The benefits of sensory play are undeniable and the sensory bin is often one of the most popular learning centers in a preschool classroom. Whether you have students with food allergies, policies against using food in sensory play, or just want something that you can use year after year, try these non-food sensory bin ideas for some amazing hands-on, sensory fun and learning.
Non-Food Sensory Bin Ideas
Safety Reminder when using Sensory Bins
As a caregiver, you will need to decide what you feel is safe for your children. Contact your child’s pediatrician for guidance if you are not sure about the safety/age appropriateness of an activity. All activities shared today are to be performed with adult supervision. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when activities call for the use of materials that could potentially be harmful or items that could present a choking risk (small items), or a drowning risk (water activities), and with introducing a new food/ingredient to a child (allergies). Observe caution and safety at all times.
Rainbow Pom Poms
Fill the sensory bin with a variety of rainbow pom-poms. Choose poms that vary in color, size, and texture. As children play, they will naturally start to notice and comment on the properties of the poms.
“Look! This yellow one is big!”
“I found a sparkly one!”
“This blue one is so tiny!”
Add tongs for fine-motor practice and dry, empty water bottles for extra eye-hand coordination work. Look for water bottles that have a wide-mouth opening to make it easier to remove the pom-poms. Label each water bottle with colorful duct tape and write the color words on each one.
Another option for the pom-pom sensory bin is to add this set of Learning Resources Crayon Sorters. Each cardboard crayon tube includes 6 objects that match the color. Dump all of those little objects into the sensory bin and mix them up! The students will dig through the pom-poms to find and sort the objects by color.
Learning objectives: color sorting and identification, hand-eye coordination, and oral language/vocabulary development.
Shredded paper is a cheap, easy, and readily available sensory bin filler! Recycle paper and use it right from the shredder or purchase small bags of decorative shredded paper. A little goes a LONG way if you choose to buy the decorative variety!
Choose lightweight things to hide in the shredded paper sensory bin. In the picture above, we chose autumn-colored shredded paper and silk fall leaves. We cut out lots more leaves onto red, orange, yellow, and brown cardstock. On each leaf, we wrote a student’s name on one side and glued a small picture on the other side.
To use this sensory bin, the children dig through the paper to find their names. They can check to be sure that it is really their name by peeking at the photo on the back! They can also find the names of their friends and teachers. It is such a fun way to practice important name recognition skills.
Learning objectives: name recognition, letter identification, social-emotional friendship development
Kinetic sand is one of those wonderful, mysterious substances that every preschool classroom needs. It can be purchased at the craft store, at Target and Walmart, and online.
There are so many fascinating qualities in kinetic sand: the way it pours, the way it packs together, and the way it just sticks together for easy cleanup.
Here are just a few accessories that you can add to the kinetic sand sensory bin:
- beach molds (animals, letters, sandcastles)
- seashells and ocean toys
- cookie cutters
- kitchen utensils (sieve, potato masher, slotted spoon)
- cars, trucks, and trains
Learning objectives: shape identification, concepts of print, exploring measurement
The sensory bin is the perfect place to practice important scissors skills. When young children are first learning how to use scissors, their little snips of paper can make quite a mess. Don’t let them fall on the floor; just place the wrapping paper, ribbon, and scissors right into the sensory table. Easy-peasy!
Learning objectives: scissors practice/fine motor skills
Place small, decorative, cheap trees in the sensory table. Add plastic ornaments, garland, and tinsel. (Warning – a small bag of tinsel is plenty. There are 2 bags pictured above, which is WAY too much!) Students can work at the sensory table to decorate the tree.
Learning objectives: fine motor skills, creative process
Fill the sensory bin with plastic vase fillers. These come in various sizes, shapes, and textures. We chose clear beads, snowflake shapes, and plastic ice cubes to make a winter scene.
Add bottle-brush evergreen trees, small pinecones, and little woodland animals.
In addition to the sensory fin, the students will engage in pretend play, act out winter scenes with the animals, and talk about the winter season.
Learning objectives: creative thinking, vocabulary development, science and seasons
Earth Day – Recycled Paper
This shredded paper is sold in the pet store and is often used as bedding for small animals. It comes in a variety of rainbow and natural colors and is fairly inexpensive. One small bag will easily fill a huge sensory table (like the one pictured, which is 24″ x 48″).
The best part about using shredded paper in the sensory table? Reusing it! After playing with this one, we repurposed it and used it to line our pet guinea pig’s cage.
Learning objectives: learning about Earth and its resources
Water beads (also called orbeez or vase fillers) come in many different color assortments. They are tiny dry beads that need to be soaked in water overnight. Once they are soaked with water, they make for a slippery, fun material that pours, scoops, and bounces.
Add ocean animals, shells, small buckets and shovels.
Water Bead Safety reminder
Do not use loose water beads with children who might put them into their mouths. Water beads should be used under close adult supervision and by older children only. Younger children may enjoy exploring them in a sensory bottle like this:
Learning objectives: hand-eye coordination, scientific properties of water
Topsoil (not potting soil with added chemicals) or regular old dirt from the garden makes an inexpensive and intriguing sensory bin filler. Involve the students in digging it up and bringing it to the sensory table!
- inexpensive clay pots
- artificial flowers
- child-sized gardening gloves
- small trowels
- plastic worms
- toy bugs, spiders
Learning objectives: explore capacity, hand-eye coordination, pretend play, creative thinking
Have you ever heard the teaching advice that says, “Don’t Overthink it!” Well, the soapy water sensory bin definitely falls into this category!
Soapy water is SOOOOOO much fun for the kids. Preschoolers will play with it for hours, washing the toys, dishes, and even school furniture.
How to make a soapy water sensory bin:
- Add a squirt of Dawn dish detergent or tear-free baby shampoo
- Turn the hose on
- Fill the sensory bin with the full force water from the hose.
- Watch the bubbles form!
- Play and enjoy. Refill as desired
Add-in accessories. (Buy everything from the dollar store.)
- dish brushes
- wash clothes
- (and large beach towels for drying off afterward)
Learning objectives: capacity, properties of water, life skills
One of the biggest complaints (from adults) about the sensory table is that it’s too messy. Messy play is GOOD for kids! But, we get it. These cue cards are helpful to provide a visual reminder about the expectations for play at the sensory bin. Print them double-sided and hang them at each center.
More sensory bin ideas and information:
Should children play with food in the sensory table? by Preschool Inspirations
Aquarium Rock Sensory Bin by Fun-A-Day
How to Dye Sensory Materials by And Next Comes L
Easter No-Food Sensory Bin by No Time for Flashcards
Sensory Bins for Younger Kids by Teaching 2 and 3-Year-Olds
Veggie Sensory Table by PreKinders