6 Frugal Kids Sensory Bin Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here are 6 sensory bin ideas for toddlers, preschoolers, and older children. Your kids will love these frugal DIY sensory bins!

When I had my fourth baby, it was really rough. My Crohn’s disease made each birth a c-section, and miscarriages meant it was actually my ninth pregnancy.

By the time I hit seven months, I was very pregnant and very miserable.

See how big I was? I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually had twice as much amniotic fluid as I was supposed to have. The fascia muscle was literally ripping at the top of my uterus, pulling it away from my stomach muscles because of how heavy it was.

All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain.

My third child was a very, very energetic two year old. He was constantly busy, and I had zero energy to be able to be chasing after him all the time.

I’d used sensory bins in the past with my kids, but not very often. We usually preferred to be outside or at the zoo or museum. This pregnancy, however, it was just impossible, and I needed some ideas for preschool activities at home.

So I reused some cheap 6 quart storage bins from Amazon (that clearly have the wrong labels on them in this picture – but y’all know me, I like to keep it real) and made up some easy, frugal sensory bins with things I had lying around the house and could order on Amazon.

I use these Amazon bins for all of the organizing in our house – even our food storage. If you have a Target nearby, you can use these 6 quart bins.

If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you’ll see how I put together our sensory bins. The rest of this article talks about the importance of sensory bins, the benefits of sensory play, and how to make them (in general).

In the world of early childhood education, the concept of “learning through play” reigns supreme. One of the most engaging and effective tools to facilitate this type of learning is the sensory bin.

Sensory bins are more than just containers filled with intriguing materials; they are gateways to a world of exploration, discovery, and skill development for children.

What Are Sensory Bins?

At their core, sensory bins are simple, yet powerful, tools for learning. They typically consist of a container filled with a base material and a variety of objects or materials designed to engage a child’s senses. They’re one of my favorite open ended play ideas for preschoolers.

These bins are incredibly versatile, with the potential to focus on various aspects of sensory exploration, including tactile (touch), visual, auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), and even gustatory (taste) experiences, although taste is generally not encouraged.

What Do You Put In a Sensory Bin?

  1. Base Material: This forms the foundation of the sensory bin and serves as a canvas for the child’s exploration. Common base materials include rice, sand, water, dried beans, shredded paper, or even natural materials like leaves and twigs. Some people will use smaller, finer materials like salt, as shown in this Rainbow Salt Sensory Bin. Any leftover base materials can be used to make fun crafts, like this cute Rain Stick from a paper towel roll.
  2. Sensory Items: These are the objects or materials placed within the bin. They can vary widely depending on the theme or educational goals of the activity. Sensory items might include small toys, figurines, scoops, measuring cups, utensils, natural items like pinecones, or thematic elements like seashells for an ocean-themed bin or this Dinosaur Sensory Bin.
  3. Containers and Tools: Providing containers, shovels, scoops, or other tools allows children to manipulate the base material and sensory items, fostering fine motor skills and creativity.

Why Sensory Bins Are Important

  1. Holistic Development: Sensory bins engage multiple senses simultaneously, promoting holistic development. Children explore textures, colors, shapes, and even science concepts as they play, igniting their curiosity and understanding of the world around them.
  2. Fine Motor Skills: Sensory play encourages the development of fine motor skills as children manipulate, grasp, pour, and scoop materials. These skills are crucial for tasks like writing, tying shoelaces, and using utensils.
  3. Cognitive Growth: Sensory bins stimulate cognitive development by encouraging problem-solving, spatial awareness, and creativity. Children may engage in pretend play, sorting, counting, and exploring cause-and-effect relationships.
  4. Language Development: As children explore sensory bins, they engage in conversations, ask questions, and describe their experiences. This verbal interaction boosts language development and vocabulary.
  5. Emotional Regulation: Sensory play provides an outlet for emotional expression and self-regulation. It can be a calming activity for children who need to unwind or a stimulating one for those seeking sensory input.
  6. Inclusivity: Sensory bins are highly adaptable and can be tailored to accommodate children with different abilities and sensory needs. They promote inclusivity and offer opportunities for all children to participate and learn together.
  7. Exploration of Themes: Sensory bins can be designed around various themes, such as seasons, holidays, or educational concepts. This thematic approach makes learning engaging and relatable.

Types of Sensory Bins

  1. Seasonal Sensory Bins: These are themed around seasons like autumn, winter, spring, or summer. They often feature materials and objects associated with the chosen season, such as leaves and pumpkins for fall or seashells and sand for summer.
  2. Sensory Bins for STEM Learning: Sensory bins can focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. For instance, a bin filled with colored rice and magnetic objects can teach children about magnetism and color mixing.
  3. Literacy and Language Sensory Bins: These bins incorporate letters, words, or storytelling elements. They encourage early literacy skills by engaging children in letter recognition, word formation, and imaginative play based on stories or themes.
  4. Nature-Based Sensory Bins: Using natural materials like stones, pinecones, or leaves, these bins connect children with the outdoors. They promote an appreciation for nature and provide opportunities for sensory exploration.
  5. Holiday-Themed Sensory Bins: Ideal for celebrating holidays like Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, these bins often feature holiday-related objects and colors. They foster excitement and creative play.
  6. Sensory Bins for Numeracy: These bins focus on mathematical concepts like counting, sorting, and pattern recognition. They typically include objects that encourage mathematical exploration.

How to Make an Effective Sensory Bin:

  1. Choose a Theme: Decide on a theme or learning objective for the sensory bin. Consider the age and interests of the children who will be engaging with it.
  2. Select Materials: Gather the base material and sensory items, like this cotton ball sensory bin. Ensure that the items are safe, age-appropriate, and related to the chosen theme. You can find many sensory bin ideas online or get creative with what you have on hand.
  3. Prepare the Container: Choose an appropriate container that allows children easy access to the materials. Plastic storage bins, shallow trays, or even large cardboard boxes work well.
  4. Introduce the Bin: Present the sensory bin to the children, explaining the theme and any guidelines for play. Encourage open-ended exploration and imaginative play.
  5. Supervise and Engage: While children should have the freedom to explore independently, it’s essential to supervise play, especially with younger children. Engage with them by asking open-ended questions and participating in their play.
  6. Rotate Materials: To keep sensory play exciting, consider rotating the materials and items in the sensory bin regularly. This introduces variety and maintains interest.

Common Sensory Bin Materials:

  • Rice or Pasta: Rice and pasta are popular base materials due to their tactile appeal. They can be dyed with food coloring for added visual stimulation.
  • Kinetic Sand: This moldable sand is ideal for sculpting and creating shapes. It holds its form and is easy to clean up.
  • Water Beads: Water beads, when hydrated, provide a unique tactile experience and are visually stimulating. They come in various colors.
  • Sensory Rice: Colored rice can be used as a base material in sensory bins. It’s easy to dye rice at home using food coloring.
  • Shaving Cream: Mixed with a bit of cornstarch, shaving cream creates a fluffy and moldable texture. It’s great for sensory exploration and sensory writing.
  • Natural Materials: Pinecones, leaves, rocks, and seashells are wonderful for nature-themed sensory bins.
  • Foam Shapes: Soft foam shapes can be used for sorting, pattern-making, and imaginative play.
  • Plastic Animals or Figures: These are perfect for creating themed sensory bins, such as a safari or under-the-sea adventure.

How to Make Sensory Bins Safe

While sensory bins are generally safe and enriching for children, it’s important to keep the following safety considerations in mind:

  • Age-Appropriate Materials: Ensure that the sensory items and materials used are suitable for the age and developmental stage of the children.
  • Small Parts: Avoid small objects that could pose a choking hazard, especially for young children.
  • Supervision: Always supervise sensory play, particularly with younger children.
  • Allergies: Be aware of any allergies that children may have, and choose materials accordingly.

6 Sensory Bin Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Here is what I put in our sensory bins. I put links to where I ordered on Amazon (super pregnant, remember?) but you can also get them really cheap at the dollar store. I divided these things up between the bins to make it more frugal as well.

I also had a seventh bin where I kept the bowls and tongs from the dinosaurs, as well as measuring cups and measuring spoons.

Then each bin had a difference filler material, along with some different treasures to hunt for.

You could also do uncooked beans or kinetic sand, but I find those more difficult to clean up. Kinetic sand can be vacuumed but leaves a slick, oily residue on tile. Beans are hard to scoop up and don’t vacuum as easily as rice does.

Feathers are also great sensory bin filler material!

Please share this post about sensory bins for kids, preschoolers, and toddlers on Pinterest!

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