Summer Play List – Part 2 – Sensory Bins

Don’t be daunted by the fancy word.  A sensory bin is simply a container filled with something for sensory play.  The play can be tactile (textured, messy), auditory (things that make various noises and sounds), visual (things that are colorful and fun to watch move), fine motor (small connecting or building toys), multi-sensory or for pretend play.  Any container will do, but I prefer a wide, shallow plastic container with a lid.  My sensory bin is an under the bed 28 qt. tub that just so happens to have a custom made table.  The table, is optional, of course.   Sensory bins are portable and changeable and fun for all ages.  Toddlers to elementary ages enjoy playing.

My current table is filled with sea shells, a shovel, a bucket, a fishing pole and some fish.  We’ll be sorting, counting, scooping and pouring the shells and catching a few fish along the way.  Next week for my boat themed week, I’ll be putting in a few toy boats and a few inches of water.


Here are some more ideas for your sensory tubs at home:

Tactile: Add scoops, funnels, bowls, spoons, measuring cups, colanders and let the fun begin!

  • Kinetic sand
  • real sand or colored sand
  • Styrofoam peanuts
  • beans, dry pasta, rice, unpopped popcorn, coffee beans
  • shaving cream, fun foam, gak
  • pom poms
  • balls of various shapes and weights (ping pong balls, marbles, golf balls, ball bearings, bouncy balls, hackey sack)
  • aquarium gravel
  • cooked pasta
  • acorns, leaves, twigs, pine cones
  • water beads
  • buttons
  • various sized and textured sponges and colored water
  • magnets and metal/non metal objects
  • flour, corn starch, Epsom salts


  • jingle bells on strings
  • nuts and bolts and a metal bowl
  • plastic Easter eggs and small toys (fill the eggs and shake to guess what is inside)
  • musical instruments such as maracas, bells and sticks


  • giant gems, jewels, beads or costume jewelry
  • multicolored stringing beads and strings
  • foil Christmas tree tinsel
  • a mixture of salt and glitter
  • Legos
  • rainbow bin – colored balls, beads, rice filled balloons in rainbow colors

Pretend Play

  • Kinetic sand, trees and dinosaurs
  • dirt, small gardening tools, seeds and small vegetables
  • bugs, a magnifying glass, giant tweezers or tongs,
  • water, rubber ducks, foam lily pads and frogs
  • toy penguins, snowmen and cubes from Don’t Break the Ice or real ice cubes
  • vehicles and sand or fine gravel
  • bubbles and cloths for bathing animals (or making a car wash)
  • black aquarium gravel, foil balls, stars and a space ship for space play

Themed Bins

  • fill a bin with objects of a single color or shape
  • hide foam or magnetic letters in rice or beans; the children search for letters for letter identification or spelling
  • holiday themes; spiders, pumpkins and googly eyes for Halloween for example
  • gather small themed toys for a play theme such as Disney, under the sea, farm, rain forest, fall or super heroes
  • a bin based on a children’s book – all the foods from the “Very Hungary Caterpillar” and a caterpillar, for example.

After a few days of play, store the contents in a giant resealable bag or smaller stackable container and fill your bin with something else.  It won’t be long before you have a collection of bins for rotation.  You can make mini-bins for travel, sibling’s sporting events, visits to relatives or doctor’s appointments.  Let me know how it goes.  What was your favorite?  What else did you come up with?

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