Sensory play is an important part of development for small children. Sensory play helps children to explore and stimulate some or all of the senses and make connections and process the world around them.
One of the easiest ways to add sensory play to your child’s day is through sensory bins. They allow your child to explore through his senses in a contained area.
Sensory bins are usually created around a central theme with everything in the bin being related to that central theme.
For example, in my Yellow Themed Sensory Bin– everything in the box- from the filler to the extras, is yellow.
There is a great big sensory bin world out there, so what exactly do you fill a sensory bin with?? Here’s the ultimate list of sensory bin fillers for you to use in creating your own sensory bins for your child to explore.
The Ultimate List of Sensory Bin Fillers
Sensory bin fillers are really only limited to your imagination, but to give you an idea of how vast the choices are, let’s take a look.
Food Sensory Bin Fillers
Food items are great options for filling sensory bins. Most of these fillers are easy and inexpensive to buy in bulk and offer endless sensory options. Here are some food-based, edible sensory bin filler options:
Rice– Rice is cheap and feels great on the skin. It is easily dyed so you can make it match the theme of your choice.
Dry Pasta– Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, making it easy to create new and interesting sensory bins. Pasta is also easily dyed different colors.
Cooked Pasta– Cooking the pasta first adds a whole new level to the sensory play. And kids love feeling noodles slip between their fingers.
Dry Corn– I love using whole kernel corn (for feeding animals) in sensory bins. If you don’t want to use animal grade corn, try popping corn kernels or buy food-grade corn from your bulk food source.
Cereal– Cereal is another great sensory bin filler. We don’t eat colorful, sugar filled cereals- but we play with them all the time! (Check out these 13 Fruit Loop Activities to see how we use it!)
Dry Beans– Any variety of dry beans are a great option for filling sensory bins. Black Beans especially feel nice and soothing on the skin!
Tapioca Pearls– Tapioca makes an edible alternative to the very popular water beads!
Rock Salt– The large crystals of this salt make it a ton of fun to play in.
Corn Meal– Corn meal- or any meal or flour– makes a fun and inexpensive filler to explore
Split Peas/Lentils– These seeds are smaller than beans and naturally come in a variety of colors
Coffee Beans– Using coffee beans as a sensory bin filler adds an extra scent factor to your bin
Best Non-Food Sensory Bin Fillers
Cotton Balls– Soft, white, inexpensive. Cotton is a great filler.
Shredded Paper– You can buy shredded paper or make your own.
Water Beads– Water beads are one of the most fun items to fill a sensory bin with. Check out my 8 Water Bead Activity post to learn more about this filler.
Marbles– You can buy marbles or glass gems in a ton of colors, shapes and sizes.
Sand– It’s like a sand box, but inside! You can even buy colored sand, or dye your own.
Aquarium Gravel– Another fun filler is aquarium gravel. It comes it lots of really bright colors which make your sensory bins all that more interesting.
Check out this fun Fish Tank Sensory Bin for an idea of how to use aquarium gravel as a sensory bin filler.
Pop-Poms– Pom-poms are like cotton- soft and feel great on the hands. But they come in lot of different sizes and colors.
Beads– Pony beads, wooden beads, clay beads. Basically any kind of bead you want would make a fun filler. How about these square alphabet beads for working with preschoolers learning their letters?
Nature Sensory Bin Fillers
Water– Kids love water. And it’s good clean fun.
Check out my Soap and Water Sensory Play article to see how much fun simple soap and water can be.
Bird Seed– Birdseed is a fun sensory bin filler since it’s got different sizes, shapes, and colors to explore.
Dry Leaves– who doesn’t remember making leaf piles to jump in as a kid? Bring that fun inside by filling a sensory bin with dry leaves. Or buy fake leaves.
Flowers– Spring and summer are filled with blossoms. Why not pick a few to bring in for sensory play?
See how to use flowers in a Nature Based Sensory Activity!
Pebbles/Rocks– What kid wouldn’t want to create his own construction site in a bin filled with rocks or gravel?
Dirt/Soil– You can’t get more free than dirt! And kids love to play in the dirt. Or add water and play in the mud!
Sticks or Twigs– Sticks are fun to build with. Lots of little sticks and twigs filling a sensory bin will encourage imaginative building!
Acorns– If you have oak trees, you have acorns. And probably lots of them!
Pine cones– Same with pine cones, bring them inside and let the kids play!
Grass– Freshly mowed grass has a wonderful smell and feel. Let your child explore in it!
Seasonal Sensory Bin Fillers
Easter Grass– Easter grass is a fun way to combine the celebration of Easter with sensory play
Check out this fun Easter Themed Sensory Bin!
Instant Snow– Instant snow can be used in a variety of winter or Christmas themed sensory bins
Pumpkin Seeds– Pumpkin seeds are the perfect base for a Halloween or Fall themed sensory bin
Tinsel– Sparkly tinsel can be used for Christmas or New Years sensory bins or even to make a 4th of July Firework bin!
Colored Sensory Bin Fillers
Here are some ideas for sensory bin fillers based on color:
Yellow– Corn, corn meal, dyed rice or pasta
Green– Easter grass, grass clippings, dyed pasta or rice, split peas
White– Cotton balls, instant snow, packing peanuts, white beans, shredded paper
Black– Black beans, soil, coffee beans. dyed rice or pasta
Red– Shredded paper, dyed rice or pasta,
Orange– Orange leaves- real or fake, dyed pasta or rice, shredded paper, candy corn/pumpkins, orange lentils
This, of course, is not an complete list- I could go on and on. But anything somewhat small in size and fun to dig your hands into! Jelly beans, popped corn, shaving cream, playdough, moon sand, poly-fill, ANYTHING!