What are Sensory Bins?
Maybe you’ve heard of the newest toddler trend: Sensory bins! If you haven’t, a sensory bin is basically a small clear bin (like these!) with different fillers that allow your little one to explore their senses. It’s like a sandbox or a water table, but on steroids. Incorporating different textures, scents, colors, shapes, and even tastes in a safe and controlled manner. That being said, you should always supervise your child when they are playing with a sensory bin. Even taste safe bins or toys could be a choking hazard.
Why are Sensory Bins Important?
Letting your little one explore their world is so beneficial for jumpstarting their learning. For really little ones it also helps develop their fine motor skills as they learn to grab, pincer grab, scoop, pour, and sort. As they get older you can incorporate more science type lessons on color mixing, viscosity, counting, etc. For older kids you can also do almost a little treasure hunt in the sensory bin. Have them search through the filler to find certain hidden items. Another fun idea for older kids is to tape a picture or secret message to the bottom (outside) of the sensory bin. Then as your child plays with the filler, they can discover the secret message or picture at the bottom poking through!
Toddler Friendly Sensory Bin Fillers
I’ve seen some people get super duper fancy with it, filling bins with toys or fancy materials. I love seeing the different themes put in sensory bins for holidays or different scenes. If you do plan on putting small toys in your sensory bin to fit a theme (say underwater creatures, dinosaurs, bugs, cars, etc.) Just remember: If it can fit through a toilet paper roll, it’s a choking hazard!
However I like to keep our sensory bins pretty simple (because who has the time??) and cheap especially if it helps use up items in my pantry! However I find that sensory bins can get messy. You could definitely set your little one up with their sensory bin in their highchair, just be prepared for them to tip it over or throw it. If you don’t plan on doing your sensory bins in the bathtub or outside, grab yourself a splash mat!
If you need some help coming up with ideas for toddler friendly sensory bin fillers, look no further! I’ve compiled a list with tones of different ideas great for last minute fun or prepping in advance. They learn, you get some quiet time. They are also perfect for rainy days (or winter) when the kids are cooped up all day!
Also be sure to check out my Toddler Summer Activities!
Here are some tools you might find beneficial for your little one to play with in their bin to keep them occupied longer. I am also a big believer in making due with what you have, so check your kitchen drawers!
- Sponges-especially cut into smaller strips
- Tongs- big ones might not work for little hands though
- Measuring cups- great for pouring liquids or scooping solids
- Turkey basters
Scoops, Pouring Cups, Droppers
Pincers, Tongs, and Grabbers
Taste Safe Toddler Sensory Bin Fillers
Dried Beans or Chickpeas
Even though these are taste safe, keep an eye on your little one so they don’t choke! Scoop and dig in the dried beans. Putting dried beans or chickpeas in a small takeout container or a cup also makes a great shaker toy!
Smaller than beans or lentils, but softer too. Less of a choking hazard, but still keep an eye out. I find lentils easier to sweep/vacuum than rice so that’s my preference. Scooping and pouring especially back and forth.
This one is a choking or biting hazard for sure so keep your eyes out. But again they make a great makeshift rattle!
You can also dye uncooked rice by throwing it in a zip lock bag with a tsp of vinegar and some food coloring. I find rice hard to sweep up or vacuum so I tend to stay away. But there is no denying it is a sensory bin staple!
Uncooked pasta can be dyed the same way as rice. Use noodles such as fusilli or rotini or a fun shape like dinosaurs. For noodles that have a hole in them, try a threading exercise! Use a pipe cleaner or an uncooked spaghetti and thread the holey noodles onto them.
Or used cooked spaghetti (dyed with food coloring) for a totally different sensory experience. Slippery and flimsy and fun to squish!
Pretend the oats are dirt and drive small trucks in them. Or practice scooping and pouring!
Ground Up Cereal
Make pretend (edible) sand with leftover cereal and a food processor. Simply grind to a fine consistency and add sand toys. Or use a chocolate cereal for dirt and learn about gardening. Use Fruit Loops to make rainbow sand!
Ground Up Coconut Flakes
For an edible snow sensory bin, grind up coconut flakes! Try to build a snowman!
Another good edible sand option! Either grind up your own almonds or hit the baking aisle!
Chia Seed Slime
This is one of our favorites! Mix 1 cup of chia seeds, 4 cups of water and food coloring in your sensory bin. Let set for 1-3 hours and it will gel and coagulate. It creates a really cool texture that is a little grainy, a little slimy and very fun!
Aquafaba is the slimy liquid found in a can of chickpeas! It has many cool uses and behaves similarly to egg whites. Add some food coloring and a dash of cream of tartar to the liquid from 2 cans of chickpeas. Whip it for 5-10 min using a stand or hand mixer. The result should be a light and airy foam!
Fill your sensory bin with some water and dump in some frozen peas or corn. The cold texture that changes to squishy the more they play will definitely be fun!
Ever try bubble tea? Use those Boba pearls for an edible alternative to water beads! Simply follow the instructions on the pack for boiling. Add food coloring and allow to cool before playing.
I always seem to have a bag of stale marshmallows hiding in the back of my pantry. Just me? Anyways why not allow your little one to play with them and discover their soft pillow-y texture before they become sugar rocks?
Water and Ice. As easy as can be! Refreshing in summer and exploring temperature as well as scooping. You can also freeze different shapes, consider a big block of ice from a loaf pan or muffin tray! I also like freezing different things in the ice as well. Try freezing lemons, food coloring, or small toys that they can discover as the ice melts!
Jell-O, Pudding, Yogurt or Whipped Cream
Slimy, Squishy, and taste safe! This one is bound to be messy, so think about setting up in a bathtub or kiddie pool outside! Consider hiding toys or other objects in the jello that they have to dig out!
For a special birthday sensory bin fill it with sprinkles! Beautiful and if they sneak a few, totally safe!
Non-Food Toddler Sensory Bin Fillers
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip up 1/4 c. body wash or dish soap, 1.5 c. water, 1 tbsp. flour/cornstarch and food coloring. You should get a light airy foam that your kids will LOVE at bath time.
Or for an even easier version. Put a squeeze of dish soap, some food coloring, and water in your sensory bin. Give your child a whisk and show them how to use it! They will create their own bubble foam in no time!
Mix 1/4 c. baby oil/coconut oil and 2 c. flour/cornstarch. The result will be soft and moldable!
Cotton Balls/Pom Poms
Make sure to watch that your little one doesn’t eat any! But the soft, light balls and fun to try and scoop or tweeze! You can also mix water & food coloring and use the eye dropper to ‘paint’ the cotton balls!
Water beads come in small, medium, or large sizes. They start off dry hard balls, but with water they become squishy and jelly like. Just be careful because your little one will have just as much fun popping them as holding them. They can be dried out and reused, just make sure to check for mold!
Soft, moldable sand! It also makes great cutting practice for toddlers that are working with plastic knives or crinkle knives. Or make your own with THIS tutorial!
Classics! The original sensory play before it was called sensory play!
Tissue Paper or Shredded Paper
Crinkling and ripping paper/tissue paper is so satisfying for a little one! Make sure to watch they don’t eat any! You could also shred the paper before hand like confetti. Just make sure to pre crinkle it so you don’t risk any paper cuts!!
Wax Paper or Tinfoil
The satisfying crinkly of wax paper is a favorite at our house (and super easy). I also will wrap some toys in tinfoil and let me little one unwrap!
I don’t recommend gathering your own. Just pick some up from the craft store or dollar store!
Grass, Leaves, or Flowers
Super fun when you are camping or on a nature walk! Great for spring and summer to learn about plants. You can also explore the smells of different leaves and flowers!
Plastic Bottle Caps or Wine Corks
This is a big choking hazard for sure! But that being said, if you have a large collection of corks lying around (guilty!) Or you give your kid fruit packs with those big plastic lids, start collecting them as toys! Practice putting them in other containers!
This is another favorite for bath time and outdoors as it gets messy quick! This summer we plan to fill our kiddie pool with shaving cream and try a shaving cream slip and slide!!
Larger wooden beads are great for threading practice. They do have a hole so choking is slightly less dangerous as an airway blocker, but still make sure to supervise!!
So those are my easy toddler friendly sensory bin ideas. Comment Below: What do you put in your toddler’s sensory bins?
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