DIY Sensory Bins: Fun Themes to Keep Your Toddler Busy!

Need to keep your kids occupied and engaged but don’t want to add to their screen time? Try sensory bins for some fun indoor play! DIY sensory bins are more then just a distraction tool for your child, and sensory play engages much more than just touch. It is any activity that engages all five senses. Activities that involve the sense of smell, touch, hearing, sight, taste, and movement fall under sensory play. And it is a way for your child to investigate and explore, making sensory connections to the brain. 

DIY Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are easy to put together with items you already have at home, or a quick trip to the dollar store will get you started! Think of sensory bins as a pan of brownies with sprinkles and chocolate chips added. You need a container or bin, the filling or the guts of the bin, and then smaller items added in.  

First: A flat based bin, small or large, depending on the amount of small hands that will be in there at one time. These ones are great for little hands! If you need something a little bigger, this one works great, too. 

Next: Add your filling! Try rice, beans, pasta, soapy water, sand, dirt, Jello, pudding, slime, water beads, moon sand, salt, shredded paper, or even cooked pasta! 

Add: Then add in smaller, fun items. Plastic animals, Legos, cars, beads, rings, buttons, plastic eggs, craft feathers, pinecones, or cinnamon sticks.

Optional: You could use essential oils for smell or objects that squeak to engage hearing.

Last: Be sure you place a table cloth under where the sensory bin to prevent a major mess! I would suggest using one you can throw away after use.

Sensory Bins with a Theme

  • One bin can be set up as a mud track for small cars and when the cars are dirty they can send their cars to the carwash. That bin would be filled with soapy water and a toothbrush!
  • Do a fun spelling theme that includes plastic or foam letters in rice where they find letters to spell their names or words.
  • Make a Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs bin using cooked spaghetti adding in plastic food!

Extra Tips

If your child is apprehensive to play in the bin, you can go first! Sometimes children may have aversions to sensory play initially. Never take your child’s hands and force them into the bins. They may be more open to touching the “filling” of the bins first with one or a few fingers, and that is okay! Continue to try different fillings of dry or wet substances/food items to find something they are comfortable with.

Always use objects that are safe for your child’s age or create a sign that depicts “do not eat.” 

For more ideas see our post on Simple Indoor Activities to Keep Kids Busy.

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Trudy lives with her husband, Derek, and their three children; Oakley (2006), Jayla (2008) and Tenlee (2012), along with their golden retriever, Jax. She was born and raised in North Dakota, where small-town fun involved kick the can and playing sports. Whether watching her kids and nephews playing sports or watching on it on TV, she accredits her love of sports to her childhood. Her professional career has been providing occupational therapy services to children in the school setting, psychiatric inpatient setting and in an outpatient clinic setting. She loved building relationships with the children and families, celebrating goals and milestones. Recently Trudy had a career change where she is now the Child & Youth Program Coordinator for the North Dakota National Guard soldiers. Being a military family, this career change was close to home. If you are looking for Trudy, you will find her at a sporting event, social get together, playing league volleyball, or at the lake with her family. You will not find her ice skating, rollerblading, spending hours in the kitchen or swimming in the ocean!

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