What are the sensory bin basics you need to have? Learn more about sensory bins and the supplies used to create easy and meaningful sensory play. This simple list of basics will create more than 15 sensory bins for kids.
I walked downstairs this morning and was hit by a wall of mess: a full dishwasher, sticky counters, breakfast remnants, and what I assumed was a fruit snack ground into the hardwood floors.
I definitely needed a moment to get my life under control which is exactly when my toddler came running around the corner looking to be entertained.
How in the world am I going to get a minute to clean this, keep him occupied and not abandon him with Daniel Tiger (again)?
Duh. A sensory bin that’s how.
How to set up a sensory bin
Sensory bins are an amazing toddler tool.
And they take about 5 seconds to set up if you have the equipment in place to do it.
Not to rub it in, but thank heavens I have that equipment and every tool needed to buy at least 15 minutes of solid toddler independent play time.
But usually it’s more like 20 minutes and sometimes close to AN HOUR!
RELATED: Curious what a sensory bin actually is? Check out this post that explains in detail the role of sensory bins.
What can you do with sensory bin basics?
The two biggest myths of my life with toddler activities are that:
1. You need a bunch of stuff
2. It takes a ton of room to store.
I want to share with you what I keep lying around, how I store it, and how life changing it is to have quick sensory bin supplies on hand at a moment’s notice (aka when you need a second to breath).
I’m dead serious that there’s a ton you can do with these sensory bin basics, and to prove it, here are 8 quick and easy sensory activities that you can whip up in seconds using the supply list below (don’t worry – I have more activities to show you at the end, too! Keep scrolling…)
- Letter Hunt (Busy Toddler)
- Spell Your Name Sensory Bin (Fun Learning for Kids)
- Scooping Station (Busy Toddler)
- Construction Zone Play (Play Teach Repeat)
- Pouring Station (Busy Toddler)
- Rice Bin (Busy Toddler)
- “My Family” Sensory Bin (Play Teach Repeat)
- Farm Sensory Small World (Busy Toddler)
RELATED: Need every more activities? Check out this sensory activities page.
My list of sensory bin basics
Sensory bins are comprised of three main parts: the bin, the bases, and the tools.
The bin is the container you use to hold the sensory bin. For my set of basics, I use the same storage container over and over. Bases are the materials the child is interacting with (from rice to bubble foam). The tools you add to the sensory bin enable the interaction with the materials.
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I keep my supplies in a medium under-the-bed type storage tub (spoiler alert: this is the same tub that we do the sensory bins in – how slick is that?!). A medium storage tub is ideal for sensory bins because of the high sides. It keeps everything contained and defines the learning space.
Obviously, some materials get out, but that’s why they invented vacuums.
I’m a miser so I try to get the most bang for my buck from everything. That includes sensory bin bases. Some of the bases I own just celebrated their one year anniversary with us. Feel free to send a card.
Here’s a list of the best sensory bin bases that will last for many, many years:
Taste-safe sensory bin bases
- Dry rice (plain rice or dyed rainbow colors)
- Corn meal
- Dry oatmeal
Not-taste safe sensory bin bases
After we are done with a sensory bin, I pour the base back into a large resealable bag.
My “go-to” bases are rice (mine is currently rainbow colored), beans, corn meal, and even pom pom balls (although apparently those guys forgot to pose for the picture!).
All of these bases save well, play well, make for fun times.
I usually let my toddler pick which base he wants in his bin – it’s an easy choice to let him have. Inside the bin, I throw a variety of our favorite tools.
These live in the sensory supply tub and are dedicated toddler activity tools. You have to have some fun tools to play with to keep the sensory bin party hopping.
Fine Motor Tool Set
We got these fine motor tools for Christmas and we are in love. They are awesome for sensory bins and quickly got upgraded to Top Dog in our sensory lives.
Tongs are such a versatile activity supply – we couldn’t do a sensory project without a pair of these simple tongs.
I bought an extra set of measuring cups just for my toddler. We each needed our own so I have a dedicated set in his sensory play supplies.
I am so glad I ended up with these funnels left over from a house project. They ended up being the perfect sensory supply for any pouring or scooping type activity. Nothing is better than a funnel!
Small Construction Trucks
We rarely have a sensory activity without construction equipment being added. Even if it’s not until the very end, my kids grab for diggers, always.
Various Sized Jars
You have to have somewhere to put the goods once you’ve scooped them. We love using old jars from spaghetti sauce, jelly, etc. Plastic containers like these are also great. Make sure to vary height and capacity with the ones you pick.
Store it all together for quick and easy sensory bin fun
When I need a moment of toddler independent playtime, I grab for a sensory bin. In less than a minute, I have a fun play area set up for my son and these bins just don’t get old.
Sometimes, it’s just a straight “dump the base and go” type activity (like a rice bin). Other times, making one quick addition (like hiding a few puzzle pieces in the corn meal) will instantly be an activity hit.
Activities using these supplies
- Bean pool (Busy Toddler)
- Dino Bin (Busy Toddler)
- Pom Pom Pouring (Busy Toddler)
- Spring Sensory Bin (Play Teach Repeat)
- Montessori Practical Life Lesson: Pouring Rice (Sugar, Spice & Glitter)
- Scoop and Pour Activity (Play Teach Repeat)
- Button Excavating (Busy Toddler)
- Ice Box Play – swap the normal bases for ice cubes! (Busy Toddler)
Building a basic sensory kit has been a game changer for me. I can quickly pull out the sensory supplies I need and create a wonderful independent learning experience for my son without even batting an eye.
It makes me feel like “Wonder Mom” every time I just throw one of these bins together.
Tips – Other posts to help with sensory bin play
Frequently Asked Questions
Sensory bins can start in babyhood – a small amount of water in a tray is a great first bin. Simple bases like cereal and dry rice are excellent first sensory bins in the early toddler years. The point being: sensory bins can start early (with proper supervision and judgement on materials).
A simple rice bin. Rice bins are a fantastic sensory bin option for all ages, but especially for toddlers. It has a wonderful sound, feel, and texture. Rice can scoop, pour, and be used to bury with. Don’t overlook a rice bin.
Have rules for sensory bins. Sensory play does not need to be messy to be full of learning. Children can learn to play within a set of boundaries during sensory play, just like they learn to eat at dinner without throwing food or to take baths without dumping all the water out. Here’s a post explaining how I help my kids keep sensory bin play tidy.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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