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Thinking Outside the Box: Making Sensory Bins

So you’ve landed your dream pediatric occupational therapy job and are looking for some new ways to engage your kids in therapy.

Sensory bins are the best activities for new grad OTs working in pediatrics. You are able to keep in mind their sensory needs and their goals.

Making sensory bins is easy to learn because they are made with recycled everyday items and make exciting activities for the kids!

I used to toss my containers and craft items into the trash (big mistake), only to find that these items can be used to create something magical. But we all know that because OT’s are extremely resourceful. 😉

With many of us working in various pediatric settings, sensory bins are a go-to activity to help keep kiddos engaged and always provide the OT with an opportunity to address specific goal areas. Sensory bins are a favorite way to incorporate many senses while addressing fine motor skills, visual perception, tactile defensiveness, grip strength, grasp development, sequencing and let’s be honest, attention.

Here are a few sensory bins you can make with anything laying around in the setting you work in, at home, or at your best friend… the dollar store!

Step 1: Find a container (with a lid)

  • An old tupperware container (yes, it can be that small)
  • Plastic container with a lid in various sizes
  • Recycle a food container that has a lid (twist top or pull off)

Step 2: Find your sensory material

  • Beans, rice, pasta, lentils
  • Pebbles (I recently made a rock and water sensory bin with dinosaurs and spoons to practice scooping, stacking and tactile sensitivity to water, this has been the ultimate winner because… dinosaurs!)
  • Pine cones, leaves, twigs, moss, dirt (kids can scoop the dirt and plant a flower. Talk about sensory and fine motor!)
  • Water beads (slimy, wet and bouncy)
  • Feathers
  • Sand/Kinetic sand
  • Cotton balls/pom poms
  • Shredded paper
  • Bubble wrap (Addresses auditory sensitivity by popping bubbles)
  • Shaving cream, finger paint, slime, play-doh
  • P.S. You can mix a variety in each bin

Step 3: Plan your activity

  • Hide puzzle pieces or figurines in your bins – not only are kiddos more likely to touch the texture inside, but they will have to use their visual motor and hand-eye coordination skills to find the hidden treasures.
  • Place various tools inside your bins including spoons, sifters, forks, eye droppers to address scooping, pincer grasp, hand strength, self-feeding (pretend) and grasp development.
  • Add essential oil scents to create a calming bin – especially when paired with beans. The sound of beans, the feeling of beans and the scent of a calming scent such as lavender is the ultimate recipe for a calm down sensory bin.
  • Place plastic eggs inside your bins.  You can place stickers or a figurine stuck in putty into the eggs for additional fine motor challenges.
  • *Always supervise your young clients to make sure they don’t try to mouth any dangerous items.
Addressing skills with kiddos is so fun when incorporating sensory mediums. They don’t even know they are working. ☺️

Simple and effective! Activities don’t have to be fancy. Kids can engage in the most seemingly simple materials when the activity is structured to be the just-right challenge. These sensory bins can travel with you especially if you work in a school setting, do home visits, or multiple outpatient clinics.

What are your favorite sensory bins and activities to use with your population?

About Zuzanna Congalton

Zuzanna Congalton
Zuzanna received her MSOT in 2015 from Kean University in NJ and currently works with the pediatric population in both clinic & early intervention settings in California!

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