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Our Favorite Sensory Bin Fillers: A Parent's Guide to Fun and Easy Sensory Materials

By: Knowledge Crates

Our Favorite Sensory Bin Fillers

As parents, we're constantly seeking ways to engage and stimulate our children's play (and maybe even keep them busy enough to let us drink a cup of coffee in peace?). We all want to provide our kiddos with experiences that not only entertain them, but also foster their cognitive and sensory development

One of our favorite (and successful—I'm talking enjoying my coffee while it's still hot!) ways to facilitate this kind of play is through sensory bins. If you've got a container, a filler, and something to scoop or pour with, your kids' naturally creative minds are off to the races!

In this guide, we'll share some of our favorite sensory bin fillers, from classic choices like water and colored rice to cool innovative options like kinetic sand and Pluffle. You can use these ideas to start putting together your own sensory bins, or let us save you the trouble and check out our collection of ready-to-go sensory bins instead.

1. Colored Rice

Ocean Sensory Bin with Kinetic Sand and Colored Rice Filler

Add a pop of color to your sensory bins with colored rice! Colored rice is a versatile and budget-friendly sensory bin filler that can be used in countless ways to engage children's senses. Kids can scoop, pour, and sift through the rice, promoting fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Colored rice is also perfect for themed sensory bins—think seasonal colors for holidays or rainbow hues for a magical touch. 🌈

Coloring your own rice at home is super easy! Simply put plain white rice into a gallon ziploc bag, add some liquid water colors or food coloring, seal right, and shake, shake, shake! Pour out onto a cookie sheet to dry.

If you prefer the done-for-you approach, you'll find colored rice in our Ocean Busy Bin and often in our seasonal and unit study crates. ✅

2. Dried Beans

Woodlands Sensory Bin with Dried Bean Filler

Beans are another inexpensive sensory bin filler that provide children with a unique tactile experience. Smooth kidney beans, bumpy chickpeas, little lentils ... some kiddos (my daughter!) get sucked right in to sorting the different sizes, shapes, and textures.

Beans are an especially great sensory bin filler for fueling imaginative play with toy trucks for "loading" and "transporting." We like to use them in our woodlands-themed bin too because their colors are so natural and good for "camouflaging" our animal figurines.

3. Kinetic Sand

Dinosaur Sensory Bin with Kinetic Sand Filler

If you don't already use kinetic sand with your kids, prepare to be mesmerized! This magical substance behaves like traditional sand but with a delightful twist—it sticks to itself, not to your hands or surfaces. 🙌 Kids can mold it, shape it, squish it—the possibilities for creative play are endless!

Kinetic sand is not only super satisfying to touch, but also promotes sensory integration and fine motor skills development. It comes in lots of colors, too, so don't limit your plans to beach-themed sensory bins. We use kinetic sand in our Arctic Busy BinDino Busy Bin, and yes, our Ocean Busy Bin. ☺️ Oh, also in ALL of our travel-ready Busy Buckets for on-the-go sensory play!

4. Playfoam

Arctic Busy Bin with Playfoam and Kinetic Sand Filler

Playfoam is a delightfully squishy and moldable compound made of tiny foam balls that stick together. It provides endless opportunities for sensory exploration and is perfect for tactile play without the mess

Children can squeeze, stretch (my daughter's favorite), and shape the foam to their heart's content, enhancing their hand strength and dexterity in the process. 💪 

Playfoam comes in a variety of colors (even sparkles!). It's also reusable, allowing for countless play sessions without losing its texture or pliability. That's right, it doesn't dry out!

We include playfoam in alllll of our on-the-go sensory buckets because it's just that much fun. ☺️ You'll find it in our arctic bin, too!

5. Water

Sensory Bin Filler with Cold and Hot Water

It doesn't get any more classic than water! Incorporating water into your sensory bins adds an extra element of excitement and exploration. And kids just LOVE water, don't they? 💦

Whether it's floating toys, pouring cups, or simply splashing around, water play engages multiple senses and promotes sensory development. Just be sure to supervise closely and use waterproof materials to prevent any unintended spills.

A simple water table is a great tool for play to have outdoors. For indoor water play, I sometimes just put towels down on the kitchen floor with an under-the-bed storage bin on top so clean up will be quick and easy. You can also delight your kids by putting THEM in a water "sensory bin"—the bathtub! ☺️

6. Dried Pasta

Colored Dried Pasta Sensory Bin

Pasta isn't just for dinner—it's also a fantastic sensory bin filler! From spaghetti to penne, dried pasta comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, offering a unique tactile experience for little hands. Children can run their fingers through the pasta, feeling its texture and enjoying the satisfying sound it makes as it cascades through their hands. Plus, it's inexpensive and easy to clean up – just gather it into a container and save it for next time.

You can color your pasta the same way you color rice. So fun to make colors that match different holidays or themes!

7. Pluffle

Rainforest Sensory Bin with Pluffle Filler

Have you tried Pluffle from Educational Insights? It is soooo unique and fun! It's super soft, fluffy, and light—made from shredded foam. It comes in lots of bright colors (including glitter and glow-in-the-dark!) and does the coolest thing...

When you squeeze the Pluffle and then let go, it squirms in a way that makes it look alive. It's hard to explain how truly awesome this is, so go ahead and check out this video we made of it here (watch to the end!). ☺️

We use Pluffle in our Rainforest and Space sensory bins. When my kids get those out to play, the grown-ups always like to join in because it's really that mesmerizing! ✨

8. Aquarium Gravel / Decorative Pebbles

Incorporating aquarium gravel (may also be called decorative pebbles, available at Dollar Tree) into your child's sensory bin can add a new dimension of exploration and creativity to playtime. 

Kids love the feeling of the smooth stones beneath their fingers and the opportunity to sort and manipulate them in endless ways. Whether they're building roads for toy cars, creating patterns and designs, building a riverbed, or simply enjoying the sensory feedback of the gravel, it offers a versatile and engaging addition to sensory play.

It's Time to Fill Those Sensory Bins!

With these fun and simple sensory bin fillers in your arsenal, you'll be well-equipped to create sensory experiences that will captivate your child's imagination and promote their development. So gather your supplies, set up your sensory bins, and get ready for a world of fun and exploration!

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