Are sensory bins good for toddlers? Short answer: yes. Creating sensory bins for toddlers allows them to build skills and understanding through play-based, hands-on learning. Sensory bins are easy, in-expensive, and effective for supporting toddler in their growth and development – but (spoiler alert) they don’t have to be messy to be fun.
I know how terrifying it looks seeing a toddler with a sensory bin.
Oh yes, lady on the Internet, let’s give my child – who loves to make messes – access to materials to make even more messes.
Before we even begin, let’s get two truths nailed down right away so we are both on the same page:
- Sensory bins do not have to be messy. The messy does not mean more learning. Toddlers can learn how to play within sensory bin rules and boundaries.
- Sensory bins are some of the most powerful learning tools available in the home environment. Let’s use what we have access to.
RELATED: What even is a sensory bin? If you are trying to get caught up on what sensory bins are, make sure to check out this post.
How do you make a sensory bin for a toddler?
Toddler sensory bins on the surface level may seem the exact same as a big kid sensory bin.
Conceptually, yes: it’s the same idea.
A sensory bin is container filled with materials and tools for the child to interact with in a safe, tactile experience.
But for toddlers, we have a few other factors to consider:
- Creating a taste-safe space
- Limiting tools (to avoid overwhelming the toddler)
- Supporting motor skill development
Fancy list, cool cool: How do we translate this into safe, effective sensory bins for toddlers?
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Creating a safe sensory bin for toddlers
Tops of the list for creating sensory bins for toddlers is making sure the materials the toddler is interacting with are taste-safe and won’t pose a choking hazard.
This will not be the case with all sensory bins, which is why it’s important to have a list of go-to, toddler-specific sensory bins that avoid certain materials for this highly curious (lickable and tastable) crowd.
Taste-safe sensory bin bases for toddlers
RELATED: How do you introduce sensory bins to toddlers AND keep them from making a mess? Try the tips in this post.
As much fun as it may be to toss anything and everything into a sensory bin, the key to supporting toddlers in their sensory play is having only a few tools on hand.
When toddlers have too many options, they can have a hard time committing to a tool. This impacts their focus, engagement, and ability to sustain play in the sensory bin.
This is literally the opposite of our goal.
Instead, limit the tools and options in a toddler sensory bin. Let them laser focus on one tool and super develop skills with it. It may seem counter-intuitive, but less choices equals more play for kids.
RELATED: Why is sensory play important for kids? What sort of skills do kids develop in sensory play? Find out here.
How to support motor skill development
Toddlers develop an incredible amount of motor skills in sensory bins – but that also means we need to take a little extra care with set up that we fully consider the child, the tools, and the development.
If a tool is too advanced for a child, frustration may lead them not to play.
As you set tools and equipment into the sensory bin, make sure the child can use it. Have they used tongs before? Do they know how to squirt from a pipette? Are they strong enough to lift that pitcher of water?
These (and many many other questions) go through my head as I’m setting up sensory bins for toddlers. You know your child/audience best so you’ll be the best judge for their abilities.
And don’t forget to model how to use tools. Toddlers may need a quick teaching or refresh on how to make the tools works.
RELATED: What basic supplies are needed for sensory bins? Check out this post on sensory bin basics.
What are the best sensory bins for toddlers?
This list of sensory bin ideas for toddlers was carefully curated.
In each, I considered safety, easy of play, accessibility, tools, and overall ability to support a toddler’s growth and development.
Sensory bins are one of the best tools to use for play and learning in the home environment, but finding sensory bins that are safe to use with toddlers (and they they can be successful with) can be challenging.
Enjoy this curated list of sensory bins for toddlers.
Rainbow Rice with Funnels
Rainbow Rice will forever be the GOAT of toddler sensory bins for me. The colorful rice is simple to dye, lasts for years, and creates an inviting sensory experience like none other.
Muddy Monster Truck
Is it messy? Yes. Is it simple? Totally. Taste-safe? Of course. If you have a toddler who is into trucks, this is The Activity for them. Don’t overlook this one (and consider playing with it in the bathtub or shower for easy clean-up).
Bug Sensory Bin with Cereal
Cereal is a fantastic taste safe option for sensory bins. Save the cereal in an art tight container for future play after this experience is over.
Cornmeal Scooping Bin
Could this be any easier to set up? Cornmeal, egg carton, formula scoop. Toddler sensory bin is ready. Don’t miss this incredibly simple idea.
Dyed Noodle Sensory
Noodles have such a fun texture for play in the toddler years – plus talk about a great taste-safe option. Bonus idea: dye the noodles for extra fun.
Taste Safe Kinetic Sand
Kinetic sand is awesome but toddlers eating store-bought kinetic sand… not so awesome. Try making this taste-safe option instead.
Oatmeal Sensory Bin
My toddler was an old pro at sensory bins, but the first time he tried dry oatmeal the base, he declared it the “best sensory bin ever.” Dry oatmeal can be saved for years.
Water Pouring Station
Don’t forget water! One of the best (and easiest) sensory bins for toddlers is a good ol’ fashioned pouring station. These are the best!
The taste-safe alternative to bubble foam is Chickpea Foam. This stuff is thick, fluffy, and a riot for toddlers to play with.
Construction Sensory Bin with Cereal
Another cereal sensory bin and this one with a construction theme. Sensory bins for toddlers don’t need to be grand in size – this is a fantastic idea on a smaller scale.
Scoop and Transfer Sensory
One of the best aspects of sensory play for toddlers is the connection to life skills. In this simple set-up, the toddler is working on “scoop and transfer” skills moving the dry rice to smaller bowls.
Flower Sensory Bin
Flowers in a sensory bin. It’s a fantastic way for toddlers to get up close and personal with nature, and begin noticing details. This bin is simple and perfect.
Puzzle Sensory Bin
Have chunky puzzles at home? Hide them in the sensory bin! This brings life back to old puzzles, and may entice kids who are hesitant to play in a sensory bin to engage with one.
Toy Washing Sensory Bin
One of my favorite activities for toddlers is having them wash the toys. In this bin, plastic toys are paired with water, brushes, and towels. Optional: bubbles.
Trucks & Oats
Another simple toddler sensory bin: trucks and oats. These kind of easy, uncluttered bins make for the best toddler play moments.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sensory bins (depending on the material) can be created for a child once they can sit up on their own. Water in a cookie sheet is a great first sensory exploration option – with supervision of course. Around 12 months old, dry rice is often a first sensory bin option. Children continue to enjoy sensory bins and sensory play past age 10.
NO! Sensory bins do not have to be messy for the child to get the full benefit. Set rules. Have boundaries. Teach your child to play with a sensory bin that same way you taught them not to throw food at the table or dump water out of the bath. You didn’t stop serving food because they dumped a plate. You worked with them. You showed them how to eat without dumping. Do the same for sensory bins.
The best sensory bin for toddlers is the rice bin. It’s simple, easy, inexpensive, and can be used and reused for years.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 1.9 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.