Sensory Bin Ideas by a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Sensory Bin Ideas by a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

I love sensory bins! Everything but the mess that is! In a daycare or preschool classroom, or pediatric occupational therapy clinic for children, sensory bins are great ways to play. And switching them out for a new theme every month is a great idea!

Once only found in classrooms or therapy spaces, sensory bins have gone mainstream! They can now be purchased on Amazon and Target!

What is the Purpose of Sensory Bins?

Sensory bins are a great way to increase sensory input for children (or even adults!) who crave sensory tactile input. They are also a great way to sneak other developmental activities such as scooping and finding hidden objects into fun sensory play for children who are hard to engage in adult-directed play, have decreased joint attention, or have a short attention span.

What Age are Sensory Bins Good for?

All ages! Babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners, and even older children! We should vary the ingredients in a sensory bin based not only on the child's age but also if that child tends to put things into their mouths. With babies and children who continue to mouth objects make sure the items in the bin are either edible or too large to choke on.

Who are Sensory Bins Good for?

Children with sensory processing disorder oftentimes LOVE and crave sensory tactile input. Even children with tactile defensiveness sometimes like to touch certain textures. Just remember not to push sensations on a child who does not like them!

Why are Sensory Bins Good for Autism?

Children with autism tend to have sensory processing disorders.

What Should be in a Sensory Bin?

Anything! Sensory bins can be very basic from rice or water. Or many teachers and therapists have enjoyed making more intricate themed sensory bins. Even companies have started selling sensory bins!

How to Play with Sensory Bins

There are so many great ways to play with sensory bins! My favorites are:

  • Digging with hands
  • Scooping with stacking cups
  • Transfer with spoons (I love this one for a way to work on feeding goals!)
  • Hiding items in the sensory bucket
  • Even better hide items such as puzzle pieces! I love this simple puzzle.
  • Put your feet in the bin
  • Get in the bucket!

What Skills can Pediatric Occupational Therapists Work on with Sensory Bins?

I love being creative with sensory bins! So many OT areas can be addressed through play activities that use sensory bins. This includes:

  • tactical seeking behaviors
  • tactile defensiveness
  • tactile discrimination
  • visual discrimination
  • figure-ground discrimination
  • sorting/matching
  • cognitive skills when asking the child to find certain items
  • eye-hand coordination
  • scooping for feeding
  • fine motor control
  • the list goes on!

Different Types of Textures to Put into Sensory Bins

Both wet and dry textures can be put into sensory bins. My favorite simple dry sensory bins are rice, lentils, pasta, and coffee beans. For wet, I love water beads or shaving cream. A lot of time easy is actually best!

What Type of Bucket Should I Use?

Definitely one with a top! Make sure you select a bin or bucket for your sensory bin that is large enough to move the ingredients around without it easily flying everywhere. But also one that has low enough sides that you can sit on the floor and play.

How Not to Make a Mess!

Having fun with sensory bins is a lot easier when you are not worried about the inevitable mess that will be made. Clean-up is easier in a classroom or daycare setting. But at home, some setup is required.

One reason I recommend a bin with low enough sides to sit on the floor and play. Place a sheet on the floor and the bucket on it to play.

As an early intervention occupational therapist bringing these items into a home for therapy sessions, I would then roll up the sheet, bring it outside and shake it clean!

If you are playing with wet items a plastic table cloth may work well.

Other Fun Ideas and Examples of Sensory Bins

What are the Best Items to Fill the Bin With?

Easy is best! Pick one item, add a few items to scoop with, and viola! I like to have a few different buckets and rotate them.

  1. Rice – any rice works!
  2. Colored Rice
  3. Coffee Beans
  4. Popcorn Kernels
  5. Pasta
  6. Cotton Balls
  7. Slime
  8. Jello/gelatin
  9. Shaving Cream
  10. Flour
  11. Sugar
  12. Chickpeas
  13. Beans
  14. Oatmeal
  15. Water Beads
  16. Rubber Bands
  17. Moon Sand
  18. Water
  19. Tissue Paper

Holiday Monthly Sensory Bin Ideas

Want to be a little more creative? Check out these ideas by the month!

January- Winter Sensory Play

Fake snow

February – Valentine's Day

Crinkle paper

Heart candy

Cookie cutters

March – St. Patrick's Day

Lentils or beans

Gold Coins

April – Easter Sensory Bin

easter grass

Plastic eggs

May – Spring



Does your child have a hard time staying calm?

Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

Learn the differences so you can respond with confidence!

Meltdown or tantrum download


Summer Sensory Bins



August – Construction

Repurpose the sand!

Construction vehicles – these tiny ones were my son's favorite!

September – Fall/Autumn

Leaves – Free!

October – Halloween

Pumpkin Candy

Plastic Spiders


Thanksgiving Sensory Bin

Turkey theme

Corn Kernels


Apple Pie theme

I love this idea because you can include different scooping tools functionally.

Measuring cups


December – Christmas

Looking for more ways to increase sensory input inside? Consider a swing!

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