you make a sensory bin?” when discussing with another a parent how much my little ones enjoy them. So today I’m sharing with you how I put together my sensory bins.

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green sensory bin

How to create a sensory bin

To put together a basic sensory bin you need two things:

1. A base such as dried rice / pasta / lentils, water, sand, water beads, shredded paper, oats…the possibilities are endless (see below for more ideas)

2. Then add some tools for pouring, scooping, transferring etc such as spoons, scoops, small pots etc and what ever else you can find – think loose parts that will capture their attention.

autumn sensory bin

One thing they don’t have to be is over complicated or expensive. A quick search on Pinterest will bring up some very beautiful sensory bins but with them often being destroyed in seconds this seems almost pointless to me.

Instead I try to aim for bins that can be created quickly and use things I already have around the house. I usually have one ready to pull out for those times when the Little Tots need a quiet calming activity or we’ve had to change our plans due to illness or weather etc.

Halloween sensory bin

What to use as a Sensory Bin?

Firstly you need something to use as your sensory bin. Our favourite one is actually a cat litter tray (unused of course) that I purchased from the pet shop for about £2. I also have a few Ikea trofast draws (like the one below) as well as a large clear toy box. Ideally your sensory bin needs to be deep enough to contain (most) mess but not to deep that little hands struggle to access it.

We also use our Tuff Tray to do sensory play on a much large scale sometimes and this always seems to make it more fun – click to visit all our Tuff Tray ideas. 

water bead play

Sensory Bin Theme Ideas

My sensory bins usually have a theme to them which has developed from following the interests of the Little Tots. This provides a great way to further their interests as well as promote learning through playing with them. Sometimes I base them around the current season or holiday. Sensory bin themes could be:

valentines day sensory bin

Sometimes my sensory bins don’t have any themes at all and just consists of something very simple such as pasta or water and some scoops.

Sensory Bin Filler Ideas

This list is endless for sensory bin fillers but here are some of my favourites I have used in the past:

snow dough

Most of the fillers can be re-used over and over again to prevent wastage. When we’ve finished with a tray I bag up the fillers in ziplock bags ready for another day. Things such as rice, beans, oats etc can be used multiple times and I’ve had some of mine for years.

Homemade sand

Sensory Bin Tools

One of the favourite things little hands like to do with a sensory bin is scoop, pour and fill. For this reason a sensory bin isn’t complete without some tools to help them achieve this. Some of our favourites include:

  • Jumbo tweezers
  • Pots and containers
  • Spoons and scoops
  • Funnels

water bead play

Sensory Bin Ideas

Here’s just a few of the ones we’ve made so far…..the list keeps on growing though.

Minibeast sensory bin

Learning and Development with Sensory Bins

As well as lots of messy, sensory and imaginative fun sensory bins are also a great learning tool for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Being a childminder I have to track children’s development through the EYFS using the 7 areas of learning and development and I find a sensory bin is often a great way to cover all 7 areas.

  • Communication & Language – sensory bins are a great way to learn new words, model language, follow simple instructions (can you scoop up the rice).
  • Physical Development – one of the biggest benefits of sensory bins is working those fine motor skills picking up the bases which often tend to be quite small. Also practicing pouring and scooping to demonstrate control in using tools.
  • Personal, Social & Emotional Development – learning to play alongside other children, or with an adult or even independently.
  • Maths – sensory bins offer so many ways to develop number skills such as counting, ordering, sequencing, making patterns, counting groups of objects, arranging by size and basic adding and subtraction.
  • Literacy – some sensory bin fillers offer a great way to practice early mark making such as shaving cream, sand or flour.
  • Understanding the World – sensory bins based on the seasons help children understand the world around us as well as any based on celebrations and festivals.
  • Expressive Arts & Design – describing the textures and sounds of the sensory bin, taking part in imaginative and creative play.

simple play pom poms

Have you made any sensory bins recently? We would love to see them as we’re always looking for new ideas or if you want some more inspiration check our our sensory bin archives or our Sensory Bin Pintrest Board for lots more ideas.

sensory bin ideas

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