Sensory Bins :: preschool essentials

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Did you know that sensory play is an important part of child development?

Creating a place where children can use their senses to engage and explore the world around them is incredibly important for developing critical thinking skills, fine motor skills, and cognitive development.

Sensory bins are hands-on tools that allow children to explore, using their senses, in a controlled environment. The use of sensory bins in preschool and early elementary classrooms is important because they encourage socialization and conversations while children work together to explore and sort the contents of the bin. They also help to strength fine motor skills, as children use tools to scoop, pour, dig, grasp, pinch, etc.

Sensory bins are great for open-ended play, where you allow the children to explore and play, without a specific goal. They are also a great way for children to explore a particular theme – such as construction, animals, environments, measurement, etc.

What exactly is in a sensory bin?

Basically, it’s a box of stuff made up of three things – a filler, tools, and objects. Each component serves a specific purpose, depending on what your goal of the box is. If your goal is to teach a theme – you will want to choose fillers, tools, and objects related to that theme. If your main goal is fine motor development or to promote independent play, the contents are less important. Tools in the box help children practice fine motor skills like pinching, grasping, scooping, stirring, and dumping. The objects can serve as just play or to help children explore a topic.

How do I create a sensory bin?

First, you’ll want to start with a container big enough to serve it’s purpose. While it doesn’t really matter what kind of container you use, I highly recommend a clear box so it is easy for children to see what they are doing. If you are building the box for your toddler to play or a homeschool classroom of 1-2 children, a ,16qt bin will work perfectly. If you’re building a box for a preschool or elementary classroom, I would use a ,28qt bin or a ,60qt bin, depending on how many children will be using it at a time. I personally would choose the larger bin, because it allows for more creative play.

Next, you’ll add a filler. This is what the children will play in. This is where you will want to think about your goal for the box. If it’s a themed box, choose a filler that would fit your theme. For example, if I were doing an ocean or beach theme, I would use blue water beads and kinetic sand. If your goal is play and fine motor development, I would go with whatever you have on hand. Here is a list of things that make great fillers: rice, ,sand, potting soil, ,kinetic sand, ,pom pom balls, ,water beads, beads, ,river rock, noodles, flour. If your are creating a box for babies or young toddlers, I would encourage using something that is safe for them to put in their mouths like cooked rice and noodles, or flour. ,HERE is a great recipe for homemade moon sand that is safe to eat.

After that, you’ll want to choose tools for the box. Tools are what children will use, in addition to their hands, to explore the contents in the box. These are the things that help to develop those fine motor skills, so you will want to think about the age of your child or the children in your class and what they can do independently. You will also want to think about the filler that you used and what would would be good for digging and playing in it. Here are a list of tools I like to use: spoons, ,shovels, measuring cups/spoons, ,magnifying glass, ,tweezers, tongs, paint brush, ,sand molds, ,sifters.

Last, but certainly not least, is the objects. This is where you can really create themed boxes or teach a specific concept – like counting or sorting. Some of my favorite themed boxes are: construction, ocean, animals, things that go, plants, letters & numbers, dinosaurs. Gather small objects related to your theme or lesson topic and add them to the box. If your goal is to play, gather some of your child’s favorite toys and toss them in and watch how they explore with them. Some objects that are great to add: ,cars/trucks, ,plastic animals/insects, ,letter or number blocks, ,building blocks, figurines, rocks, cones, pom pom balls, marbles, ,planets, balls, etc.

What is the learning goal of a sensory bin?

This is totally up to you and how you choose to use your sensory bin, but the main objective should be independent, creative play and fine motor development. Creating a themed bin to go along with a lesson topic gives those kinetic (hands-on) learners a chance to see and feel things on their own. For example, an ocean themed box filled with water beads and sea animals will allow children to see how the animals fins help them move through the water. It could also help them name characteristics or see the differences between animals. A construction themed box will allow children to explore how difference machines work or figure out which tool would be the best for digging a hole.

For babies/toddlers, the goal would be fine motor practice and independent play. The goal here would to give them tools and objects they can use on their own and enough to keep them entertained for a decent amount of time.

For older children, you could use it as a fun way to practice letters and numbers. You could hide alphabet tiles throughout a sensory bin for children to find and then sort in ABC order. You could also use a sensory bin to teach things like measurement – which container holds more and which container holds less – using measuring cups and measuring spoons.


You can also purchase sensory bin boxes at most craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. These are great for toddler or preschool mamas who are wanting sensory play bins for one or two children. They come with the box, filler, and objects. You just need to assemble them. They are also super easy to store! You can purchase directly from the picture below by clicking the black box on each bin.

For all of my neutral loving, montessori mamas out there, these wood toned sets would be a great addition to your playrooms. Click the black boxes on the picture for shopping links.


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