Exposing your little one to sensory experiences can be some of the most rewarding moments as a parent. The absolute delight on their face as they trickle sand out of their hand or crunch fall leaves under their feet can just send a thrill through my body. But, we can’t always jump in the car and head to the beach or jump on a leaf pile. Sometimes, we want to sit in our living room with a cup of coffee and see that little excited face. While sensory bins don’t offer the genuine beauty of natural sensory experiences, they are a fun alternative. These bins offer opportunities to practice fine motor skills, they offer for open-ended play and conversation. When children play with a sensory bin, they are playing with different materials and textures that all blend together to create a learning experience.

Sensory bins are just as they sound, a bin or box of materials that encourages hands-on, open-ended play. They can be easily created and pulled out when you are itching for a simple, engaging activity.

I see creating sensory bins just like creating a ice cream at your favorite mix-in ice cream shop. You grab your utensils and bowls, choose a base, choose what added elements you want, decide if you want any fancy shmancy additions and your end result is a beautiful blend of your efforts.

I recommend clear shoe-box bins as the containers because they stack and store easily in the closet and are small enough that toddlers aren’t climbing in bin. (Yes, this is from personal experience!)  If multiple kids want to play in the same bin, the flatter Rubbermaid bins are a great option.

After you have your bins and utensils, it’s time to choose your base.

Base Options (Your “Ice cream”):
Dry pasta
Water Beads

Shredded Paper


The base can remain in the bin for months. Dollar stores  (and Amazon Prime!) are great spots to get your bases.

After the base, choose your mix ins.

Mix in Options (Your “Chocolate Chips”:
Ice cube trays
Popsicle holders
Paper muffin tins
Paper towel tubes

Cut up pool noodles

Pipe Cleaners
Cotton balls
Craft Pom Poms
Animal figurines
Magnetic Alphabet letters

Truly, anything goes when it comes to mix ins. I try to encourage mixing, dumping and pouring so I almost always include some type of cup and bowl in the mix regardless of the base.

It’s fun to throw in some seasonal mix ins too:
American flags
Felt shaped pumpkins
Wax dipped leaves
Santa hats
Easter eggs

If you really want to go all out and get fancy, try:
Dying the pasta or rice with food coloring OR
Adding essential oils

Let your creative juices flow. These can be fun to make and offers hours of entertainment once they are put together.

Don’t forget to create a designated play area for the bins. I usually use a large beach towel or throw blanket. Then I can just scoop up the contents and dump it back in the bin for the next play time. This activity can get messy but even in our messiest of sensory bin activities, it takes less than 10 minutes to clean up – and they stack so nice and neatly in the closet!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember to watch your little one while engaging in this play because a lot of the materials are not independent play materials for kids under three. Enjoy!


About Natasha, Founder of Playful by Design:

Hello there. I am so glad that you have come into my playful, simplicity seeking space. I have always had an entrepreneur’s mind with an educator’s heart. I am a nature loving mama of a sweet little girl.  I am also a lucky wife to my hard-working college sweetheart, Zach.

When I’m not playing with Lydia, I sneak in some work. You see, I’m a self proclaimed child development nerd. I love learning about developmental levels and how the activities and environment that we create effects our brain function.  I believe that childhood should be cherished, dirt is meant to be played in and songs are meant to be sung.

I research, I consult and I pour my heart into helping others learn  mindful ways to help their little ones play and grow. My focus is on helping families create a happy home through gentle habit formation, family rhythm and minimalism.

And just in case you were wondering… I can be bribed by black coffee, raspberries and salvage wood furniture.

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