Sensory Bin Base Ideas

Child playing in sensory bin with tongs to pick up shredded paper. Text reads "sensory bin base materials"

In this blog post, we are covering a very important sensory materials: sensory bin base ideas, or sensory bin fillers. You have probably seen a sensory bin activity here or there and thought nothing of it. But, did you know that the sensory material that is used to create the sensory bin is very much a part of the tactile sensory experience? Include these fillers in our easy sensory bin ideas to include themes or motivating activities.

Let’s explore various sensory bases as a tactile therapy tool.

Sensory bin base materials

Sensory Bin Materials

If you read our blog, you’ll see that we are both huge fans of sensory play.  Sensory bins are such a fun way for kids to explore textures and the senses while learning about the world and themselves. 

Sensory bins can be tailored to any learning theme and are just fun for exploration. 

We wanted to put together a collection of sensory bin base ideas.  These are the materials that you start your sensory bin with.  Add letters, numbers, animals, sight words…the possibilities for sensory play is endless!

Usually, a sensory bin has several materials:

  • sensory base container (bin, basket, tub, baby pool, etc.)
  • sensory bin filler or sensory base material
  • sensory bin items to explore- these might be manipulatives or small objects
  • scoops, cups, funnels, tongs, spoons, or tools to pick up and move objects

Each component can be used to develop various motor skills. In this blog post, we’re covering the base material or the sensory bin filler that you first place in the sensory base container.

Why Use Different Sensory Bin Fillers

Children learn about the world through touch, and exploring different textures fosters their understanding of the differences between soft, rough, smooth, bumpy, wet, dry, and other tactile sensations.

Using different textures in sensory play, especially in a therapeutic context like pediatric occupational therapy, serves specific developmental and therapeutic purposes that can greatly benefit children’s growth and well-being.

As an occupational therapy provider, it’s important to know why we are using the therapy tools that we select for therapy interventions. Here are some reasons why different textures are important in sensory play, particularly from a therapeutic perspective:

  1. Tactile Exploration and Confidence: Introducing a variety of textures allows children to explore and interact with different sensory experiences. This sensory touch exploration helps them become more comfortable with and confident in touching, feeling, and interacting with different materials.
  2. Tactile Discrimination: Different textures challenge children’s tactile discrimination skills, enabling them to differentiate between various sensory stimuli. This enhances their ability to identify and understand the subtleties of touch.
  3. Sensory Challenges and Desensitization: For children with tactile defensiveness, incorporating textures that might be initially challenging for children helps them gradually become accustomed to those sensations. Therapists can use this approach to address sensory sensitivities and aversions, gradually desensitizing children to certain textures.

Sensory Bin Fillers

  1. Rice
  2. Kinetic Sand
  3. Shaving Cream (Here is a shaving cream sensory bin).
  4. Play Dough
  5. Dry Pasta
  6. Oats
  7. Beans/Lentils
  8. Cloud Dough
  9. Sandbox sand or play sand
  10. Cornmeal
  11. Pom-Poms
  12. Corn Kernels
  13. Ice Cubes
  14. Cotton Balls
  15. Jello
  16. Foam Shapes
  17. Buttons
  18. Shredded Paper (Try this shredded paper sensory bin)
  19. Fabric Scraps
  20. Beads
  21. Colored Salt
  22. Cereal
  23. Pom-Pom Balls
  24. Slime/Goo
  25. Old or stale cereal

Nature Sensory Bin Fillers

Other sensory bin base materials can be found in nature. These are materials that you could find in your own backyard.

  1. Sand
  2. Water
  3. Rocks and Pebbles (check out this rock sensory bin)
  4. Leaves
  5. Pine Cones
  6. Grass Clippings
  7. Bark
  8. Mud
  9. Seashells
  10. Acorns
  11. Tree Branches
  12. Flowers
  13. Pine Needles
  14. River Stones
  15. Moss
  16. Seaweed
  17. Dirt/Soil
  18. Feathers
  19. Seeds
  20. Coconut Husk
  21. Feathers
  22. Pine cones

Water-Based Sensory Bin Fillers

Then, there are water-based sensory bin fillers. These include things like water, colored water, and soap. We have done many water bead sensory bins, too. Here are some more ideas:

  1. Water
  2. Colored Water
  3. Soap Water (This foam soap sensory bin is a fine motor workout, too.)
  4. Ice Water
  5. Water Beads
  6. Gelatin Water
  7. Lemon or Orange Water
  8. Scented Water
  9. Watercolor Paper
  10. Sand and Water (for a combination sensory bin)
Add to these base materials for sensory bin play.


Sensory Bin Base Ideas


Add colored noodles to a bin and add cups, spoons, funnels, and more for fine motor play.  Crayon Box Chronicles made this concept sensory bin in their dyed noodles sensory bin.


Shredded paper makes a great sensory base.  Save the junk mail and send it through the shredder to make a shredded paper reptile sensory bin from Crayon Box Chronicles.

Something as simple as rocks can make a great base for a sensory bin.  We make this rock sensory bin and explored the senses.
Explore letters in like in this rock letter sensory bin.


The dollar store has a vast amount of ways to incorporate learning into sensory bins.  Crayon Box Chronicles made this colored hay sensory bin.  How fun!

Colored water is an easy way to create a sensory bin.  We made this dyed water swamp sensory bin and explored colors, animals, and more in a swamp theme.

Have you ever made snow dough?  Seriously the coolest stuff!  This snow dough Arctic Circle sensory bin is one of my favorites from Crayon Box Chronicles .

It doesn’t take much to make a sensory bin.  This letter sensory bin required nothing other than the letters for learning and play.

Dirt makes a great sensory bin base.  How many ways can you think of to play?  I love what Crayon Box Chronicles did with their dirt monster truck sensory bin.


Many sensory bin bases can be found in your pantry.  We used split peas as the base in our split pea sensory bin.


Sand is one way to create a simple sensory bin.  A few ingredients is all it takes to make the sand into sand dough link in this sand dough beach sensory bin from Crayon Box Chronicles.


Water Beads can be found in the floral section of many stores.  The non-toxic material makes a great base for sensory play.  We had a blast with our purple sensory bin.


Jello is such an interesting material to eat…and to play with!  The texture is perfect for sensory exploration.  Crayon Box Chronicles used it to create this jello iceberg sensory bin.

What are your favorite sensory bin fillers?


Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Writing Trays for Handwriting

Child's fingertips drawing a letter S in sand. Text reads sand writing tray

Writing trays are a fantastic way to help kids work on handwriting, letter formation, and pre-writing skills.  There are so many benefits to a sand tray (or other sensory writing materials) in helping with letter formation and handwriting. There is a reason that writing trays are a popular way to encourage fine motor skills and an introduction to handwriting; They use a tactile sensory strategy to encourage movement in learning in a multi-sensory way.  Writing Trays make letter formation fun and meaningful in a play-based manner.

Try this easy rice writing tray for a simple sensory writing experience.

Writing trays are sensory activities to teach handwriting

Amazon affiliate links are included in this blog post. As an Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases.

What is a writing tray?

I’ve used writing trays in my occupational therapy interventions and with my own kids for years. Writing trays are such a powerful tool to add a multi-sensory component and moveemnt to learning to write.

Writing trays are a dry or wet sensory material in a low tray or bin type of container. Children can use their finger or a tool such as a pencil, paint brush, or other item to draw, write letters, or form numbers into the sensory material.

Writing Trays are a creative way to help kids learn to write letters, numbers, shapes, and pre-writing strokes.  There are a ton of different ways that writing trays can be set up and used in letter formation. Essentially, a writing tray uses a low container (or TRAY) and a medium that can be moved and shifted for writing.

Sensory writing trays can contain sensory fillers of any type. If you are able to move the material in a way that letters can be drawn in the tray, then the sensory writing tray is a success. With a sensory writing tray, children can write letters independently or copy letters from a visual letter card.

You can find them used in schools, clinics, preschools, early learning centers, and homeschool dinging rooms.  

Writing trays are one tool to support development of Near point copy skills skills.

Writing tray sensory filler ideas for handwriting

Writing Tray Sensory Filler Material

Affiliate links are included in this post.

What is in a Writing Tray? (Writing Tray Fillers)

Writing Trays are filled with a filler that us manipulated and shifted so that letters or writing lines are visible.  Some ideas for filling a writing tray include the sensory materials listed below.

Sand (affiliate link)
Colored Sand (affiliate link)
Dyed Rice
Dyed Rice
Play Dough (affiliate link)
Other Doughs
Slime (Check out the fun we had with slime in a writing tray!)
Spices (affiliate link)
Crushed Chalk (affiliate link)

While sometimes, a child can use their finger to form the lines in their writing tray, a writing tool is typically recommended. (More on that below.)
Use writing trays for handwriting and letter formation

Sensory Writing Tray Benefits

Kids can use writing trays to practice letter formation, or pencil control and stroke sequence in writing letters.  
Typically, they will be provided with a visual cue or cue card for copying the letters/numbers/shapes.  
Other times, kids can form the letter/number/shape independently when prompted to make a specific letter. This is a great way to work on visual memory and independent letter formation.
Be sure to verbally prompt children to form letters or build letters with correct stroke sequence.  This is essential for carryover of accuracy with letter formation in handwriting.  
Otherwise, the child is simply playing in the sensory tray and not effectively using the writing tray as a tool for improved handwriting.  
Encouraging the child who is learning pre-writing strokes and beginning letter formation can use a writing tray as a base for forming letters independently. Try using visual and verbal cues to promote correct letter construction.
A few more must-dos when using a writing tray for addressing letter formation:
  • Make sure letters are not formed in parts.  In other words, don’t allow kids to make a circle and then a line to form an “a”. 
  • Make sure letters are formed from top to bottom. 
  • Realize that the motor plan to form letters with your finger is different than the motor plan to form letters with a pencil or other pencil-like writing tool.

The nice thing about writing trays is that they are very versatile. Students of all ages can use writing trays to work on different levels of handwriting. Some ways to work on handwriting include:

  • Copying pre-writing lines
  • Copying shapes 
  • Letter identification
  • Uppercase letter formation
  • Lowercase letter formation
  • Letter copying
  • Letter writing from memory
  • Cursive letter formation
  • Cursive letter writing from memory
  • Word copying
  • Sight word writing
  • Spelling word writing
Writing trays for handwriting, letter formation, and fine motor skills.


Fine Motor Skills and Writing Trays

A writing tray can be an effective tool in boosting fine motor skills.  Kids can use their finger to form lines and letters while strengthening finger isolation and separation of the two sides of the hand, including an opportunity for the ulnar side fingers to tuck into the palm for a more effective pencil grasp when writing.
Children can also use a tool to form letters in a writing tray.  This can be an opportunity to develop pencil grasp.  
However.  There are a few items that should be mentioned about using a writing tray to address pencil grasp and appropriate motor plan for letter formation.
Writing Trays are a common tool.  But if you just place a writing tray in front of a child, you will likely see an inefficient writing activity.  You will probably see most kids forming letters with an awkward grasp on the writing tool, a flexed and deviated wrist, an abducted shoulder, and generally ineffective positioning.  

Positioning absolutely carries over to letter formation and handwriting.
A writing tray can be used to address pencil grasp and handwriting needs.  However, it is essential to use the tray in a proper manner.  There are a few ways to do this:
  • Place the writing tray on a slight slant. Try using a DIY slant board.
  • Use a low edged tray.
  • Use verbal, physical, and visual cues for appropriate positioning. 
  • Position the writing tool in your child’s hand with an appropriate tripod or modified tripod grasp.
  • Show the child how to hold the tool at the end of the tool as if they were holding a pencil.
Once you’ve got your writing tray set up and positioning taken care of, it’s on to the fun stuff…making a writing tray!

How to make a Writing Tray

Making a writing tray to gain benefits of teaching sensory handwriting is easy. You can use materials found around the home.

The options are limitless when it comes to writing tray combinations! You can create a writing tray in any theme or to meet any need. You’ll need just a few items: a container, a filler, a tool, and letter cards.

Writing Tray Ideas

First, you’ll need a low tray, basket, bin, or other container. We’ve used a variety of containers in our sensory writing trays. You’ll want a container that will hold the sensory writing material within its edges.

In some cases, you can even scatter the sensory material on a flat surface like a table or a plastic table cloth on the floor. For example, we used dyed rice right on the kiddie picnic table for a pre-writing and hand strengthening activity.

Kids will be using a tool or their hands to write letters and the sensory material can scatter. Some specific ideas include:

  • Kitchen baking trays (jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with edges)
  • Food storage containers
  • Melissa and Doug wooden puzzle boxes
  • Cardboard boxes cut low on the sides
  • 9×11 cake pan
  • Shirt box
  • Tray
  • Low basket

Writing Tray Tools

Next, you’ll need a tool to use to write the letters. This can be items found in the home as well.  Some writing tray tools include:

  • Finger
  • Eraser end of a pencil
  • Paint brush
  • Feather
  • Straw
  • Pointer stick
  • Stick from a tree
  • Craft stick
  • Chopsticks
  • Toothpick (Incorporate our toothpick holder activity to further fine motor skills!)
  • Craft pom pom attached to a clothes pin

Writing Tray Letter Cards

Next, an important part of a writing tray is the letter model. As mentioned above, writing trays are great for copying pre-writing lines, shapes, letters, numbers, and words. 

Cards can be used as a visual model for forming letters or words. Some cards include direction arrows. Others might include a sight word or spelling word for the child to copy. These cards can be positioned in different positions to address different needs. 

  • Position the letter cards right in the tray for near-point copying.
  • Position the writing tray cards in a vertical position near the writing tray to challenge vision shift. 
  • Hang the writing cards on a wall for far point copying to work on visual shift, visual attention, visual memory, and copying from a distance. 

Writing Tray Fillers

You’ll also need a sensory material to act as a filler. This is the material that the child will actually “write” in. When we say “write”, they are using the tool to form letters as the sensory filler moves in the tray. They will not actually write a letter with a pencil or other marking device. Sensory filler material can be as creative as you let it. Some writing tray fillers include these materials:

Click each link for ideas on how to set up these creative writing trays.

Dyed Rice
As you can see, the ideas are limitless when it comes to sensory handwriting! Use a theme or materials that meet the needs of your child or client and are motivating and fun!

More sensory Handwriting Activities

Sensory Writing Bag

Sensory Handwriting Camp at Home

Teach letters with sensory textures

Pencil pressure activities




Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

Sand Writing Tray

One very easy way to create a sand writing tray is to use a child’s picnic table placed either outside in a sandbox or over a tarp (or outdoor space where it’s ok that sand goes into the ground and lawn).

We loved using our kid’s picnic table in this way to make a sand writing tray.

sand writing tray

For this sand writing tray, we made it super simple and just dumped a thin layer of sand onto our (Amazon link) Little Tykes picnic table. Then, I invited the kids to all sit down and draw in the sand using their fingertips. This is a great exercise in finger isolation.

sand writing tray

Practicing letters in a sensory surface like writing and drawing in sand on a picnic table surface is a motivating and fun activity for kids because it’s not something they typically do.

Kids learn new skills well with a multisensory learning experience and a sand writing tray is a great, inexpensive way to do just that.

To encourage vocabulary and verbal expression, tell stories on the table surface and ask questions that extend the story further. Then, while practicing lines and drawing shapes and figures, gently smooth the sand with the palm of your hand and start over again!

sand writing tray for preschool

Preschoolers can practice pre-handwriting lines, while older kids can form letters and numbers in the sand. They can also copy and trace letters to improve their penmanship skills.

Valentines Fine Motor Worksheet

Valentines Day Fine Motor Worksheets

Here is another fun Valentines Fine Motor Worksheet with a sweet treats theme. Add this resource to your Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities for themed activities that build fine motor skills. This printable bundle is designed to work on in-hand manipulation.  What the heck is that?

Valentines Day Fine Motor Worksheets for developing precision and in-hand manipulation skills

Valentines Fine Motor Worksheet

In the Valentine fine motor activity using the worksheet below, you can promote fine motor skill development, specifically regarding in-hand manipulation skills.

In-hand manipulation is an essential skill for hand function.  Strengthening the muscles of the palm, or intrinsic muscles helps with basic functions such as picking up and releasing small objects such as coins one at a time. 

This is how you are able to give something to someone without opening up your whole hand and dumping the contents.  We use these intrinsic muscles during finger isolation, pointing, cutting with scissors, writing, or touching each finger tip to tip to name a few. 

Motivation, or lack of it, has been addressed several times in previous posts. Some learners are intrinsically motivated, doing their best work because it is important to them. Most people though are externally motivated.  They need some sort of reward, praise, or incentive in order to work (especially at a non preferred task).  While handing out rewards for each task completed is not sustainable, adding incentives is. 

Worksheets found on the OT Toolbox add themes and pictures to incentivize your learners to complete the task more willingly. Our Valentine theme is no exception.

Activities in our popular Valentine Fine Motor Kit include fine motor strips that can be used to develop skills in a fun and motivating way.

Below, you can grab a set of Valentine Fine Motor Strips, whether it be for preschoolers, grade school, or any other entry level learner, are a great bundle of printable worksheets. 

While this can have a Valentine theme, it can also be a stand alone activity or fit nicely into your in-hand manipulation treatment plan.

How to use these Valentines fine motor printables:

The classic method of using these Valentines Treats Printables is to have your learner pick up a designated number of small objects one at a time, transferring from the fingertips to the palm of the hand.  Then your learner will place the objects down on the diagram one at a time, reversing the process of transferring the objects from the palm to the fingertips before placing them on the page.

What to watch for while using this valentines printable:

  • Is your learner using a raking or pincer grasp to pick up the objects?
  • Do not let your learner slide the objects off of the table
  • Items should be picked up with only ONE hand
  • Items should be dropped one at a time by transferring the objects to the fingertips, not just opening a finger or two to release the objects
  • While the above are considered “cheating”, they are more likely coping strategies for a learner who does not understand, or is unable to do the task correctly.  Modify the task as needed for success.
  • Count how many items your learner can hold without dropping any. Try and aim for ten items.
  • How many times do you need to repeat the directions so your student can follow them?
  • How many reminders does your student need while doing this activity?
  • What is your student’s frustration tolerance when they have to start over?
  • What compensation strategies is your learner using?
  • What is their behavior, social function, and executive skills  during this task? 

What items can I use for the valentines day treats printable worksheet?

The small objects for this Valentines Day Fine Motor Worksheet can be anything really. You can make the task easier or more difficult depending on the number and size of the objects. Keep a watchful eye on your learners while they are handling small objects. It is important that they learn to work with small objects, but be vigilant about items going into the mouth.  Here are some suggestions of items to use:

  • Coins
  • Buttons of different sizes
  • Pompoms of different sizes
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Small Legos
  • Cheerios or other small food items (this may help incentivize your learner even more!)
  • Bingo chips
  • Dice
  • Paperclips
  • Erasers
  • Any combination of items you have in your junk drawer

What else can I do with this Valentines fine motor strips printable pack?

  • Use different size/number/type of objects to change the challenge
  • Use crayons/colored pencils/markers to color the paths or make marks along the way
  • Dot markers can be used to mark the items along the paths
  • Pages can be colored and cut out, glued onto larger sheets and decorated
  • Enlarge or shrink this page to change the level of difficulty
  • Change the type, color, or weight of paper.  Heavier weight is easier to handle, Colored paper might be more motivating, or provide better contrast
  • Make a lesson plan around in-hand manipulation, tasty treats, or  fine motor skills for the day/week
  • Laminate the page for reusability.  This activity can then be done with manipulatives or markers and wipes. 
  • An alternative to lamination is page protector sheets.  These are much more affordable and reusable depending on your current lesson plan. Create a themed binder of worksheets to use with all of your learners.

Whether your lesson plan is preschool Valentine’s printables, worksheets for fine motor skills, coloring activities, Valentines Sensory Bins, printable Valentines hearts, in-hand manipulation, or a combination of all of these, have fun with them! Use the resources at the OT Toolbox to make a challenging task fun. 

What if you had themed, NO-PREP activities designed to collect data and can help kids build essential fine motor skills?

Take back your time and start the year off with a bang with these done-for-you fine motor plans to help kids form stronger hands with our Winter Fine Motor Kit. This print-and-go winter fine motor kit includes no-prep fine motor activities to help kids develop functional grasp, dexterity, strength, and endurance. Use fun, winter-themed, fine motor activities so you can help children develop strong fine motor skills in a digital world. 

The Winter Fine Motor Kit includes reproducible activity pages include: pencil control strips, scissor skills strips, simple and complex cutting shapes, lacing cards, toothpick precision art, crumble hand strengthening crafts, memory cards, coloring activities, and so much more.

If you regularly use the printables and activities like the Valentines Fine Motor Printables or Treat Worksheet bundle offered at the OT Toolbox, you might want to consider becoming a Member of the OT Toolbox.  Membership is a more efficient way to get all of your information and resources than entering your email address each time. Save hours of time with an organized collection of high quality, easy-prep occupational therapy resources right at your fingertips!

In addition to free downloads like this Valentines Day Fine Motor Worksheet, the OT Toolbox also offers themed activities/posts to make treatment planning a breeze. One of them is this the Valentine’s Day Occupational Therapy Activity Post full of activities, crafts, sensory strategies, Valentines Play Dough, resources and products. Included in the OT Toolbox resources is a a great Valentines Day Fine Motor Kit, on special now!

If you are a new therapist/parent/teacher, you could definitely use some resources!  If you are a seasoned therapist you could definitely use some NEW resources!!

In preparation for this activity set, I will be scouring my junk drawers looking for miscellaneous objects to put this task to good use.  Does anyone even have coins anymore?

Free Valentine Fine Motor Worksheet

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    Victoria Wood, OTR/L

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    *The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, clients, children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

    Polar Bear Sensory Bin

    Use a polar bear sensory bin for occupational therapy interventions

    This polar bear sensory bin is an old one from The OT Toolbox site archives. This tactile sensory activity is a fun way to challenge sensory exploration with a variety of textures and materials. But more than that, this polar bear activity can be used in a therapy theme to address skills. The next part of the polar bear gross motor activity included a Our Polar Bear Sensory bin was cotton batting, tinsel, a stuffed polar bear, and a seal toy.  This is a Winter Sensory bin that can go along with an arctic animals theme.

    Polar bear sensory bin

    Polar Bear Sensory Bin Materials

    There are many ways to set up this sensory bin. Use items you have in your home or therapy space. Use some of the materials listed below. You DO NOT need all of these items. The nice thing about creating a themed sensory bin is that you can use what you have on hand. Some ideas for the sensory bin include:

    • Container or bin
    • Teddy bear
    • Tinsel
    • Cotton balls
    • Cotton batting
    • Tissue paper
    • Rice
    • Dry beans
    • Blue or white construction paper
    • Tape
    • Wax paper
    • Clear cellophane
    • Aluminum foil
    • Arctic animal figures
    Make a polar bear sensory bin with figures, and sensory materials.

    Other materials that you may want to add to the polar bear sensory bin to encourage fine motor skills and coordination skills:

    • Tweezers to pick up and manipulate materials
    • Small bowls
    • Tongs
    • Spoons or scoops
    • Chopsticks
    • Pickle picker
    • Containers
    • Counting cards (try the winter themed ones in the Winter Fine Motor Kit)

    Fine Motor Skills in a Sensory Bin

    Using the materials and tools above, students can work on fine motor skills to manipulate and explore the items in the sensory bin. Some ways to work on fine motor skills include:

    Address in-hand manipulation by sorting items in the hands into containers or cups.

    Work on hand strength and arch development by moving items with tongs, tweezers, or pickle picker.

    Work on open thumb web space by pinching and pulling cotton balls.

    Work on finger isolation by moving materials and items around in the bin.

    Work on grasp and precision by picking up small items such as tinsel, mini-erasers, crumbled paper or tissue paper, etc.

    Use a Sensory Bin for Visual Perception

    This polar bear sensory bin can be used to address a variety of visual perceptual skills: visual discrimination, visual memory, visual attention, figure ground, and visual closure.

    Ask children to locate specific items by color or texture. They can also recall items that they found in the sensory bin. Ask kids to locate items that are partially hidden by other objects or sensory bin filler materials. These are all ways to work on visual perceptual skills with this polar bear sensory bin.

    Use a Sensory Bin for Eye-Hand Coordination

    A sensory bin like this polar bear theme can be used in so many ways to address eye-hand coordination:

    • Pouring materials
    • Scooping materials like beans or rice
    • Using tongs or tweezers to pick up and move items like mini erasers
    • Sorting sensory bin items into piles or containers
    • Picking up and exploring various sensory bin items

    Polar Bear Imagination Play

    My kids had fun just imagining stories for the items in the sensory bin. We used the stuffed bear as a polar bear and a seal figure who was trying to escape into the ocean…Imagination play!  

    Polar bear sensory bin with tinsel and arctic animal figures.

    Little Guy glued some waxed paper to blue construction paper to make an ocean covered with ice.  We had a striped Christmas pencil for our “North Pole”. 

    Baby Girl did NOT like the texture or “feel” of the tinsel. It got stuck to her hands and she would try to pull it off…The seal is another story.  She carried that thing around all day 🙂  

    Kids of all ages can use the materials in the sensory bin to work on tactile sensory exploration, fine motor skills, and visual perception.

    Looking for more Polar Bear play ideas??  We had fun with our first Polar Bear Theme activities day!   We should have more ideas up tomorrow to go along with the Polar Bear theme. 

    You’ll also love all of the items in our Winter Fine Motor Kit. It’s loaded with coloring sheets, handwriting pages, puzzles, and crafts with a polar bear theme. There are sensory bin materials, polar bear finger puppets, lacing cards, and so much more.

    winter fine motor kit

    Click here to grab the Winter Fine Motor Kit.

    Thanksgiving Sensory Bin

    Thanksgiving sensory bin

    This Thanksgiving Sensory Bin was a fun way to foster imaginative play and develop motor skills through a sensory, textural experience. The sensory bin is a Thanksgiving activity that we enjoyed, but it would make a fun Fall sensory bin too, as it used many colors and textures of Fall. Adding in field corn, dry leaves, feathers, textured materials adds opportunities for scooping, pouring, and exploring with a Thanksgiving theme!

    Thanksgiving sensory bin for kids to play and explore textures while building fine motor skills.

    Thanksgiving Sensory Bin

    Sensory Bins are so great for exploring textures and fostering imaginative play.  They are so easy and inexpensive to make up  and can go in any theme…If your son loves superheroes, throw Spiderman figures into a bin of rice with a couple of Halloween spider rings, and you have an instant play area that can last all day long!  Use items and toys that interest your child’s passions for a sensory play experience that can also build skills.

    While the kids are exploring, imagining, fostering creativity, they are learning so much…building their confidence,  language skills, fine motor dexterity…and SO much more!    

    This holiday sensory bin offers a chance for kids to talk about Thanksgiving and discover items that foster thought, creative thinking, or family-centered materials. Items in the Thanksgiving Sensory bin can inspire gratitude and can be centered on what’s important to your family.

    Thanksgiving sensory ideas for sensory play and exploration, using many Fall materials.

    Thanksgiving Sensory Bin Base Materials

    Sensory bins can be made from any dry or wet material, water, shredded paper, packing peanuts…The possibilities are endless. Here are sensory base ideas to start with.

    To make this Thanksgiving sensory bin, you can use materials that you find around your home or outdoors. Other items can be found at the dollar store.

    Start with your Thanksgiving sensory play base material. Some ideas include dry field corn or regular popcorn, rice, dry beans, split peas. Non-food sensory bin materials can include shredded paper, feathers, or Fall leaves from outside. Dump the sensory bin base material into an under-the-bed-storage bin or other large, low bin or tray.  

    NOTE: Be prepared for corn/rice/split peas to scatter all over the floor.  Ignore it. Play with the kids, they can help clean up later…working that pincer grasp to pick up grains of corn from the floor 😉   Or not… Either way, enjoy the play/learning/growth experience with your kids and don’t worry about the mess. Brooming up corn into a dustpan is another fantastic occupation for kids. 🙂

    If keeping the spill factor to a minimum is a must, try using a tablecloth under the sensory bin. Or, take the sensory bin outdoors if you like.

    Thanksgiving sensory play ideas for kids include making a sensory bin with turkeys, wheat stalks, gourds, and more.

    Add Thanksgiving Items

    Next, add materials to manipulate, find, hide, scoop, and pour.

    Make the Thanksgiving sensory play meaningful by adding items that foster gratitude and thankfulness. One sensory bin item can include gratitude leaves like we made for our Thanksgiving tree. Cut paper leaves and each family member can write what they are thankful for. Scatter the leaves in the sensory bin. Best of all, you can reuse those gratitude leaves after the sensory play is done. Make a Thanksgiving tree like we did, or hang them on a Thanksgiving garland.

    Other Thanksgiving Sensory Bin materials include:

    • Fabric scraps
    • Gratitude leaves
    • Fake leaves
    • Real leaves
    • Paper leaves
    • Fall décor
    • Feathers
    • Acorns
    • Scraps of paper
    • Gourds
    • Decorations
    • Turkey figures
    • Wheat sprigs
    • Pine cones
    • Acorns
    This Thanksgiving sensory bin offers opportunities for fine motor skills.

    ADD Sensory Bin Scoops

    One final piece to a sensory bin are tools to scoop, pour, and sort. These items help to develop areas like fine motor skills, dexterity, eye-hand coordination, and bilateral coordination.

    Pouring and scooping are an oppourtunity to work on refined motor skills as kids pour the materails without spilling. They can explore how much to tilt the container or how much precision is needed to scoop the materials they want to manipulate.

    Some manipulating items to consider for a Thanksgiving sensory bin include:

    • Cups
    • Tongs
    • Tweezers
    • Baskets
    • Small cups
    • Spoons
    • Small bowls

      And baskets for sorting!  

    Use baskets, cups, and scoops to help kids build fine motor skills in a Thanksgiving sensory bin.

      Baby Girl thought it would be more fun to climb INTO the corn bin!  

    Sensory bin ideas for toddlers

      It feels great on the toes!    (Yes, I stuck my toes in the corn with the kiddos… NO, I will not harm your eyes with THAT picture!)  

        Cute baby toes, YES, we need more pictures of those!   

    Thanksgiving sensory bin for toddlers using materials to explore sensory.

        Big Sister started the sorting game.  She collected all of the flowers into this pot.  

    Thanksgiving Sensory Bin for Learning

    Work on specific concepts with your sensory bin, including:

    • Sorting by colors
    • Adding or subtracting
    • Sorting by patterns or textures
    • Sort by type of object
    • Spatial awareness
    • Size awareness
    • Sort by texture
    • Shapes

    Use a sensory bin to help kids learn to sort by color.

    Sorting by Color…

    Sorting by Object…

    Little Guy thought we needed to sort the socks… 🙂

    Sensory bin ideas for Thanksgiving include sorting items by texture, shape, and color.
    Thanksgiving sensory ideas include this sensory bin with items to scoop and manipulate.

      Everyone enjoyed talking about and feeling the objects… Scratchy wheat stalks:  

        Soft feathers (these were cut from scraps of fabric I had around the house):  

    A toddler sensory bin can include different materials and items to explore.

     Little Guy thought it would be pretty fun to lay IN the cool corn to see how that felt: “It’s pretty comfy, Mom”!  

          How many kids can you fit into a bin? It looks like the answer is three. 🙂  

    Sensory bin materials include dry corn, fabric swatches, feathers.

          There were lots of colors and textures to explore in this sensory bin!    

    Thanksgiving theme sensory bin for exploring colors and textures.
    Thanksgiving sensory bin to manipulate and build fine motor skills.

     Scooping, sorting, exploring the senses, fostering creativity, building language skills, working on fine motor skills…We did so much more than just playing with this fun Thanksgiving Sensory Bin! I am Thankful for Today!    

    Have you made a fall themed sensory bin? 

    More Thanksgiving activities

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to

    Kindergarten Sight Words Cloud Dough

    We’ve done quite a few sight words activities on this site.  What’s cool is that the activities that we did with my now second grade daughter are still fun and working great with my kindergartner son this year.  Today, I’ve got a sensory sight word activity using Cloud Dough.

    Adding a tactile (and sensory) approach to sight words may just help the memorization of words “stick”.   We made this cloud dough that was brightly colored and smelled great using a few materials we had in the house.

    Sight word sensory bin with cloud dough made with baby oil and baby powder

     Cloud Dough Recipe for Sensory Exploration

    To make the cloud dough, we used just a few ingredients (Affiliate links are included in this post):
    3 cups Baby Powder
    1/2 cup Baby Oil
    2 sticks of Sidewalk Chalk
    Mix the baby powder and baby oil with your fingers.  Use a Kitchen Mallet to crush the chalk into dust.  
    This is an EXCELLENT proprioceptive activity that the kids really got into.  Smashing that chalk into smithereens requires a lot of muscle power and “wakes up” the muscles to the heavy work of pounding that hammer.  Try this pounding activity before a quiet and calming activity like writing.
    Sprinkle the chalk dust into the cloud dough and mix by hand.  You can play with the cloud dough without the chalk dust, but we wanted a bright blue color.  
    It took us a little bit of experimentation, (and blue hands), but we found out that mixing liquid food coloring into the cloud dough (even mixed into water or mixed into extra oil) will not give this sensory dough a bright color.  Instead, you’ll end up with dyed hands.
    Now, start playing!

    Cloud Dough Sight Word Activity

    Cloud dough is very fun.  It’s moldable and a great sensory dough to explore.  We decided to add sight words to this sensory bin.  I used bright index cards to write out Kindergarten sight words.  We cut the words into smaller sizes and hid them in the cloud dough. 

    To play sight word games with Cloud Dough:

    Sight word sensory bin with cloud dough made with baby oil and baby powder
    Write two sets of sight words.  Play different games.  Some of our favorite games to play with sight words can be done right in the cloud dough:
    • Play Memory with the sight words in the cloud dough.  Hide and turn the sight word cards in the dough.  Take turns looking for matches.
    • Scatter one set of sight words in the dough and the other set outside of the sensory bin.  Take turns quickly looking for matches of words.
    • Create small balls of cloud dough.  Push the cards into the dough and stand words up.  Ask your child to read the words and smash the cloud dough balls. This game is always a hit with the kids.
    • Play Hide and Seek for sight words in the cloud dough.
    Sight word sensory bin with cloud dough made with baby oil and baby powder
    Sight word sensory bin with cloud dough made with baby oil and baby powder
    We love creative sight words activities!  Here are some of our favorite ways to work on name practice in kindergarten through hands-on play.

                                        Sight Words Ping Pong Bounce Game
                                                       Sight Word Scooping 
    Sight word sensory bin with cloud dough made with baby oil and baby powder

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    Sensory Bins for a Year

    We are guest posting for our friend Blayne over at House of Burke! She’s super busy right now after just having her second baby boy.  What an exciting time for her and the Burke family! 

    A Year of Sensory Bins

    We were honored to put together a post of sensory bins for her while she recovers.  If you don’t know the House of Burke blog, then you NEED to check out this blog.  Sensory and craft activities galore happen over there!  This round-up of sensory bin ideas will take you through the year with each season set for you.  Read more on House of Burke’s page.

    Sight Word Sensory Bin

    This sight word sensory bin is an old activity here on the website, from when our own children were just learning to read. When they were in kindergarten, sight words were all the rage. Now, these strategies are not used as much, but the practice of learning words and letters continues. You can use components of this sensory bin activity in beginning reading for kindergarteners to practice reading words, identifying letters, or matching uppercase to lower case. The sky is the limit, and all you need is recycled paper!

    While we used recycled paper for this sight word sensory activity, you could use any sensory bin base material.

    Sight Word Sensory Bin

    I love this sight word sensory bin idea (or any way that you use the sensory bin idea) to involve motor skills and multisensory learning into reading skill development. As OT providers, we love play-based learning and hands-on activities, and this one fits the bill!

     We’ve used a lot of fun and different materials to practice sight words this school year.  Sight Words with Ping Pong Balls and Sight Word Practice with string are just two fun ways we’ve practiced the work list that comes home with Big Sister each week.  Just recently, we got a note from her teacher saying “Awesome job on the sight words!”  This was a pretty proud mama and all of our practice is paying off! 

    Shredded Paper Sensory Bin

    This sensory based activity is a Sight Word Sensory bin…and just one more creative ways we’ve been practicing homework words.  Putting a creative spin on the practice makes repetition fun and easy.  You can find more links to our other creative sight word activities at the bottom of this post.
    Kids can practice new sight words with a sensory bin.


    I had this sensory bin ready to go when Big Sister came home from school one day.  It was a fun way for Baby Girl and Little Guy to play while they waited for their sister to get off of the school bus.
    Kindergarten sight words in a sensory bin with shredded paper.

    Put those paper shreds to work and use them in fun play.  Shredded paper is a great sensory bin filler. 

    We’ve used it a few other times and it actually about today because Little Guy remembered doing this Snowy Farm Sensory Bin activity and asked if we could pull out some shredded paper again. 

    The shredded paper can even be dyed to give your sensory bin a colorful spin.  We dyed shredded paper pink in our Valentine’s Day sensory bin.

    Use Sight Words in a sensory bin to enhance reading for young kids.

    Big Sister played in the sensory bin and said the words as she pulled them out.  We made sentences together with the words from the bin.

    Shredded paper makes a great sensory bin filler for kids' sensory bin activities.

    Big Sister wanted to add her entire sight word collection to the sensory bin.  It turned out to be mostly sight words!  I think we’re on to a new sensory bin filler 😉

    Looking for more sight word activities for beginner readers?  Try these fun ideas:

    Sight Word Sticky Easel
    Sight Word Manipulatives
    Sight Word Scavenger Hunt
    Beginner Sight Word Letter Match
    I Spy Sight Word Sensory Bottle
    No-Mess Sensory Sight Word Spelling
    Sight Word Bottle Cap Stampers

    Learning Through Play with 60+ Sensory Bins

    Looking through the features for this week, we noticed a running theme.  It seems lots of folks are enjoying their days with their kiddos by doing fun and educational…

    Sensory Bins!

    If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you probably know that we love any sensory inspired play and sensory bins are one of our favorites!  We’ve done holiday themed bins, educational learning bins, color themed bins… There is no limit to the type or learning aspects you can develop through sensory bins.

    So what is so great about Sensory Bins?

    Sensory bins are a fantastic way for young children to explore their senses.  Kids, especially the younger set, learn through touch…picking up an object, manipulating it’s weight, exploring it’s color, texture, and size…and comparing the object to others.  Sensory bins allow a child to use all of their senses when exploring objects.  They can feel the different textures, see the contrasting colors, smell rice/corn/paper/whatever, hear the crunch of materials, even taste the objects.  And then there is the proprioceptive and kinesthetic senses that come into play when the child picks up and manipulates the items in relation to his body.
    While all of this sensory stuff is completely awesome for little ones, don’t forget the learning that happens when a sensory bin is explored: colors, shapes, matching, comparing/contrasting, language development, sorting, counting, and fine motor skills, language development, and imagination skills.
    The topics of sensory bins are limitless.  You can build a bin around a science theme, a specific letter of the alphabet, a holiday, or just throw some black beans in a bowl and add a few spoons and cotton balls…FUN!
    Let’s see what super fun and imaginative sensory bins our featured linkers came up with this week:
    Alphabet Learning Through Play by Little Bins for Little Hands
    (ten completely fun and educational alphabet themed bins!)
    Bird Seed Sensory Bin by Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
    (we love playing in a bin of bird seed in this house!!)
    Ocean Sensory Table by Stir The Wonder
    (oh, our kids would love this one!)
    (perfect edible sensory play for babies!)
    Zoo Sensory Bins by Fantastic and Fun Learning
    (Such fun with this collection of sensory bins!)
    40+ Farm Sensory Bins by Living Montessori Now
    (…we made the list…YYYEEAH! Seriously, there are great ideas in this post!)
    Some of our favorite Sensory Bin posts:
     You may want to see more of our Sensory Bins here.