Winter Sensory Bins

Today, we have some great winter sensory bin ideas to use this time of year. When it’s cold outdoors, indoor sensory play is the way to go when it comes to supporting sensory motor needs and facilitating skills. Why? Sensory bins are the best go-to tool for children to engage in a variety of sensory experiences while learning about a season or holiday so they are fun and motivating. But more than that, a sensory bin engages many of the senses at once and can easily be tailored to your specific needs for a child and to the materials that you have on hand. You can target many occupational therapy goals using a single sensory bin. Adding in wintertime themes is easy with snowman sensory bins, snow sensory bins, and many other ideas.

Let’s explore winter sensory activities using sensory tables and bins…

Winter Sensory Bins

Winter Sensory Bins

Wintertime Sensory Bins are a great way to foster sensory motor skills and engage students in an individualized activity.

A sensory bin is usually a durable container filled with various types of materials and items that can stimulate and engage a child’s senses such as sight, sound, touch, and/or smell.  Winter-themed sensory bins are the perfect tool for engaging children in learning and open-ended play as part of this cold, wet season. They offer a multi-sensory experience that can easily target aspects of a child’s development.  

Seasonal sensory bins are a great way to introduce children to the changing seasons and connect them with nature and what is happening in the world around them. With the simple use of textures, temperatures, colors, sounds, and scents, children will engage in a sensory activity that builds tolerance and engagement with materials they may not readily choose to participate with on their own. 

There’s no right or wrong way to play with sensory bins, other than eating or tasting anything in them – don’t allow it. Other than not eating or tasting anything, children have the freedom to play creatively and use their imaginations to create scenes and stories about the materials in the bin. This in turn easily allows for work on language development and social interaction as children naturally engage in conversation about the items in the bin and the bins themselves. The sharing of materials helps to facilitate turn-taking and cooperation as children play together. 

Motor skills can be targeted by having children work on scooping, pouring, mixing, stirring, and picking up objects with the use of tools. These activities require precision and control of the hands and fingers, which are essential for handwriting, drawing, scissor use, manipulating clothing fasteners, and using feeding utensils.

Fine motor skills are particularly important in early childhood development, as they lay the foundation for more complex tasks in the future. 

Tactile discrimination, exploration, and sensory desensitization are effectively addressed with sensory bins as they are playful and present in a non-threatening way. The playful nature of sensory bins allows children to control their tactile experiences, fostering confidence in their interactions with materials and gradually increasing their comfort with different sensations. 

In addition, occupational 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.

When a child needs some time to pull away from the chaos and clutter of an environment or just needs time to ground themselves, sensory bin play can offer a calming effect and help them regulate their emotions. It can easily be used for self-soothing and stress relief. 

Sensory bins are just plain fun when it comes down to it. Children are more likely to engage in and with items that they may not normally do so and children find learning fun with the use of the materials that are presented in this fun and playful way. Go sensory bins!!

Whether you are a therapist, teacher, or parent, winter-themed sensory bins are an excellent means for enriching any child’s winter experience and helping to promote holistic development. They are easily adaptable to suit various therapeutic and educational objectives and provide a creative outlet to explore the beauty of the winter season

If you need inspiration for the types of sensory bins you can create to represent the winter season, take a look at the variety of ideas we have gathered for you. These may help to trigger some creative fun that you have buried inside of your tired thoughts this time of year with all of the excitement of the holiday season. We hope you enjoy!

Winter Sensory Bin Themes

You could also do holiday themed sensory bins during the winter months. This might include:

Arctic Animal Sensory Bin

An Arctic Animal Sensory Bin is a hands-on explorational bin that is designed to facilitate hands-on educational learning of the animals that inhabit the Arctic region. This type of wintertime bin is typically created with a variety of materials and items that stimulate touch, sight, and in some cases smell.

Some specific ideas include our Polar Bear Sensory bin.

Here’s how to create an Arctic animal sensory bin:

  1. Use a large plastic sensory bin especially if using frozen items to represent ice and cold. 
  2. Fill the bin with Arctic-related materials such as artificial snow, white rice, salt, or potato flakes. Another option would be to fill it with blue-tinted water (use a few drops of food coloring) to represent an icy ocean.
  3. Add Arctic animals such as polar bears, wolves, foxes, penguins, seals, whales, or even snowy owls. 
  4. Add rocks or pebbles for an icy terrain.
  5. Add fake plastic cubes or even real ice cubes to represent ice. 
  6. Add toy igloos, caves, or icebergs from playsets to represent the Arctic region and create a scene with the animals.
  7. Add blue or silver glitter and blue glass gems for a sparkling, snowy effect.
  8. Add cotton balls or quilt stuffing for snow drifts.
  9. Add tongs or tweezers for picking up and moving items around within the bin. 
  10. Add plastic spoons and other scoopers to scoop and pour snowy base materials. 

Ideas to encourage children to engage in open-ended sensory play with the artic animal sensory bin:

  1. Scoop and pour the snow and ice to make it look like it is snowing. 
  2. Pretend to be the Arctic animals and make voices for them as they talk about the Arctic living.
  3. Stack and build shelters with the cubes. 
  4. Create snow drifts and other snowy terrain scenes for the animals to be a part of in play or living.
  5. Have children use their imagination to create scenarios and stories involving the Arctic animal theme.

As children play with the Arctic sensory bin allow them the opportunity for sensory exploration while also encouraging imaginative play with the materials. A great tool for homeschool and preschool environments. 

Hot Cocoa Sensory Bin

A Hot Cocoa Sensory Bin is a delightfully fun sensory play bin, especially popular during the winter months. It’s a fantastic way to encourage imaginative play and help children explore different tactile materials while simulating the experience of making, drinking, or serving a warm cup of hot cocoa.

Here’s how a hot cocoa sensory bin can be created:

  1. Use a plastic storage bin to hold the sensory bin contents. 
  2. Fill the bin with cocoa-related material such as instant cocoa powder, dried cocoa beans, scented coffee grounds, brown rice or beans, or even brown shredded paper. 
  3. Add items like white foam marshmallows, white pom-pom balls, or cotton balls to mimic marshmallows.
  4. Add items like small brown pom-pom balls or plastic chocolate chips from a playset to be used for chocolate chips.
  5. Add measuring cups, spoons, and other containers for children to scoop, pour, transfer, and measure cocoa material.
  6. Add small spoons, wooden dowels, or playset plastic utensils for stirring, mixing, or topping the cocoa.
  7. Add play or toy plastic cups, mugs, and saucers for serving the cocoa. Option: Paper coffee cups would work too.
  8. Adding a cocoa-scented element can add to the olfactory element of the bin while children engage in using it.
  9. Optional additions could be toy figurines, dolls, or stuffed animals to create little friends who enjoy the hot cocoa for imaginative play.

Ideas to encourage children to engage in open-ended sensory play with the hot cocoa sensory bin:

  1. Scoop and pour the cocoa and toppings into the cups and mugs for serving or pretend drinking.
  2. Pretend to make the cocoa by measuring and mixing the cocoa to make hot cocoa recipes.
  3. Experiment with different sensory textures by touching the dry cocoa materials and soft marshmallow materials.
  4. Have children use their imagination to create scenarios and stories involving the hot cocoa theme. They could be selling hot cocoa at a stand or coffee shop or they could be sitting at home in front of a snowy window while sipping their cocoa.

As children play with the hot cocoa bin, they will develop important fine motor skills and engage their senses while promoting creativity and imaginative play. A fun bin for the school and home setting during a particularly cold, wintry day.

Winter Wonderland Sensory Bin

A Winter Wonderland Sensory Bin is a super fun activity for children. This hands-on experience captivates multiple senses simultaneously, fostering imaginative play.

To craft your winter wonderland sensory bin, follow these steps:

  1. Use a large plastic bin or deep tray. 
  1. Choose a snowy landscape material for the sensory bin base filler such as white rice, white sand, cotton balls, shredded white paper, or instant snow.
  1. Add winter-themed miniature figurines and props like small animals, trees, houses, snowmen, and people sledding or skiing. If you don’t have these items, make them! Create penguins and snowmen out of recycled paper towel rolls and grab a few pine tree branches from outside to make some trees. 
  1. Add small wintertime clothing items such as mittens, scarves, or hats to dress the props. 
  1. Add items like pine cones, evergreen pieces, wood pieces, and cinnamon sticks to evoke the scents of winter.
  1. Add textured items like faux fur, soft or fuzzy fabrics, rough pinecones, and mushy water beads.
  1. Add sleigh bells or small instruments to create a few fun sound effects.
  1. Add silver or iridescent glitter or sequins to represent glistening snow. Integrate craft foam snowflakes, known for their shine and ease of use—they can be effortlessly dropped into the bin for an added touch.
  1. Add fine motor tools like small scoops, tongs, or tweezers for scooping and transferring items within the bin.

Ideas to encourage children to engage in open-ended sensory play with this winter sensory bin:

  1. Scoop and pour the snowy content to represent falling snow. 
  2. Have children create small scenes in the bin to present wintertime play. 
  3. Have children describe the sensory aromas and textures as they explore. 

This activity bin is a great way for children to learn about wintertime fun and to stimulate their creativity while developing sensory and fine motor skills.  This bin can seamlessly serve as a sensory station in the classroom.

Winter sensory bin

Frozen-themed Sensory Bin

A Frozen-themed Sensory Bin is all about creating an ice or frozen bin that allows children to explore cold and ice while engaging their senses in many ways. We made a Frozen sensory bin using homemade sensory snow made from baby powder and oil.

Here’s how to set up an ice or frozen sensory bin:

  1. Start with a large plastic tray or bin.
  2. Fill it with blue or white glass gems or beads to represent snow and ice crystals. Alternative choices could be white rice or Epsom salt which could give the bin a frosty appearance.
  3. Add plastic polar animals, penguins, or even characters from the movie “Frozen.”
  4. Add real ice cubes by freezing water in ice cube trays and even freeze small plastic objects in ice cubes.
  5. Add textures like fluffy quilt filler, cotton balls, or slippery glass or water beads. 
  6. Add scents like mint-scented cotton balls or pine-scented materials. 
  7. Add small bells or chimes in the bin to create an ice tinkling sound. 
  8. Add a warm water spray bottle or droppers for rescuing the frozen items out of their ice cube confinements.
  9. Add tongs, scoops, and spoons for scooping, pouring, and transferring filler materials.
  10. Add blue or silver glitter to the items in the bin for an added icy look to the setting. 

Ideas to encourage involvement in the Frozen themed sensory bin:

  1. Use the sensory tools to manipulate the materials and release the frozen items from their frozen enclosures.
  2. Have the children describe the sensory items as they explore them with their hands and other senses. 
  3. Again, create imaginative stories with the animals and characters in the bin. 

This sensory bin can be a great way for children to learn about ice and winter while developing sensory and fine motor skills. Brr…it’s a cold one. 

Winter Bakery Sensory Bin

A Winter Bakery Sensory Bin is a delightful and engaging bin that brings the magic of a winter bakery to life for kids. We’ve created an outdoor snow kitchen that was a lot of fun.

How to create a winter bakery sensory bin:

  1. Use a plastic bin.
  2. Fill the bin with flour or cornstarch to simulate the feeling of powdered snow. Alternatively, fill the bin with white rice and then add globs of play dough to create a textured dough for use with the bakery tools. 
  3. Add some colorful sprinkles to the bin, allowing children to use them to decorate their baked treats. 
  4. Add essential oils to the base materials with scents like gingerbread or peppermint. 
  5. Place fun aprons around the bin for children to don and doff before and after play. 
  6. Add miniature play bakery items to stock the bakery, such as: cookie cutters, rolling pins, cupcake liners. mini muffin tins, and small baking trays.
  7. Add small utensils and molds for baking play, such as spatulas, cookie molds, and measuring cups and spoons. 

Ideas to encourage children to explore and play within the winter bakery sensory bin:

  1. Have children use the bakery items to create imaginative treats.
  2. Have children pretend to have a bakery shop and stand and make orders to go. 
  3. Encourage children to tell stories and create scenarios as they serve their “baked goods” and run their winter bakery.

This sensory bin activity offers children an excellent opportunity to learn about baking, develop fine motor skills, and spark their creativity while embracing a wintertime bakery theme. It’s a wonderful addition to either a classroom’s kitchen area or the home kitchen. 

outdoor snow kitchen

Winter Colors Sensory Bin

A Winter Colors Sensory Bin is a fun way for children to explore and learn about the colors and themes associated with wintertime. This sensory bin is as easy as using winter colors (think greys, blues, whites, pearl, ivory, and silver).

Here’s how to make a winter colors sensory bin:

  1. Start with a shallow plastic bin or tray.
  2. Fill it with white rice, salt, light blue or silver shredded paper, white beans, dried pasta, or cotton balls to represent snow or a frosty, wintery look. Consider crafting a unique winter color theme by utilizing a skein of blue yarn as the foundational filler for the bin. Build on this filler by adding other winter-colored items to the yarn base.
  3. Add colorful items with winter hues such as:
  • Blue or silver glass gems, beads, or buttons
  • White, blue, and/or silver pom-pom balls
  • Colored felt or foam shapes in winter hues
  • Blue, white, or silver pipe cleaners or craft sticks (craft fun snowflakes with the use of the pipe cleaners to add to the bin)
  1. Add scoops, tongs, or small containers to encourage fine motor skills. 

Ideas to encourage the use of the winter colors sensory bin by children:

  1. Sort the colorful items by shape or color. Use tongs or tweezers for sorting, utilizing containers for opening and closing.
  1. Create patterns or designs using the colorful pieces.
  1. Describe the colors and shapes they see.
  1. Engage in imaginative play using the items to build structures or tell stories.

This sensory bin helps children learn about wintertime colors, exploration of sorting and categorizing while fostering hand skills, and allows for creativity in play. 

Frosty the Snowman Sensory Bin

A Frosty the Snowman Sensory Bin is a fun way to foster fine motor skills including hand and finger strength. 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.

You could also use real or instant snow (fake snow) that can be purchased. This instant snow on Amazon (affiliate) is a great winter sensory bin base material.

Winter sensory bin

A winter sensory bin can include things like craft pom poms, cotton balls, cotton batting, tinsel, gems, clothes pins, and much more.

Snow Sensory Bin

The Frosty the Snowman sensory bin can be expanded by using real snow or fake snow in a large container or tray. Add a few scoops and spoons, water droppers, and even food coloring to create winter fun with a snow sensory bin.

We used real snow in an indoor sensory bin by bringing the water table indoors. This was fun because we painted snow with watercolors using paintbrushes to get creative and develop visual motor skills.

Paint snow in a sensory bin

Real snow can be a fun sensory bin filler.

Winter SENSORY BIN FILLERS

All of the winter sensory bin ideas that we listed above can be adjusted to meet the needs of all kids.

Some of these materials can be used as sensory base materials or added in as materials to manipulate and explore.

Try adding these sensory bin items for tactile sensory input with a winter theme:

  • Real Snow- Scoop some real snow from outside if you’ve got snow. This is a great way to bring winter indoors, especially if the temps are too low.
  • Fake Snow or Insta-Snow– An alternative to using real snow (if you don’t have real snow outside) is to use fake snow in the sensory bin. Create a snowy atmosphere with artificial snow that mimics the feel of real snow. It’s a non-messy alternative that provides a tactile sensation.
  • Shredded Paper- Use shredded paper as a “snow” base for a winter sensory bin activity. We used small toys to make a winter farm sensory bin that was a lot of fun.
  • 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.
  • Cotton Balls or Cotton Snow– Use cotton balls to represent snow. This soft material is gentle and safe for hands, offering a different texture.
  • Winter-themed Toys– Include miniature winter-themed toys such as snowflakes, snowmen, or polar animals. These can enhance imaginative play and add a visual element.
  • Silver or White Tinsel– Tinsel adds a shiny and reflective quality to the sensory bin, representing ice or frost.
  • Sensory Ice Cubes– Freeze water with small winter-themed objects inside ice cubes. As the ice melts, it introduces a cold sensation and reveals hidden treasures.
  • Pine Branches or Pine Needles– Bring in the natural scent of winter by adding pine branches or needles. This adds an olfactory component to the sensory experience.
  • Scented Playdough– Create scented playdough with winter scents like peppermint, cinnamon, or pine. Playdough allows for tactile exploration and creative molding.
  • Winter Colored Rice– Dye rice in shades of white, blue, and silver to represent winter colors. Rice provides a different tactile sensation and is great for scooping and pouring.
  • Warm and Cool Textures– Include items with both warm and cool sensations, such as fabric swatches representing cozy blankets and icy gel packs for contrast.

Sensory bins offer a playful opportunity for children to engage multiple senses in a non-threatening or intimidating manner, creating a safe and comfortable space for them to explore at their own pace, within a familiar setting.

The nice thing is that themed play scenarios using a sensory bin can target so many different skills, and there is no right or wrong way to play. However, it is always important to supervise young children while they play with sensory bins and ensure the materials used are age-appropriate to prevent choking hazards or other safety concerns. Always be sure to store sensory bins in a safe place when not in use.

These winter number cards are in the Winter Fine Motor Kit and are a great addition to a winter sensory bin.

Want to create a Winter sensory bin using number or letter cards? We have them inside the Winter Fine Motor Kit.

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.

Regina Allen

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!

winter sensory bins

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