Sensory Play: 3 Step Sensory Bins for Preschoolers

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase using this link.

DIY Sensory Bins!

One great play based learning activity that you can do at home is make your own sensory bins!  It is super simple and inexpensive.  You can have kids focus on a skill like sorting by color or fine motor work like scooping and pouring. If you use kid friendly tongs or tweezers to sort colors you’re combining 2 skills; fine motor work with math (sorting) work.

We regularly make a new sensory bins based on the skills we are practicing and what we’ll be learning for the month (we are child-led).

If your child is into imaginary/dramatic play we use characters (Use what you have… Paw Patrol, Maui, Frozen, etc.). When we’re learning about a theme like Dinosaurs or The Ocean Habitat we make a sensory bin for that.

What is a Sensory Bin?

A Sensory Bin is a play based activity that invites the child to use their senses while they play. It is generally in a storage container (usually a large bin) with an abundance of filler material (rice, bird seed, popcorn kernels, lentils, etc.) and either has an apparent skill kids will practice.  For example a scoop and pour sensory bin would include a spoon or other scooping tool and a cup and/ or kid-sized pitcher for pouring. Kids would know to explore scooping and or pouring.  Kids generally use multiple senses (sound of the material pouring out, feeling the filler material pouring with their hands, seeing the different colors, etc.)to play and practice skills  (fine motor practice like scooping and pouring which preschoolers need for later writing years or beginning math practice like sorting colors or shapes).

Why Sensory Play is Important:

It is important to note that sensory play is important for ALL children (not just kids with sensory processing issues). The cliff notes version of why sensory play is important is because it brings valuable learning opportunities for children at their level. Kids are hardwired to use their senses for learning AND they love to play. What most kids don’t realize is that every time they play they are practicing valuable skills and learning.  Sensory play can provide a multi-sensory play platform that research suggest can help kids who have learning and attention issues.

How to make 3 Step Sensory Bins:

Step 1

Gather Materials (See below for ideas. I use what I have at home however we were out of rice so this time I bought some other supplies.)

FIRST you’ll need to choose sensory materials:

  • bins with lids
  • sensory stimulating material rice, beans, popcorn kernels (unpopped), play-dough, “moon sand”, play sand, water, magic water marbles
  • *Optional Choose toys or tools (to manipulate the sensory material). I recommend kids who are having trouble with attention and learning simply use their hands to manipulate the sensory material (they seem to do well with the direct connection)
  • *Optional Food coloring (for the rice. I used a glass bowl and gloves. I dyed about 1/2 a bag at a time)

**Optional step: to make it more fun I used food coloring for the rice. For the ocean I mixed blue and turquoise and left some white and for the grass I mixed green (some dark some light) and left some white. I put the colors side-by-side so the kids could mix them up, they LOVE that!

Step 2

Add sensory filler material to the bins

Step 3

Place bins in an uncluttered area in your home (or yard) & Enjoy! For easy clean up use a small storage bin lid to scrape up the filler material and add (clean) filler material back into the bin.

 Note: I rotate out the bins to keep it interesting. Sometimes I swap out the theme and sometimes we take a break from the bins all together.

The Finished Products:

We had animal bins (farm & sea life)

MoonSand Construction bin, a dinosaur bin and a monster trucks bin

I took the above bins to our VBS (Vacation Bible School) where I taught the preschool Maker Arts & Crafts & the kids favored my bins to most of the maker activities.

They only gender preference I noticed was on the monster trucks, the boys favored these and since there were only 2 there was a sharing issue. The only modification I made was adding more monster trucks.  Initially, I bought 2 because the space inside the bin was so small but kids made ramps with the lids and aside from putting their hands in the rice or beans the kids didn’t keep them in the bin much. Something I didn’t think about clearly because I do not play enough!

The bins were the overall favorite activity for this age group! 


Other Sensory Play Ideas:

  1. Sensory Bags are another popular idea similar to sensory bins. They are generally introduced to younger children. For example if you made an ocean sensory bin for your preschooler you could quickly make a sensory bag for your littlest child using; a ziplock bag, water and or water beads and smooth objects or ocean toys  (found rocks, sea glass, smooth shells or other objects that won’t poke a hole in the plastic). If you don’t have those items use household items to simulate an ocean environment like; decorative marbles in light colors & 4 cooked spaghetti noodles folded in half with a rubber band around it to make an octopus.
  2. Sensory Table– these are GREAT for outdoor play!
  3. Sensory Toys- are important for kids of all ages. For infants try these sensory blocks, for preschoolers try sensory balls,  for all ages try this water marble and balloon kit.
  4. Travel Sensory Toys

How to make a Lego Busy Box

How to make Superhero Snowglobes

Best Board Games for Young kids



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.