Sensory Play, Gettin’ dirty with It!

A friend recently asked me for advice on putting together sensory bins at home and referred to me as the “sensory queen”. Queen of all things sensory? I’ll take it! Being the tactile person that I am, I loooove a sensory bin. Love them. My dream program (one of them) would be just all different kinds of sensory experiences.

There are tons of great, legitimate reasons for sensory play: cognitive development–language, creativity, problem solving, spatial reasoning; motor development–gross motor, fine motor, crossing the midline; and social development–listening, sharing, cooperation, taking turns, communication. Don’t forget that it can be soothing, stress relieving and just plain fun!

Growing up we played outside, splashed in puddles, climbed trees, chased butterflies, rolled our toy cars and trucks in the dirt, built walls and castles out of stuff we found and on and on. I don’t know many (any?) kids today that get opportunities for that kind of deep, expansive play. Now kids’ days are filled with extracurricular activitiesNothing wrong with that but kids need opportunities for self-guided free play too. Sensory bins are almost magical in their ability to completely engross a child in self-directed, active play for sometimes hours on end. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!

What do I need for a sensory bin?

First,  you need a bin! I like these Sterilite bins with locking lids. I got mine at Walmart but the site says they’re out of stock. My store still has them but you could find something similar somewhere else. These are just the right size for home sensory play with 1-2 kids because you can tuck it under the bed or in a closet.

Sterilite 6.2 Qt Modular Latching Box, Bamboo

What should I put in the bin?

You can use anything as filler for a sensory bin as long as you have enough of it to be ‘playable’. I’m a big fan of rainbow anything: rice, beans, pasta, waterbeads. Think filler that has interesting texture or handles in a unique way–cloud dough, sand etc.



Get a smaller bin to store sensory material when you’re done with it.

I recently made what I’m gonna call a ‘gemstone bin’.


Colorful and sparkly, it looks like gemstones!


But it’s just rock salt and food coloring.


A happy by-product was the color left behind from the dyed salt on a paper towel that had lined the cookie sheet. Dry the salt on paper and you’ll have abstract art!


What else do I need?

These are some of my go-to sensory tools.

  • Bowls, cups and other containers
  • spoons, scoops, ladles and measuring cups
  • specialized utensils like sifters, funnels, tongs, potato mashers

For play…..

Whatever you want! I like marbles, giant googly eyes, jingle bells, small vehicles and bright rubber toys. I’ve used large metal lids with magnet wands, foam shapes, bottlecaps…it’s play; go crazy!


Finally, we come to the part many parents freak out about….the mess. If it’s nice, do it outside. If you’re doing it inside, throw one of those cheap plastic tablecloths on the floor then the only rule is “keep it on the tablecloth!” Worst case scenario, you may have to do a little vacuuming.

Kids learn by doing, exploring and experiencing their world. Sensory play gives them a chance to do that, safely.

Got a favorite sensory bin? Trying one for the first time? I’d love to hear about it!