How to Make Amazing Sensory Bins Simply and Inexpensively (2024)

Toddlers and preschoolers love learning through play with sensory bins. Learn how to easily create sensory activities for your children that will also help them learn.

Would you like to have a fun activity on hand to keep your preschooler busy while you cook, clean, or homeschool your older children?

Looking for a boredom buster?

Something that keeps their focus, yet also teaches them as they play?

How to Make Amazing Sensory Bins Simply and Inexpensively (1)

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If you’re looking for a fun activity to keep your preschoolers busy while also developing important skills, then consider making up some sensory bins!

What Are Sensory Bins?

Sensory bins are containers that hold materials to engage children’s senses. These materials may include rice, beans, and small toys. The items can be chosen for a certain theme, or just to generally stimulate the senses. They are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers who love hands-on activities! Also, sensory bins create a perfect activity to keep your preschooler engaged while you homeschool older children.

Why Are Sensory Bins Important?

Young children learn best through their senses as they play. Sensory bins and other sensory play, such as playdough trays, help children learn through play. These bins help children with problem solving, such as figuring out how many beans will fit in a bowl, as well as other math skills and language development.

Sensory activities such as these bins are designed for open-ended play. Open-ended play allows the child to decide how to use the materials. However, they are also good for learning a certain topic, like colors, by the materials you choose to add to the bins. Sensory bins also help develop the fine motor skills preschoolers need for writing and cutting.

Some Skills Learned through Sensory Play

  • Discovery
  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem Solving
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Language Skills
  • Math Skills: Measuring and One-to-One Correspondence

What Should Sensory Bins Contain?

What you include in your sensory bins depends on your child’s interests, as well as what theme or unit of study you’d like to cover. The materials used for a color-themed bin may be quite different from the materials you add to a bin with an arctic or snow theme. If you are homeschooling preschool, then you may want to create at least one sensory bin each month that relates to something you’re doing in your lessons.

What Materials to Use for Sensory Bins

First of all, you’ll want to decide what kind of bin to use. I prefer these storage containers because they have a lid, which makes them easy to stack and store. I keep four to five of them made at a time and stack them on a high shelf on a bookshelf.

You could also use dish tubs or shoebox storage containers. Water tables would be perfect outside if you are using messy materials and want easy clean-up. You can even find sensory tables that have two side-by-side tubs that would be good if more than one child at a time is using it.

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Reminder: You know your child best, but remember that some of the items mentioned for sensory bins can be choking hazards. Children should be supervised when using these materials.

Examples of Sensory Base Materials:

  • Rice
  • Beans (pinto, black)
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Water
  • Cotton balls
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Kinetic sand
  • Aquarium rocks
  • Pompoms
  • Popcorn kernels
  • Shredded paper
  • Waterbeads
  • Feathers

Examples of Tools to Include:

  • Scoops
  • Spoons
  • Tongs
  • Bowls in a variety of colors and materials
  • Small baskets
  • Measuring cups
  • Silicone muffin cups
  • Muffin tins (six cup tins are a good size for these bins)
  • Ice cube trays
  • Chocolate/candy molds (these are great for themed bins)

Play Items to Add:

  • Small toys
  • Little figurines
  • Pompoms in various sizes
  • Foam shapes
  • Mini erasers
  • Learning materials (such as sized counting bears or these plastic measurement worms)
  • Plastic filler from craft store (apples, hearts, pumpkins, gems)
  • Holiday filler (small gift boxes, bows)
  • Items from nature: pinecones, twigs, leaves, rocks, nuts and seeds

Tip: When creating seasonal bins, plan a month ahead of time. Many stores have sales on seasonal items a few weeks before the holiday or season. Plus you’ll have the best selection the earlier you get them.

How to Easily Create Sensory Bins

  1. Decide on a theme, if you are using one.
  2. Choose your container. You may choose to use the same bin each time, like we do, or different bins depending on the materials used.
  3. Add your base material.
  4. Decide on additional sensory toys and materials. These may fit your theme, time of year, or interest of child.
  5. Add tools like scoops or bowls to help children manipulate the materials.
  6. Set out for your child to enjoy!

Beginner Tip: Go over your expectations with your child before you let them play with a sensory bin. You can explain how the rice or beans are to remain inside the bin. Also, if you set out more than one at a time, remind your child to keep the items separate and not mix bins. Setting up expectations beforehand will hopefully save messes later on.

Check out this video explaining how to set up your sensory bins.

Sensory Bin Themes

If you’d like examples of sensory bins and see them in action, you’ll find them on Instagram. I like to share pictures of my son using the bins, along with other sensory activities I create for him.


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To teach colors using sensory bins, you can use dyed rice as the main material. Uncooked, white rice can be dyed by placing the rice in a ziptop baggie with a few drops of food dye and a little white vinegar. Shake it up, then dry on a plastic plate.

Then add small toys, pompoms, or other learning materials in a variety of colors. Scoops, spoons or tongs along with a bowl will add to the fun. If you want to focus on one color, then you could only color the rice with a single color. Then you can add a single color of additional toys or learning materials.

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Your child will love creating their own color book to help them learn colors! Get yours free when you join the Homeschooling in Progress community. When you join, you’ll also get homeschooling tips, ideas, and activities delivered right to your email inbox.


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An alphabet bin is a great learning tool for your preschooler. You could create this bin in a couple of different ways. If you are just introducing the alphabet, you could add a small wooden or magnetic letter, along with small toys or items that start with that letter. Rice to hide the items a little would make it fun to search for them.

For example, if you are introducing the letter C, you might add a small cow and/or cat from your child’s farm animals. A toy car, a small candle, circle, or even a miniature clock could also be added.

In addition to introducing one letter in a bin, if your child knows the alphabet already, or you want to introduce all the letters, you could just make a letter bin. Include all alphabet letters and a base of rice or beans for an easy, yet fun bin. You could include small cards of individual letters for your child to play a hide-and-seek game, searching through the bin to match letters to the cards.

For a more advanced bin for preschoolers who already know their letters and are working on letter sounds, you could have cards with pictures on them instead of the letters. Then your little one can match a letter found in the bin with the sound from the picture on the card.


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Children who love vehicles or construction sites will absolutely love this simple sensory bin. It’s my son’s favorite!

This bin is very simple to create. I found the construction vehicles in a set of 4 (or perhaps 5 and we lost one) at Walmart. Then I just added pinto beans as the base. So incredibly simple, yet very well-loved!

Seasonal Bins + Themes that Fit Well in Seasons

Seasonal sensory bins are wonderfully fun and also allow the child to gather information about each season. I have found craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels to be great places to find seasonal items to add to your bins. Each store has a seasonal section, so the items are easy to find. Many weeks the items will be on sale, or you can use a coupon to keep the cost down. Additionally, you can usually find really cute and small items that you can use for patterning.


Sensory items for spring could include bright colors. Items like eggs, baby animals and flowers would be appropriate to include in these spring bins. It’s easy to find lots of fun ideas for spring sensory bins.

Bug: Bugs start appearing again in the spring, so why not include a sensory bin for them! Little plastic bugs will be fun for your child to find among green-colored chickpeas. Green shredded paper looks similar to grass for your bugs to hide in. Your child might enjoy trying to grab the bugs with these handy scoopers.

Garden: This theme is easy to create with a flower pot, scoop and black beans. Plastic flowers could be added as well. If you had small plastic fruits or vegetables, you could add those instead of the flowers.

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Birds: A bird bin would be nice in a summer bin, or even a spring bin. In this bin, you could include small plastic birds. I’ve seen little bird nests in craft stores as well. Good base materials are lentils, bird seed, or popcorn kernels.

Farm: Spring or summer is a great time for a farm theme. Include animals from your child’s toy basket along with popcorn kernels for an inexpensive bin.


Summer sensory items might include lots of color. Plastic flowers would be nice additions, as well as continuing the garden theme mentioned above.

Ocean: An ocean theme with water beads will have your preschooler begging to play with their sensory activities. You could include plastic ocean animals for added fun.

Beach: Playing off the ocean theme, a beach theme is also perfect for summer. Kinetic sand is a fun, beachy base. Then seashells would be a great add-on. If you can find matching ones, your child can hunt for matches for skill development. I haven’t met a child who doesn’t love those little umbrellas added to fruity drinks, so a few of those included would be appreciated. A small pail and scoop would bring the beach fun into your home as well.


This season is my favorite for creating sensory activities! It also just happens to be my favorite season. Craft stores are full of engaging filler materials for colorful fall sensory bins.

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Apples: Oats makes a perfect base for an apple theme. My little guy loved using a small muffin tin to make “apple pie” with apple filler pieces or pompoms and oats. I added cinnamon sticks to stimulate an additional sense of smell. We also have an apple candy mold that he enjoys using too.

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Pumpkins: This theme is perfect for fall. Small pumpkin fillers are available in craft stores. You can also include small real pumpkins. Small leaf or owl fillers make a fun fall-themed bin along with the pumpkins. Corn kernels are a perfect base. Wooden bowls and spoons or scoops look nice with the other items.

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Autumn Leaves: What’s fall without colorful leaves?! These fillers are also easy to find in late summer/early fall in craft stores. You could also go on a nature walk for colorful leaves in your yard or local park. Dipping them in beeswax will seal them and maintain the color, or you could laminate them. Your child will love seeing their findings from the nature walk in their sensory bin.

Fall/Autumn: Not only can use create a bin for autumn leaves, but you can bring nature indoors with a fall/autumn bin. First, take your kids on a nature walk. Make sure you bring along a basket for the goodies you find! Look for acorns, walnuts, and maple seeds along with twigs and leaves to fill your sensory bin. Navy beans would be a nice base. They are white so the nature items would stand out.


Winter is also enticing for seasonal bins. Many nature items can be included in these bins. You can find more ideas you’ll enjoy in my post on our winter sensory activities.

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Snow/Snowflake: Snow bins can be created in a variety of ways. First, if you don’t mind messes, you can use shaving cream to look like snow. You could only add that to the bin, or additional items as well.

Another fun bin is to use cotton balls as “snow” and add foam snowflakes to that. Pictured above, I also put a clear bowl and metal scoop (both from the dollar store) into the bin.

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Evergreen Trees: Artificial trees are lots of fun for preschoolers. You can find them on sale in craft stores when Christmas decorations are out. Put the trees in the bin along with pieces of artificial pine stems, pine cones, and navy beans. Twigs from your yard might also be enjoyed. Wooden spoons and bowls look nice with the nature items.

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Snowmen: Snowmen bins are another fun idea for winter bins. Cotton balls or white rice can be a base for plastic snowmen. Additionally, if you can find a chocolate mold of snowmen, you can use beans and pompoms as a base. Add some tongs so your little ones can pick them up and put them into the mold openings.


Along with seasonal bins, the holidays can give you more ideas. Below I share ideas for several holidays, though you can create bins for any holiday you celebrate. Many decor items are good to add in sensory bins. I like to walk around the decor or craft area and think about how I could use those items in a bin. Are several in the package that can be used for matching? Or maybe they are items that can be easily scooped and poured.

Valentine’s Day

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Hearts and pink or red items can be added for a fun Valentine’s Day bin. Wooden, paper, or foam hearts would all work well, or even all added together for variety. Pink, red and white pompoms with a bowl and scoop or tongs will keep your little one busy for awhile as well.

St. Patrick’s Day

Anything green makes a great theme for a St. Patrick’s Day bin. Green and white pompoms can be used like the example given for Valentine’s Day above. Additionally, you may be able to find small black pots and plastic gold coins in craft stores in February. Those would make the perfect bin for little ones learning to count. Anything rainbow would also fit well for this holiday.


You’ll be able to find many Easter items in craft stores that would be great additions. Colored rice or chickpeas make an excellent base, with plastic eggs or pastel colored bowls and a scoop completing the fun bin.

Independence Day

Red, white, and blue items fit nicely with this theme, as well as flags. Obviously this is for the U. S., but you can easily use your own country’s flag colors instead if you are outside of the States.


Black, orange, purple, and white items would be good in a Halloween bin. Lots of fillers and craft materials like pompoms can be found in craft stores for this holiday. Spiders would also be a fun theme for a bin in October.


Brown and orange are good colors to use in a Thanksgiving bin. Many times craft stores will have foam turkeys. You could also have more of a harvest theme for your bin and add small plastic vegetables.


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You can come up with a large variety of Christmas-themed bins. I have a post just on Christmas sensory bins that you can check out for examples. One of my favorite bins was to use a base of red kidney beans, white navy beans, and green lentils. Then I added a bunch of different Christmas-related items like small ornaments, bells, gift packages, small bows, and miniature wreaths. A wooden scoop and bowl finished the festive bin.

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Sensory activities are educational, easy to put together, and most of all FUN for your preschooler! Gathering a few items each month will allow you to create bins that will help your little one develop fine motor skills, math and language skills. Use the ideas above to help you come up with a few bins, then sit back and watch your child enjoy the open-ended play you created!

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Hi, I’m Christy!

I’m a homeschooling mom of 4, from preschool to high school. Homeschooling can be overwhelming, but I believe you can simplify your homeschool day so it’s manageable and enjoyable. When you join the Homeschooling in Progress community, you’ll learn ways to simplify your homeschool through emailed tips PLUS receive 5 Easy Steps to Create a Simple Routine for Productive Homeschool Days guide so you can start simplifying your homeschool today!

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How to Make Amazing Sensory Bins Simply and Inexpensively (2024)


How to Make Amazing Sensory Bins Simply and Inexpensively? ›

Uncooked, white rice can be dyed by placing the rice in a ziptop baggie with a few drops of food dye and a little white vinegar. Shake it up, then dry on a plastic plate. Then add small toys, pompoms, or other learning materials in a variety of colors. Scoops, spoons or tongs along with a bowl will add to the fun.

How do you make a simple sensory bin? ›

Fill the bin or bowl with dry pasta, rice or beans. Add spoons, scoops, toys and whatever else you have on hand into the bin. Play!

How to make a farm sensory bin? ›

Mix together cocoa powder, water, corn kernels, and oatmeal to create a taste-safe mud that the farm animal figurines can play in. Place the sensory bin on a flat surface and let the toddlers use their imagination to have the animals play and explore in the mud.

How to make a sensory box for adults? ›

Create sensory bins by using a plastic storage container filled with various sensory items such as rice, beans, or sand. Add small toys or objects for individuals to explore and manipulate, such as small plastic animals or scoops and funnels.

How to make your own sensory box? ›

  1. Choose 6 types of material from around the house. This could be cotton wool, empty egg cartons, a sponge, an old towel, balls of scrunched up paper, or anything else with a unique texture.
  2. Tape or glue each material to one side of the cardboard box. ...
  3. Once all the sides are covered, it's time to play.

How do you make a sensory Ziplock? ›

Here's how: Fill a resealable plastic bag with tactile materials like hair gel, pumpkin seeds, shaving cream, or marbles. Reinforce the seal with strong tape, then use painter's or washi tape to secure the edges of the bag to the floor or a table where your baby can play.

What age is best for sensory bins? ›

Sensory bins are good for children over 18 months of age. Before they're 18 months old, sensory bins are not developmentally appropriate because the possible hazards outweigh the benefits.

How do you make homemade sensory toys? ›

You will need water balloons, water beads and a funnel.
  1. Put the water beads inside the water balloons using the funnel.
  2. Fill the balloons with water. ...
  3. Squish and play with the sensory-laden balloons.
  4. After bountiful squishing, put the balloons in a bowl and put the container in the freezer.
Mar 25, 2020

How do you make a sensory squish bag? ›

Place flour, food colouring and water into the small mixing bowl. Mix until all the ingredients are well blended. Scoop the mixture into the plastic zip-lock bag. Before fastening the end, place the squishy bag onto a flat surface and gently push any excess air out to avoid air bubbles.

How to make a beach sensory bin? ›

Creating an Ocean Sensory Bin
  1. Large plastic bin or container.
  2. Sand, aquarium gravel, or vase filler gems.
  3. Assortment of aquarium plants or seashells.
  4. Water or blue sensory fillers to simulate water (like Playfoam Pluffle)
  5. Blue food coloring (if desired to color water)
  6. Sea Life Figurines.
Aug 12, 2022

How to make a Jello sensory bin? ›

Make the Jello:

Once boiling, turn off heat and add 4 boxes of jello mix. Stir until completely dissolved. Stir in 6 additional cups of cool water into the jello mixture. Pour the mixture into your sensory bin.

How do you make a multi sensory room? ›

Some or all of the following items can be found in a multi-sensory room:
  1. Assorted aromas (smell)
  2. Soft or bright lights (visual)
  3. Calming or loud rhythmic sounds (auditory)
  4. Soft cushions.
  5. Suspended equipment (vestibular)
  6. Textured walls (tactile)
  7. Body socks and more! (proprioceptive)
Jan 25, 2024

How do you make a sensory jar? ›

Put a funnel in the mouth of an empty water bottle and fill it about halfway with sand or rice. Add small toys, like alphabet beads, LEGO blocks, or mini-erasers. Then, fill the rest of the bottle with sand or rice, leaving about an inch of room at the top. This gives the contents room to move around and get mixed up.

How many water beads does it take to fill a sensory bin? ›

I actually prefer 1 tsp of water beads per 1 1/2 cups of water. Otherwise, you end up with too much excess water in the bin! Just fill your bin with the amount of water that you would like to use, sprinkle the water beads throughout, and watch them grow!

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