Creating a Sensory Experience at Home

Today we’ll be exploring one of my favorite stations, sensory bins! Every week, our sensory bin is flooded with excited little LEAPers, wondering what it will be filled with and what it will feel like as they pour it, fill buckets with it, and squish it between their fingers. This post will highlight some of our favorite sensory bins and outline how to create a similar sensory experience at home!


We often use natural materials in our sensory bins, ranging from rice dyed the colors of the rainbow to water, rocks and sticks, mimicking a pond habitat. The options are seemingly endless for what you can use at home.

Step 1: Choose a Container

Many of you have commented on our large sensory bin, who we affectionately refer to as, “Big Red.” Though we are lucky enough to have such a large, professionally made sensory table, you don’t need one of these at home to have fun sensory experiences. Any container can be used as a sensory bin. Some options you may already have at home include large Tupperware, mixing bowls, trays and storage tubs. It doesn’t need to be complicated; we guarantee your child won’t be focused on the container.

Step 2: Fill it!

Once you’ve chosen your container, the next step is thinking about what to fill it with. We’ve tried all kinds of fun materials at LEAP: water, beans, sand, dirt, dry corn, pasta, pumpkin guts, colored rice, rocks, snow, mulch, the list goes on! We know sensory play can get messy, so choose something that works for you and where you plan to do your playing. It’s always fun to mix and match materials too--putting rocks in the dirt or mixing water beads in with snow are a few of our favorite combinations. Thinking about what you want your child to get out of it is a great way to choose--is there a theme or concept you want them to explore? If they’re learning about desert habitats, a bin with sand is a great choice!  In our LEAP: Spring Series, we’ll be exploring opposites each week and the materials in the sensory bin will reflect those themes.

Step 3: Choose Tools and Treasures

Curious minds and tiny fingers are wonderful tools for exploring sensory bins, but if you want to add a little something extra to your bins, there are plenty of options for that as well. We typically include tools for scooping, filling, pouring, and straining as well as loose parts that we call our “treasures.” Treasures include seashells, gems, rocks, sticks and so much more! You can include similar tools and treasures, but everyday objects and kitchen utensils will work great in almost any sensory bin. You can even find treasures out on walks that can be used in sensory play later.

Step 4: Play!

You’ve picked a container and filled it with tools and treasures, now it’s time to play! It’s that simple—now it’s time for your child to take the lead. Don’t forget that play isn’t just for kids, they need you to play alongside them to make sure they’re making those connections between their play and how the world works. You’ve probably noticed that we do a LOT of talking at LEAP when we play. We’re using a strategy called “mirror talk,” meaning we are reflecting a child’s actions back to them using language. Mirror talk allows children to connect words to their actions and helps them develop important skills like language and problem solving while following their lead encourages independence and boosts confidence.

Personalize the Experience

You have so much freedom with creating a sensory experience for your child to enjoy, so use your imagination. I’ve included some ideas here and mentioned some of the materials and tools we use at LEAP, but the sky is the limit! Pinterest has provided us with many of our great ideas, but don’t feel like you need to make it complicated to make it fun. Start with something simple and build from there.  You can even work together with your child to decide what materials to put in your bin. In the end, they may want to just dig in the dirt outside, no bin required!

We encourage you to experiment with different things at home and share what you’ve tried next time you’re at LEAP. We love hearing about the things you’re doing at home with your children and getting inspired to try new things in our program. If you’re looking for a few more ideas to get you started, here are some really great links to check out:

Great organization and loads of ideas:http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.net/2014/02/simplifying-sensory-play/

For all your slime, goops, goos, and doughs: http://www.growingajeweledrose.com/2013/01/play-recipes.html

Wonderful, nature inspired ideas: http://www.learnplayimagine.com/2013/04/sensory-bins-to-explore-nature.html

Sensory bags! http://mamaot.com/2012/09/25/40-fun-sensory-bags/

Last but not least, sensory play in the bathtub..so fun! http://www.growingajeweledrose.com/p/bath-fun_11.html

Happy playing!


Written by Emily Van Laan