It’s no secret playing with your little one is an important part of their growth and development. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows when kids engage in developmentally appropriate play, they’re not only having fun, but also building social skills, enhancing brain function and gaining key language and motor skills. But sometimes it can be tough to figure out what to play with your kids, especially babies and toddlers. After all, how many games of peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek can you handle?
If you’re looking for something fresh to do with your little one, consider incorporating a sensory bin into your playtime. It’s a great way to let your kiddo explore and learn while having tons of fun. The best part? A good sensory bin can keep your child busy for more than just a few minutes—and parents know just how precious that can be. Just be sure your sensory bin fillers are age-appropriate and safe for your child. Better yet, get down on the ground and play along!
What Is a Sensory Bin?
There are endless options when it comes to sensory bin ideas, but all sensory bins are basically the same thing: a container full of items with different textures, shapes and colors that kids can play with, either by themselves or alongside friends, siblings or parents. You can choose just about anything you can imagine to fill a bin that speaks to your child’s unique personality and interests. Plus, sensory bins are easy to change up, which is key, since most kids’ interests are here one minute and gone the next.
Some of the most popular sensory bin fillers include water, sand, dry rice, dry beans, popcorn kernels, water beads and shaving cream. These items are great to use in sensory bins for toddlers once they can understand not to eat them. If you’re hoping to create a sensory bin for babies, look to safer options like large, tactile balls, large pasta shells, age-appropriate plastic toys, linking rings and, most simply, water.
Benefits of Sensory Bins
So what are the benefits of sensory bins? Turns out, there are many! Below are just a few developmental skills sensory bins can help boost for babies and toddlers:
• Cognitive development. A sensory bin gives kids an opportunity to engage in dump-and-fill, hide-and-seek type of play, which helps develop their cognitive skills for learning, says Keriann Wilmot, OTR, a pediatric occupational therapist and play expert at ToyQueen.com.
• Fine motor skills. Sensory play is excellent for boosting fine-motor skills as little ones grasp and manipulate the sensory bin fillers.
• Attention span. These activities have a way of helping children improve their attention to task too, since kids often enjoy them for longer periods of time than more structured activities and turn-taking games, Wilmot says.
• Self-calming skills. They can be wonderful activities for kids who struggle to manage their emotions and behavior. “Sensory bins are often used by occupational therapists to help kids with self-calming and self-regulation,” Wilmot says. “Many kids get overwhelmed with sensory input in the world, and using tactile play and fidgeting can help kids improve their sense of well-being.”
• Sensory processing. Like the name indicates, sensory bins encourage kids to use their senses while playing. Sight and touch take the lead here, but little ones will quickly pick up on the calming sound of beans falling into a cup or the squish-squish of water beads as they run through little fingers. And don’t be afraid to add the element of smell or even taste, if you’re inspired to do so.
If you’re ready for your little ones to reap all these benefits and have a blast at the same time, it’s time for you to create your very own sensory bin. And we’ve got some great ideas for you to try! Whether you’re making a sensory bin for babies or toddlers, keep reading for some great sensory bin ideas.
Sensory Bin Ideas for Babies
When it comes to creating a sensory bin for babies, safety is the number one consideration. Because babies put everything in their mouths, you’ve basically got two options: make a sensory bin that’s edible, or make one that contains only age-appropriate toys.
Cereal sensory bin
Among the most popular first finger foods for babies is plain O’s cereal. It’s the perfect choice, since it’s low in sugar and easy for baby to grasp and mash between those toothless gums. Which is also why they (and other similar cereals) make for awesome sensory bin fillers for babies. Niki of Play and Learn Every Day suggests making a bin full of baby-safe cereal and adding some fun scoops in different sizes. With this sensory bin, even babies as young as 6 months will be on the road to learning cause and effect along with concepts like empty and full, and heavy and light.
Water sensory bin
While baby may not have loved those first few baths, it probably hasn’t taken long for your little one to fall completely in love with water. From just a few months after birth, most babies will splash happily during bath time, kicking their feet and watching with fascination as the water flows through their little fingers. That’s why water makes such a fantastic sensory bin filler for babies. It’s as easy as filling a plastic bin with a few inches of water and including some of baby’s favorite toys, like Tina at Simple Fun for Kids has done. Remember, it’s only safe to let little ones play with water when you’re constantly supervising. So get down on your knees and play right alongside baby!
Pasta sensory bin
Dried pasta, as long as you choose large shapes like giant shells, is a safe and fun sensory bin filler for babies. Just be sure to supervise to make sure it doesn’t break into small pieces. We love this idea from Plain Vanilla Mom. She’s made a baby-friendly mixture of giant pasta shells and plastic linking rings that’s sure to cook up a good time! Other fun ideas for pasta sensory bins are to add plastic animals or dolls, or to dye the pasta different colors for some rainbow fun.
Pool noodle sensory bin
Here's another super-cute idea from the Simple Fun for Kids blog. Here, she’s cut pool noodles into chunky pieces for a fun twist on a water sensory bin. These can totally be used for dry play too—it’s all about encouraging baby to use their imagination and fine motor skills. Watch as baby figures out how to stack, roll and float these small cylinders.
Ball sensory bin
Babies aren’t too particular about what they play with yet, but there’s no doubt that they love to dump and pull things out! That’s why a sensory bin full of balls in different colors, textures and sizes makes the perfect sensory bin for babies. Plain Vanilla Mom shares this image of one she made for her son—it was a huge hit, and it will be for your little one too! A bin full of balls is such a fun way for baby to explore and learn about different textures in a safe environment.
Sensory Bin Ideas for Toddlers
When your child is old enough to understand that not everything is for eating, you can experiment with more advanced sensory bin fillers. And that means you can create amazing, life-like sensory bins that allow your little one to be the master of the universe as they come up with tons of imaginative scenarios and games. When it comes to sensory bins for toddlers, here are a few exciting ideas to try.
Rice sensory bin
Since it’s relatively inexpensive, rice is one of the best sensory bin fillers out there. You can buy it in bulk-sized bags, which lets you create a sensory bin large enough for several kids to play at once. Not only that, you can add just about anything under the sun, and you can change it up regularly. If your kids are obsessed with animals, pick up a tube of plastic animals at a craft store and add them to the bin. And when a holiday rolls around, swap the toys to make a holiday-themed bin. Or keep things simple and throw in some everyday kitchen tools. We love this beautiful rainbow rice sensory bin from Jackie over at Happy Hooligans. She’s added a few bottles and utensils for a sensory bin that looks like so much fun, we’d like to jump in!
Beach sensory bin
We can’t get enough of this gorgeous beach sensory bin from Danielle at Fun Learning for Kids. She’s created a biome in a box with sand on one side and water on the other, separated by a jetty of shells. This sensory bin wraps fun and learning all in one! Let your toddler separate the animals into land and water dwellers (with a little help from you, of course), or splash around in the water and make castles with the wet sand.
Snow sensory bin
When winter sets in and Jack Frost starts to bite, why not bring the snow inside? That’s just what Jackie at Happy Hooligans has done with this snow sensory bin. She’s used Little People and real snow to create an ingenious sensory bin that’s perfect for little hands that long to play with the white stuff.
Farm sensory bin
Here’s another sensory bin for toddlers you can set up pretty much any way you want: It’s a farm animal sensory bin from the Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds blog. Using corn kernels as a medium, kids can dump, scoop, push, stack, load and unload to their heart’s content. And from the looks of it, they’ll be happy to spend hours doing just that. Not only are farm sensory bins super fun for toddlers, they’re also great for teaching and learning too; you can cover everything from animal names and sounds to learning about habitats.
Pond sensory bin
As long as you’ll be supervising your kids closely, water beads are one of the most fun sensory bin fillers you can find. You can put together just about any type of sensory bin using water beads, and your little ones are sure to love it. Our favorite? This amazing pond sensory bin from the Fun Littles blog. It’s full of green water beads that play host to felt lily pads, plastic frogs and faux flowers. Have your toddler experiment with putting the frogs on the lily pads and having the fish “dive” into the pond.
Published April 2019
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