It’s no secret that sensory bins are a favorite activity in my household. My boys absolutely love them. And I guess it’s okay to admit that I quite enjoy them myself! If you haven’t started using sensory bins, it’s time to jump on the bandwagon!
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Why are sensory bins important?
One of the most important benefits of sensory bins for autistic children is the sensory input itself. For many children on the spectrum, this is a very calming activity. (Sensory rooms are a great way for kids to calm down too!)
It also allows them to practice motor skills through scooping, pouring, and picking up small items. Scooping, dumping, and pouring improve motor planning and hand strength. At the same time, children can work on their fine motor skills by using a pincer grasp to pick up individual pieces.
Exploring new textures and themes helps improve their imaginative play. Adding a tube of dinosaurs or these adorable vehicle figures to a sensory bin gives the child an opportunity to pretend, and also opens up many opportunities for speech.
Sensory bin fillers
We use many different sizes, shapes, and textures of sensory bin fillers to provide different sensory experiences. You likely have plenty of these items laying around your house:
- water balloons
- paper shreds
- water beads
- edible water beads
- shaving cream
Our favorite colorful sensory bins
These are just a few of our most used sensory bins. Of course, the more colorful, the better!
1) Rainbow rice sensory bin
You knew I was going to say it! How can we talk about sensory bins without the classic rainbow colored rice sensory bin? It looks so pretty when it’s first set up! Give your kids about 30 seconds to completely ruin it, lol! But it actually looks pretty epic when all the colors are mixed too!
To make the rainbow rice, simply add about a tablespoon of vinegar or rubbing alcohol to a quart sized zipper bag, along with a few drops of food coloring. Pour enough rice in to fill the bag about 2/3 of the way. Seal it and shake it up! I usually dump it onto a paper plate and let it dry overnight, to avoid color transfer to the kiddos’ hands.
2) Water bead sensory bin
Water beads are the best! We switch between Orbeez and these edible water beads. Both have great qualities, and we can’t decide which is better! The Orbeez have such brilliant colors, and keep for weeks; but they break if they fall on the patio too hard.
If you’re using the edible water beads, simply dump them into a pot of water and let it boil for about 5-8 minutes, until all of the water beads are floating at the top. Drain them, and rinse will cold water.
To make the colors extra vibrant, I sometimes mix them with a couple drops of food coloring in different bowls. This makes them really pop! Be sure to rinse with cold water after dyeing them, to wash off the excess color.
The edible water beads don’t keep for more than a week (if refrigerated between uses!), but they have a fun, squishy texture and don’t break. They get a bit sticky when they aren’t sitting in water, which is a different sensory experience than the slick Orbeez. Either way, water beads make for a super sensory bin!
3) Water balloon sensory bin
My boys thoroughly enjoy this one! I just put some water in our sensory bin and toss in colored water balloons. Sometimes I’ll throw in colored bowls or plates so they can sort the balloons too. But they love squeezing them, watching them bounce, and ultimately throwing them at the end!
4) Rainbow colored pasta sensory bin
Pasta is one of my favorite sensory bin fillers, simply because there are so many different kinds! Every shape and size offers a different sensory experience, so we often mix different types of pasta for this one.
To color the pasta, follow the same protocol as the rice. Just add about a tablespoon of vinegar or rubbing alcohol to a quart Ziplock, along with a few drops of food coloring. Fill up the bag about 2/3 of the way with pasta, seal it, and shake away! Let it sit on a paper plate overnight to completely dry, as this will greatly reduce the possibility of color transfer to your kids’ hands and clothes.
This can also be turned into a sorting activity. It’s great fine motor practice! My boys will often separate the pasta by color and type, into little bowls or cups. It’s definitely a beautiful sensory bin!
5) Desert sensory bin
Lentils are another fun texture to play with! We have this cute little desert themed sensory bin full of lentils. Add some reptiles and some artificial cacti from the Dollar Tree, and it’ll be the perfect desert scene!
6) Straw sensory bin
My kids are always playing with straws. So I figured, why not make a sensory bin with them?! Just cut up plastic straws into small pieces (we do about 1.5 inches), and toss them into a bin. We use this one for foam letter hunts, and for stringing too. They get lots of fine motor practice with the straws!
You can find lots of other sensory bin fillers here.
7) Slime sensory bin
Oh slime, you bring so much joy to my household! LOL! But seriously. If you haven’t hopped on the slime bandwagon yet, it’s time! My boys had trouble playing with slime at their tables, so I decided to put it in the sensory bin one day, and it became a thing! They love hanging it over the top bar and watching it fall and make beautiful colored strands!
We make a lot of homemade slime around here, but this particular (AMAZING) one was store-bought, and it is probably our favorite! We happened upon it in Five Below and haven’t seen this particular blue one anywhere since. You can get their red version here.
Make sensory bins a daily activity
There is rarely a day that passes when we don’t so some kind of sensory bin at our house. My boys do so much better since we’ve incorporated them into our daily routine. Kids on the autism spectrum explore the world differently, and sensory input really helps them to calm down. Check out this other post for more ideas on sensory input for your child.
What’s your child’s favorite sensory bin? Let me know in the comments!
Click here for more ideas about calming strategies for autistic children.