sensory bins

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is “Do your students to get to play?”  The answer, sadly, is no.  We don’t have free play or play time in our district.  As much as I wish we did and as much as I wish I could change that, it is what it is.  However, what I can do is make our day as fun and engaging as possible.  I can give my students as much freedom and choice to learn and play while learning.  So, do we have play time?  No.  Do we play and have fun and learn?  YES.  We’re playing but not playing….if you get what I mean!   One of the easiest and most effective and engaging ways we “play” is with our sensory bin.  I get asked about sensory bins a lot  so today I wanted to share the why of having a sensory bin in your classroom and then give some tips for how to set up and use sensory bins.

sensory bins

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is a tactile, hands-on learning experience for our students.  Sensory bins are in contained spaces such as a simple container like a Rubbermaid box or it can be an actual sensory table.  In our classroom, our sensory bin is just a Rubbermaid container.  When thinking of containers for your sensory bins, you want something that is big enough for students to get their hands in and play and dig and scrape and dump without the filler materials falling out.   Just think about your classroom and the space you have and pick an appropriate size container!

Why do I need or want sensory bins in my class?

That’s an easy answer.  Sensory bins are fun, engaging, and easy to differentiate.  But they also offer a lot more than that.  Sensory bins are a great way to get the benefits of sensory play without a big mess!  And sensory bins are a fantastic way to incorporate fine motor skills into the classroom on a daily basis!

Sensory bins offer the kids a hands-on way for our kids to explore their world using their hands and senses!   Our sensory bins give the kids a chance to explore the world through different materials and fillers and textures!   Sensory bins can be calming for our students too!  There is something very soothing about running your hands through some confetti or rice!   Yeah…it even works for adults.  You never know when you’ll come into my room and see me running my hands through the sensory bin to calm and sooth myself!

Sensory bins offer a chance for our kids to play and be social.  They get to dig and play in different kinds of fillers and materials while talking to their friends about what they’re doing and what they’re feeling and experiencing.   Sensory bins also offer great language development experiences for our students, especially when they’re working with a friend!  The tactile learning allows for great conversations!

Sensory bins allow for differentiated practice or review with skills that we’ve learned.

And, for us grown ups, sensory bins can offer us a creative outlet.  It’s a lot of fun to come up with ideas for fillers and themes for our sensory bins!  And what’s better than getting to be creative!

And most importantly sensory bins are FUN!!!

So now you know why you need sensory bins in your classroom….but how do you make it happen?!

How Do I Set Up  Sensory Bins In My Classroom?

This is pretty simple and can be very cheap or free.   Here ya go:

Choose a container.

A rubbermaid or similar type container works great.

Choose a theme.

My sensory bin themes match what we’re doing in our class.  These themes are usually seasonal or holiday related.   Think apples, Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter and snow, dinosaurs, space, ocean…your sensory bin can have any theme you want!

christmas sensory bins

Choose filler for to match the theme.

Filler can be anything that adds textures and sensory experiences to a sensory bin.  Some fillers we use are:  scented and colored rice and pasta, sand, confetti, floral moss, corn and birdseed with acorns, epsom salt, and aquarium rocks.  Along with fillers, I like to add in objects that create more sensory experiences.  A good example is our current Happy New Year sensory bin.  The filler is confetti and we added in some mini disco balls.  This gives the students something to play with and interact with and opens up lots of conversation when at the sensory bin.

new year sensory bin

Add in cards to incorporate the academic skills you want students to learn.

Our sensory bins provide a differentiated learning activity as well as the benefits of sensory play.  Here’s how our sensory bins are differentiated:

There are 2 sets of cards in the bin.  These cards contain pictures or words for certain skills.  For example, in our new year’s sensory bin the skills are beginning sounds and cvc words.  The party hats contain images for students to identify the beginning sound.  The noisemakers are cvc word images so students can write cvc words.

There are recording sheets for each skill.  These recording sheets are color coded to match our center groups.  This lets the students know which sheet to use.  The clipart on the recording sheets matches the clipart of the cards in the sensory bin.  This makes the differentiation 100% visual.  Students can look at their color coded paper to know they’re looking for the noise makers in the bin.

The cards that we use in our sensory bin come from my center creations on Teachers Pay Teachers.  When I’m creating my centers, I am intentionally creating all of my center activities so that we can put them in our sensory bins.  This allows us a variety of choices for skills and themes in our sensory bin!

differentiated sensory bins sensory bins

What about the mess?

Will there be a mess?  Of course.  That’s half the fun!   I am a firm believer that the bigger the mess, the more we learn.  And we learn to clean up our mess.  We have expectations and procedures in place for the sensory bin.  The students know when we finish that they have to hide our cards for the next person.  We know to clean up anything that spilled.   Accidents happen and we just fix them and move on.    They’re kids.  Let them get messy and dirty.  And then teach them to be responsible and clean up!

If you want to know more about sensory bin themes and fillers, check out this post:

For a DIY sensory bin, check out this post:


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