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SNAP Science Explorers at Home: Sensory Bins

Welcome to SNAP Science Explorers – At Home edition! Plano Public Library brings you an at-home version of a STEAM activity that you might see at our SNAP Science Explorers program. Keep reading for an introduction to Sensory Bins as well as step-by-step instructions (with pictures).

About Sensory Bins

Understanding how your growing child learns is an important way to ensure your child gets their learning off to a great start. Children naturally learn with their senses. One way to give your child engaging learning experiences is by giving them the opportunity to use their senses through play.  

Sensory bins are hands-on tools for children to explore their world through their senses while playing. A sensory bin is usually a plastic tub or a large container filled with materials like sand, shredded paper, water beads, dry beans and so much more. Once the bin is filled with a material that can be “sifted” through, items are added and hidden within that material. Plastic animals, magnetic letters, silk flowers and cars are just a few suggestions. Any item can be hidden in the bin filler waiting to be discovered.  

Science concepts help develop your child’s critical thinking skills and introduce children to the creative process. This activity focuses on an area of neuroscience, or the study of the nervous system. Sensory play is important to brain development because sensory stimulation is essential for brain development. Sensory play can encourage critical thinking, foster imagination, strengthen fine motor skills and introduce new vocabulary. 

Along with these benefits, sensory play may also calm, focus and engage your child. 

Today we are going to make a rainbow sensory bin. Keep in mind that sensory bins can be made out of many different items that reflect many different learning concepts. 

Gather Your Supplies

Supplies for sensory bins are limitless! You can make a sensory bin out of almost anything. You need a storage tub of some sort, filler, and items to “hide” in the filler. Our example for today is a rainbow sensory bin that you can use to teach the concept of colors to your child. Here’s what we used: 

  • Storage Tub
  • Rice 
  • Dry beans (we used navy beans) 
  • Dry Legumes (we used dry split peas) 
  • Dry Pasta (we used ditalini, elbow macaroni and penne rigate) 

In this example we used colored rice and pasta. Here is how you can make each:  

Colored Dry Rice1 cup rice
1/2 teaspoon water
Food coloring
Plastic baggy (Ziploc)

In a plastic baggy, combine rice, water, and desired food coloring. Close and seal the baggy. Massage the baggy to distribute the food coloring and water evenly among the rice until the rice is a uniform color. 

Colored Dry Pasta1 cup pasta
1 teaspoon vinegar
Food coloring
Plastic baggy (Ziploc)

In a plastic baggy, combine pasta, vinegar, and desired food coloring. Close and seal the baggy. Massage the baggy to distribute the food coloring and vinegar evenly among the pasta until the past is a uniform color.   

***For both the rice and the pasta, you need to allow drying time before using in a sensory bin.

Items to “hide” in the filler (again, these items can be anything)! We used:

Foam lettersFoam shapes
Magnetic lettersMagnetic numbers
Blue, yellow and red chipsGame pieces

Sensory bin tools can be added for the child. Your child can use common kitchen items to further their experience with the sensory bin and to enhance fine motor skills. While the possibilities are endless, some tools you might include could be:

Measuring cupsSand shovels
Cookie cutters

Creating a bin can be as easy or as complicated as you want depending on themes you might choose to create for your child. Here are the basic steps to creating a sensory bin:

  1. Choose a good container
  2. Choose a bin filler, and fill the bin
  3. Add toys and other objects to the filler


Sensory bins offer growing minds learning opportunities that appeal to their senses through play which is essential for brain development. As your child engages with the sensory bin you made, what did you observe?

  1. Did your child engage with the sensory bin longer than you expected?
  2. Did your child make up a story about their play with the sensory bin?
  3. Was your child focused on their play?

Sensory bins are a great way to give your child learning experiences while they play. The best thing about a sensory bin is the endless entertainment, skill-development and learning it provides. The next best thing is that you can create countless bins using items you already have in your home.

Sensory play is important because sensory stimulation is essential for brain development. Sensory play can encourage critical thinking, foster imagination, strengthen fine motor skills and introduce new vocabulary. Sensory play is key in developing these skills in your child that will help promote a lifetime of learning.

Explore More

Multi-Sensory Theme-a-Saurus: The Great Big Book of Sensory Learning by Gayle Bittinger

My Five Senses by Aliki

You Can’t Taste a Pickle With Your Ear by Harriet Ziefert

Your Senses by Helen Frost

Check out our other SNAP blog posts here for more activities like this!

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