In this blog post, you’ll find fun and easy Christmas sensory bins to use as fun sensory play activities during the holiday season. These festive sensory bin activities are tactile and sensory motor play ideas that support learning and development. You can add these ideas to your Christmas occupational therapy activities in the clinic or home! Kids love this winter sensory bin!
Christmas Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are sensory play activities in a container, offering tactile and sensory motor input with imagination and fine motor benefits. Therapy providers love sensory bins because they can offer a unique and enjoyable way to engage reluctant children who may initially be hesitant about engaging in the sensory elements of tactile defensiveness challenges.
We wanted to put together a collection of Christmas sensory bin ideas to allow kids to immerse themselves in the holiday season through the exploration of their senses. Add these ideas to some of our other Christmas sensory activities to support needs, as well.
Therapy providers love them because a sensory bin is an easy way to support a variety of OT intervention goal areas with one therapeutic tool. Whether creating one for a group of children in therapy or tailoring it to a specific child’s needs and preferences, Christmas sensory bins are a great way to engage their senses, including touch, smell, and sight.
With Christmas sensory bins, children can engage sensory motor skills that impact fine motor development.
Adding in holiday themes results in a rich, multi-sensory experience that helps them embrace the holiday spirit.
How to create Christmas Sensory Bins
Need a basic guide to support your inspiration and begin creating a fun and engaging sensory bin for kids? Here are tips to use Christmas sensory bins in therapy sessions or at home. The nice thing is that you can tailor the holiday sensory bin ideas listed below to meet a variety of needs and sensory preferences:
- Select a Sensory Bin Container- Choose a container that works for your space, transport, or any specific child’s needs, and don’t forget to consider durability too! The most popular are plastic storage bins, but you can also use trays and wooden bins, and we’ve even seen cardboard boxes such as shoe boxes used as well.
We’ve used sensory bins like:
- plastic storage bin
- Cupcake tin sensory bin
- Basket sensory bin
- Under the bed storage bin
- Cardboard box sensory bin
2. Select a Base Material- Choose the type of base material that can be used to represent the festive Christmas holiday, such as fake snow, cotton balls, colorful tinsel, shredded paper, white rice, white beans, Epsom salt, or even white kinetic sand. This gives a snowy or wintery foundation.
Here are our recommendations for sensory bin fillers and therapeutic considerations for each type.
3. Christmas Sensory Bin Themes- Next is coming up with a theme for your sensory bin. This is where the fun starts to begin! You could make it about a Christmas movie or book, a favorite holiday tradition, or something more tailored to each specific child. Think about movies like The Polar Express, The Grinch, Elf, A Christmas Story, A Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Prancer, etc.
You could also do Christmas themes like:
- Christmas trees
4. Gather Christmas themed sensory bin materials- Choosing the bin items can be so much fun, but can be a lot of work if you choose to change the bin up frequently for individual children. For a Christmas-themed bin consider plastic Christmas trees, toy trains and tracks, a sled with reindeer, plastic or plush figures like Santa and his elves, Christmas string lights, miniature gifts and stockings, tree ornaments, small nutcrackers, etc.
You can add sensory bin cards that have letters or numbers on them too. You can find some in our Christmas Therapy Kit and can be used to find letters and then work on writing them. Some therapy providers even use a candy cane to practice writing the letter or number in a sensory writing tray after the sensory bin card is found.
5. Consider sensory implications- Now is when you work to individualize it more as the sensory piece is what you are attempting to address with this tool. Think about all of the senses and how you might be able to enhance the sensory experience with the themed bin.
Consider adding these sensory items to your Christmas bin:
- jingle bells and instruments for sound,
- cinnamon sticks, cloves, or peppermint for scent,
- textured materials like sandpaper, mini-pinecones, beads, pom-poms, colored pasta, cotton, and soft fabric for touch,
- colorful base materials such as red and green filler items like dry green split peas, red and green pom-pom balls or plastic gems, shiny tinsel, garland, and colorful ornaments for visual appeal.
- Add Fine Motor Tools- You can add a hands-on interactive element with the use of tools such as spoons, scoops, mini-shovels, tongs, and whisks. This adds a sense of movement while engaging fine motor skills and play opportunities.
Tips for Christmas Sensory Bins
If you’re using a Christmas sensory bin in therapy, there are a few things to consider. You’ll want to use the sensory bin with as many kids on your caseload as possible, because setting up a Christmas sensory bin can be a bigger task. The benefit is that you can accomplish many goals with this one treatment too.
It’s also very motivating for kids, so when the holiday break is looming and kids are a little less attentive, a Christmas sensory bin can be motivating and engaging to support therapy participation.
Consider these things when creating your Christmas sensory bin:
Safety of Therapy Clients- The use of sensory bins should always be supervised, especially if there are small objects that could be a choking hazard for kids.
You’ll want to support the needs of each individual, so that might mean you have to remove some items before the session starts.
Cleaning Up the Therapy Space- It’s important to note these bins encourage open-ended exploration, so you should anticipate and consider that play might become messy. To make clean-up easier, consider placing a tablecloth or bed sheet underneath and around the bin – you’ll thank yourself later!
You can involve the kids, and make it a functional life skill…sweeping up sensory bin items, cleaning up the space, and other IADLs to clean up the space are a great activity for the last 5 minutes of a therapy session.
Rotating Sensory Bins- Another tip for your Christmas bin (especially as the holidays come to an end); Consider rotating a variety of items within the bin to keep it fresh and engaging for children. You can rotate the items periodically, and consider introducing new sensory elements and other seasonal surprises. If you have a Christmas movie theme you can easily change out items to match the movie. Think about the change of items based on the timing of the upcoming Christmas holiday. Kiddos love to help with this too!
Now that you have the tips to create your holiday sensory bin, let’s get to the ideas!
Christmas Sensory Bin Ideas
There are multiple Christmas sensory bin ideas out there if you just look around, but if you do not have time for that, we’ve got you covered! Just take a look at the ideas we have gathered for you below:
There are several ideas in our Christmas Carol sensory bin post, or you can try the ideas below.
Frosty the Snowman Sensory Bin– Make the soda dough and use it in a sensory bin with flour or corn starch. This can be a messy play sensory bin, but it’s a good chance to practice hand washing skills.
Christmas Nature Sensory Bin– Use dry split peas as a green sensory bin base. Then add Christmas items such as pine clippings (soft branches), pine cones, cinnamon sticks, and pine cones. This holiday sensory bin has a festive scent!
Christmas Ornament Sensory Bin– Add plastic or soft Christmas ornaments to a basket for a toddler sensory bin. This is a fun way to explore holiday decorations and work on visual motor skills.
Christmas Pom-Poms sensory bin– Add craft pom poms in Christmas colors to a tactile and fine motor theme. Simply freeze red, white, and green pom-poms and use warm water tools to free them.
- Wet and freeze a sensory bin quantity of red, white, and green pom-poms of all sizes to represent the Christmas season.
- Once they are frozen, bring the pom-poms out of the freezer and place inside of a sensory bin.
- When presenting the frozen pom-pom sensory bin, be sure to place a towel underneath it, you’ll thank yourself later. Then present a series of warm water tools such as eye droppers, ketchup or mustard bottles, water squirters, etc. for the child to spray and work on freeing the frozen pom-poms from their frozen despair.
Christmas Search & Find sensory bin with a tactile and visual theme of seek and find by Still Playing School. Color acini de pepe pasta red, combine with green split peas, and add Christmas-themed objects.
- Color the acini de pepe pasta read with use of gel food coloring and a little bit of vinegar in a bowl and then let it air dry in thin layer on large tray. Once dry, combine the pasta with green split peas inside of a sensory bin and viola you have festive Christmas colors! (Note: When the pasta dries it will be in small chunks, so children can work on breaking them apart into smaller pieces.)
- Then add some fun Christmas erasers, tiny play gifts, festive foam shapes, etc. Really, you can add anything you want to your Christmas ‘I Spy’ bin just take a look around your belongings and add what creates a festive search and find atmosphere in the bin.
- You can choose to add small tools to the bin that will encourage scooping, pouring, digging, and picking out items.
Christmas Lights & Rice open play sensory bin with the visual appeal of colorful mini-by 3D Dinosaurs. Fill a bin with white rice and small ceramic Christmas tree light bulbs for scooping and picking out using tools.
- Fill the sensory bin with simple white rice.
- Add some ceramic Christmas tree light bulbs which are like small pegs.
- Then toss in a couple of cups and some tweezers to help with scooping and picking out light bulbs from the rice.
Jingle Bell Sensory Bin– A Jingle Bell Christmas sensory bin with the auditory theme of jingle. Dye pasta green, add colorful bells, and provide tools for sorting and stringing. Add colorful containers for sorting the jingle bells.
- Dye your pasta of choice green with use of green coloring gel. Think about dyeing wagon wheels, rotini noodles, and shells. Let them air dry.
- Once they are dry, toss them into a sensory bin and add in some festive colored bells.
- Use an upcycled egg carton with the sections colored to match the jingle bells. You could also use other small containers or ice cube trays and a tablespoon or even a set of tongs for children to sort them into the trays.
- Add pipe cleaners and children can string the bells.
Candy Cane Scented Moon Dough sensory bin with the olfactory theme of mint. Create red and white moon dough with red and green food coloring, add peppermint oil, and customize with objects based on the child’s needs.
- Color moon dough with red and green food coloring and then add a bit of peppermint oil. Let it dry.
- Once the rice is dyed, scented, and dry, fill a sensory bin and place on top of a towel. (This helps with clean up later.)
- It’s your choice to add whatever you want to the bin based on the child’s specific needs.
Tinsel & Christmas Bow sensory bin with the tactile and visual theme of tinsel. Use festive-colored tinsel and include red, green, and white holiday bows for digging and sorting. Add cookie cutters and Christmas bows for a variety of tactile input.
- Gather festive colored tinsel and fill a sensory bin.
- Place red, green, and white Christmas bows into the bin for a dig and find activity.
- You can have plates or cups to have children sort and collect each color of bow.
Christmas Star Sensory Bin– Make a mini sensory bin with the tactile and auditory theme of dry beans and miniature stars (love this unique material base). Fill a container with the dry beans and stars. Add tongs or tweezers.
- This is a unique sensory bin where you use dry black beans as your sensory bin filler. You can choose whether to cut our foam or paper stars or use star manipulatives and toss them into the bin.
- Toss in some holiday-colored bells and pom-poms to add the festive flair to the bin.
- Grab some bottles and have children sort the stars from the dry beans and then shake the bottles to hear the difference.
Gingerbread Man sensory bin with a fine motor emphasis while building tactile (brown rice) and olfactory (nutmeg) while building gingerbread men with cookie cutters by Pre-K Pages. Fill a bin with brown rice, add gingerbread-themed objects, and provide scooping and pouring tools.
- Gather brown rice for this bin. If you desire, you can dye the rice a darker shade of brown and scent it with nutmeg by mixing nutmeg spice into brown liquid watercolor that you will then use to dye the rice. Let the rice dry and then fill a sensory bin.
- Add colorful pom-poms that are the same color as gum drops. Add some gingerbread play toys and cookie cutters. Gather measuring cups and spoons for scooping and pouring.
- Let children free play with this sensory bin and add other gingerbread themed items to make it more festive.
Nativity Scene sensory bin with a spiritual theme that provides the opportunity to reinforce the Christmas story with kids and is easily paired with many children’s books that tell the story of Jesus’ birth. Use dry corn or beans as the filler, and include nativity scene pieces for retelling the Christmas story.
- Use dry corn or beans for a sensory bin filler.
- Add whatever nativity scene pieces you may have on hand such as foam or wooden wise men, shepherds, sheep, camels, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, angel, star, etc.
- Another sensory bin filler for this spiritual theme could be straw or shredded brown paper with the same nativity scene pieces.
- Read the story and act it out with the nativity pieces.
Find the Christmas Bells sensory bin has a tactile theme with use of shaving foam by Science Sparks. Fill a bin with shaving foam and add Christmas bells for a tactile experience.
- Use shaving foam to fill a sensory bin or tray and then add Christmas bells.
- Children can use their fingers or a pair of tongs to retrieve the bells from the foam and then wipe the shaving foam from them.
Christmas is just around the corner and incorporating sensory bins into your holiday activities can be a fun and therapeutic way to engage with children, encouraging creativity and learning during the Christmas season. Follow the step-by-step guide we’ve provided, and reduce your stress of creating a bin allowing your creativity to take command and shine! Now, go and build a unique Christmas sensory bin that you and your kids will enjoy exploring this Christmas holiday!
Christmas Sensory Bin Fillers
All of the holiday sensory bin ideas can be adjusted to meet the needs of all kids. Try adding these items for more tactile sensory input:
- Pine Cones– Natural pine cones provide a tactile experience and a festive scent.
- Cinnamon Sticks– Cinnamon sticks add a wonderful aroma and a unique texture to the sensory bin.
- Bells– Jingle bells of different sizes contribute to auditory stimulation and visual interest.
- Fake Snow– Artificial snow or white sensory material can create a wintry atmosphere.
- Ornaments– Plastic or shatterproof ornaments in various shapes and colors for visual and tactile exploration.
- Tinsel or Garland– Strands of tinsel or garland provide a shiny and reflective element.
- Holiday-Themed Cookie Cutters– Use cookie cutters in the shape of Christmas trees, stars, or snowflakes for cutting and molding activities.
- Miniature Trees– Small artificial trees can add a three-dimensional aspect to the sensory bin. You can find these at a Dollar Store.
- Baubles– Colorful and lightweight baubles can be included for sensory exploration.
- Ribbon Strips– Cut pieces of festive ribbon for sensory play and visual interest.
- Sleigh Bells– Include sleigh bells for additional auditory stimulation.
- Pompoms– Soft and colorful pompoms in holiday colors for tactile exploration.
- Candy Canes (Wrapped)– Wrapped candy canes provide a sweet scent and a textured surface.
- Holiday Lights (Battery-Operated)– Use battery-operated string lights to add a warm and festive glow.
- Red and Green Rice or Lentils– Dyed rice or lentils in Christmas colors for a unique sensory texture.
- Gingerbread Men or Holiday Shapes (Foam or Plastic)– Foam or plastic holiday shapes for tactile exploration and creative play.
- Scented Playdough– Make or purchase scented playdough in holiday scents like peppermint or gingerbread.
- Wrapping Paper Scraps– Small pieces of festive wrapping paper for crinkling and tearing.
Have you played with a Christmas sensory bin this time of year? It’s a holiday activity that kids love!
Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!
Looking for done-for you therapy activities this holiday season?
This print-and-go Christmas Therapy Kit includes no-prep, fine motor, gross motor, self-regulation, visual perceptual activities…and much more… to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, Christmas-themed, motor activities so you can help children develop the skills they need.
This 100 page no-prep packet includes everything you need to guide fine motor skills in face-to-face AND virtual learning. You’ll find Christmas-themed activities for hand strength, pinch and grip, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, bilateral coordination, endurance, finger isolation, and more.