You’ve probably heard that sensory activities for kids are an excellent way for young children to learn and explore. Here you will learn about the benefits of sensory play and how to simplify bringing sensory play into your home.
As I glance at my preschooler and kindergartener scooping beans into a funnel, I am reminded how sensory activities have helped us get through the days together. And yep, they get better about cleaning up the mess over time. – no more bean sprouts in between my decking. (it sure makes a funny memory, though)
Here are the BEST sensory activities for kids from a former teacher and mom to three.
RELATED: Here are five secrets that support sensory play.
What is a sensory activity?
A sensory bin is a container filled with materials that allow young children to explore their senses for sensory play.
As a parent being pulled in many directions, finding an activity that holds educational value and longevity is a top priority.
Sensory Play explores what items look like, how they feel if they make sounds, and perhaps even how they smell and taste. They also help young children work through emotions, frustrations, and thoughts they may not vocalize.
Sensory bins are for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and big kids. What changes over the years is what we put inside the sensory play to match the child’s stage of learning and development.
RELATED: Here is how to introduce sensory play at home.
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Add any of these items to an under-the-bed storage bin or sensory table, along with some common kitchen tools, to get started.
RELATED: This is our go-to list for outdoor sensory supplies. Spoiler, we use them inside too!
15+ sensory play fillers
Over the years, my toddlers and preschoolers have done sensory activities in various ways. Here are 18 sensory bin ideas to get you started.
- Beans – I love grabbing items out of the cupboard to chuck in a sensory bin, and this is always a favorite!
- Cloud dough – Inside this post is a simple recipe to make at home.
- Colored pasta – Coloring pasta takes sensory play to the next level.
- Dirt – Simple, right?! This is a top-five sensory activity.
- Feathers – Soft and tickly? Yes, please!
- Ice cubes – Ice makes an excellent sensory play, and once it melts, you’ve got water play!
- Jello – Who doesn’t love squishing jello?
- Kinetic sand – This is just normal beach sand mixed with some added extras – check it out!
- Oats oobleck – Oats are great for pouring, tipping, and scooping.
- Paint – Adding paint to play is awesome for learning texture and color.
- Pom poms – You can use these bad boys in so many sensory activities.
- Pudding rice – You heard right. You can use food for your sensory play!
- Sand – Sand is great for kids to mold, feel, and get their imagination firing.
- Shaving cream – My kids cannot get enough of shaving cream.
- Shredded paper – Add some paint and BOOM. – You’ve got the perfect sensory play activity. PS, this one gets pretty messy. Take it outside.
- Water – Want to keep it budget-friendly? Just use water!
- Water and dish soap for bubbles – What’s better than just water? Water with bubbles!
10+ clean and simple sensory activities
Let’s start with keeping things simple. These sensory bins typically stay within the play space and quickly clean up.
- Bear Soup – Chuck counting bears in water so your kids can use a ladle to get them out!
- Button Water Sensory Play – The kids love adding buttons to water, and it’s so simple.
- Cut the Playdough – Items like playdough and a pair of blunt-edged scissors help start this sensory play. Since we use store-bought, we can also call these Play-Doh ideas!
- Cranberry Scoop – Cranberries in water, easy!
- Fall Bean Mix Up – Gather some beans and chuck them together.
- Farm Sensory Play – Make a miniature sensory farm!
- Letter Bin Sensory Hunt – Look for letters hidden in shredded paper.
- Nature Sensory Hunt – Head outside and gather different textures.
- Rock Sensory Bin – I found these little rocks at Target, and they make a great sensory activity.
- Sensory Sorting – Putting colors together.
- Sound Tubes – Adding sensory objects to tubes and listening to the sounds they make!
- Sticky Pumpkin – Tissue on sticky paper to make a pumpkin.
- Trucks and Oats – Grab some oats, grab your trucks, and you’re away!
- 20 Activities for Kinetic Sand – Over here, we love kinetic sand, so you’ve got to check out these top kinetic sand activities.
10+ Messy sensory play activities
Now let’s have some fun! These ideas may be messy, but the memories last a lifetime. Remember that time when…you get the idea!
- Bugs in Muck – That’s right! Gather up your plastic bugs and make mud for them to play in.
- Decorate the Box Cake – Grab a cardboard box and whipped cream to make a sensory cake!
- Glue the Colored Noodles – Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Strengthen fine motor skills and learn how to squeeze glue.
- Halloween Messy Sensory Play – Shaving cream and plastic eyeballs? Yes, please!
- Rainbow Oobleck – Make your own colorful Oobleck.
- Scissor Skills Spaghetti Sensory Play – Chop up cooked spaghetti for some awesome fine motor sensory play.
- Shapes and Shaving Cream – Math and shaving cream? – Would’ve thought?!
- Shaving Cream and LEGOS – Love LEGO? Try adding shaving cream to take it to the next level.
- Shaving Cream Car Tracks – Making patterns using the wheels on toy cars and shaving cream is always a win.
- Shredded Paper Pool – Chuck a load of shredded paper in an empty paddling pool and watch the kids play.
- Taste Safe Strawberry Bin – Strawberries in a sensory bin are great for one-year-olds!
15+ Water and Ice Sensory Play
Water and ice – you are my favorite. These are my everyday go-to sensory play activities because they are SUPER SIMPLE to set up. Even cleanup is a breeze by wiping it down with a towel when finished.
- Alphabet Ice Pods – his time, we scooped up our favorite alphabet letters and plopped them directly into the muffin tin for alphabet ice pods. This cold and icy sensory play is perfect for a hot summer day.
- Alphabet Sensory Bag – Plastic letters in a bag? Yes, please!
- Apple Scoop and Sort – Use a ladle to scoop apples out of the water, then sort them into colors.
- Frozen Water Ice Pods – Freeze some water beads for fun sensory play.
- Halloween Water Play – Add some spook to your water play.
- Ice Skating Bears – Freeze counting bears in water for a winter activity.
- Magnetic Sensory Bottles – Chuck some magnetic objects into a sensory bottle and try this scientific experiment!
- Outdoor Tracks Water Play – Learn how to funnel water to follow a watercourse.
- Pool Noodle Water Wall – Attach pool noodles to the wall and pour water through!
- Pour to the Lines – A great measurement activity using colored liquids and bottles with a measurement line.
- Ribbon Sensory Play – A bin full of ribbons is quick, easy, and fun.
- Scoop the Limes – Pop some limes in water, then add a ladle.
- Scoop the Sea – Move your water treasure chest to the sensory table to practice scooping and transferring objects.
- Water and Paint Sensory Play – Use primary paint colors for this colorful water play.
- 35 Water Games for Kids – Need more water ideas? Check out my list of 35 water games!
RELATED: Sensory supplies make excellent birthday gifts for toddlers and preschoolers. Here is how to build your sensory activity bucket.
Why are Sensory Bins Beneficial to Children?
Early learners gain knowledge through experiences. Toddlers and preschoolers need to touch and move objects around to make higher-level connections and move beyond worksheets.
- Develops science skills – Sensory bins allow children to learn through investigation, discovery, and problem-solving regarding safety and interest levels.
- Hands-on learning – Sensory bins offer many hands-on ways for children to learn, which is precisely what we want.
- Increases thinking skills – When children learn to interact with sensory bins, they begin to have opportunities that offer higher-level thinking. Children will make predictions and test limits that lead to discovery.
- New experiences – Sensory bins allow toddlers and preschoolers to touch, look, hear, grasp, stack, fill, dump, connect, twist, balance, transport, construct, inspire and stimulate the imagination.
RELATED: Here is how to build a sensory bin from a quick trip to Target.
Give these sensory activities a try.
I can’t stress enough how much we use our sensory bins, from outdoor activities to Breakfast Invitations. With tons of ideas to choose from in different categories, your kids will never get bored playing these sensory activities. What will you add to your sensory bin?
More ideas for sensory play activities
Activities on Demand
Want great ideas without the ads? Download these 20 hands-on learning games for kids.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sensory activities engage touch, smell, sight, and sometimes sound and taste. Touching new textures creates different paths in the brain to enhance learning. Sensory bins are an easy way to reach more learning potential through play.
The main thing I consider with sensory bins is texture. I use it as an opportunity to introduce new objects that taste safe and are not a choking hazard depending on my child’s age and stage. Our favorite sensory fillers are beans, water, rocks, and kinetic sand (not taste-safe).
We love using the bed storage bin and an indoor cycling mat to sit on as my children play. Read how to introduce sensory play here.