Sensory Bin 101: The In’s and Out’s of a Very Important Learning Tool

A sensory bin is a container filled with items that provide the user with sensory input. Dependent upon the items, also known as fillers, a sensory bin may provide the user with tactile, auditory, visual, and olfactory sensory experiences.  Sensory bins provide the user with the opportunity to play, while exploring various textures and utensils/tools.

Who uses a sensory bin?

Children of all ages can use a sensory bin! Children with sensory deficits may benefit. For example, an individual with hypersensitivity to water may begin playing with a sensory bin full of water. At first, the child may use tools (i.e. ladle) to manipulate the items in the bin. As the child progresses, he/she may begin to poke their finger in the water to play. Children with upper extremity range of motion deficits may benefit from utilizing a sensory bin as well. Playing with spatulas and spoons provide the opportunity for forearm and wrist range of motion, which are both necessary to develop fine motor skills.

Where can I use a sensory bin?

You can use a sensory bin inside or outside. If you have a bin full of water, you might want to go outside or use a sink or bathtub filled with some water. You can use them on a table or a floor. Before you allow a child to play with the bin, make sure to go over some rules to avoid messes. It can be as easy as, “All items and toys must stay in the bin.”

Why make a sensory bin?

Sensory bins assist with the following skill areas:

Develop Life Skills:

Children learn how to utilize household tools, such as spoons, forks, ladles, rakes, shovels, spatulas, etc. When using these items, children learn to scoop, pour, fill, stabilize and orient items appropriately.

Develop Fine Motor Skills:

Children use their arms and hands to manipulate items like jumbo tweezers, rocks, coins, utensils, blocks, etc. Playing with these items help strengthen musculature in the hands and arms that are necessary to carryout tasks, such as cutting, writing, and self-care skills.

Develop Play Skills:

Sensory bins can assist children to develop play skills. While engaged in parallel and/or cooperative play, children can use their imagination and participate in pretend play. All areas of play are important to develop communication skills.

Develop Language Skills:

Sensory bins can assist with language skills by identifying, comparing, and contrasting objects. When the child picks up an item, the parent can say, “Look at the bell”. This labels the object and may assist with language development.


How do I make a sensory bin?

First you need to choose a theme and how many children will be playing in the bin. This will determine the type of bin you may need (i.e. cardboard vs. plastic, deep vs. shallow). Below are some examples:

Filler- Dry Base
Filler-items cont.
Foil Pan
Cake Pan
Plastic Shoe Box
Cardboard Box
Unused Litter Box
Storage Container
Corn Kernels
Coffee Grounds
Shaving Cream
Water Beads
Cotton Balls
Gem Stones
Foam Letters
Rubber Ducks
Tiny Action Figures
Light-up items
Small Cups/Bowls
Jumbo Tweezers
Measuring Cups/Spoons
Toy Shovels/Rakes
Eye Droppers
Squirt Bottles
Ice Cube Trays
Cookie Cutters

* Add an olfactory sense by adding Vanilla, lavender, peppermint, cinnamon, etc. to the dry base!

Sample sensory Bins:


Bin: Cardboard Box
Base: Corn Kernels
Items: Tractor, trailer, cows, pigs, barn, horses, farmer
Tools: shovel/rake, measuring spoons/cups
Bin: Plastic Shoe Box
Base: Water
Filler items: small gems/stones, water beads, sea shells, sea life figures
Tools: ladles, squirt bottles, eye droppers
Bin: Cake Pan
Base: Fruit Loops
Items: small bowls/cups to sort colors
Tools: Jumbo tweezers, spoons
Task: Use the tools to sort the colored cereal


Here are some examples of sensory bins that we have at our Fairlawn and Medina clinics:

Water bead sensory bin with spoons, cups, and play ice cream cones
Rice sensory bin with tiny toys
Rice and beans sensory bin


Fall themed sensory bin with play leaves


Blue sand sensory bin with sand-box toys



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About the Author

Brittany Stout