Pediatric Physical, Speech, and Occupational Therapists Inspiring Play

Let’s Get Tactile! Benefits and Tips for Setting Up a Sensory Bin

Let’s Get Tactile! Benefits and Tips for Setting Up a Sensory Bin

Therapists and teachers love to utilize sensory bins for preschool exploration because there are so many benefits! Young children are naturally in a ‘touch to learn’ phase in which they are learning about their environment, such as cause/effect concepts, through experiences. This article will provide benefits or tactile exploration as well tips for setting up a sensory bin.

Our tactile (or touch) system is composed of receptors in our skin and our central nervous system. It provides us with tons of information about the world around us and naturally engages our visual system for some focused play for littles! In addition, providing tactile experiences assists in developing tactile discrimination skills for functional tasks, such as

  • isolating fingers,
  • holding multiple objects in one hand,
  • shifting items within hands, and
  • developing adequate grasp patterns for using tools.

Plus, tactile play is packed with opportunities for language and social skill development.

Now that you know some of the benefits, let’s get messy!

Dry Tactile Bin Fillers: 

Corn meal: Dry textures are a great starting place for kiddos who are new to tactile play or who may be more hesitant about getting messy. Corn meal has a smooth texture and is easy to brush off hands. 

For this bin, we used strainers to sift and sort colored buttons into monster mouths.

Rice/Beans: Dry rice, beans, or lentils are perfect for hiding small items for seek and find activities. They can also make some beautiful designs!

We transformed this dry bin into a holiday theme by adding some spooky spiders and plastic eyes. Adding some small cups to scoop and pour to your bins or a fillable plastic bottle is a great way to extend the play. 

This book themed bin has all the benefits of tactile play, plus some added pre-writing skill development for finding and matching letters. 

Other dry bin filler ideas: salt, dry cereal, flour, oatmeal, tissue paper, leaves, sand, pom-poms or cotton balls, packing peanuts, Easter grass, ribbons, buttons, bird seed.

Wet or Semi-Wet Bin Fillers:

Water beads: We are big fans of water beads; they are squishy, slippery and beautiful! Plus, there are so many ways to create a unique invitation to play.

For this bin, we added plastic fish and colored water to create an ocean theme.

Toy Story Sensory Bin

This Toy Story themed water bead bin uses small Bingo chips with a magnet wand to locate and find. We added a piggy bank to increase the fine motor challenge. 

DIY Snow: The WTP crew lives in Southern California so we do not get any real snow in the winter. Instead, we make this super easy snow mix; perfect for your Frozen loving kiddos. 

All you need is one part baking soda and one part hair conditioner, and then mix, squish, and repeat. We added some glitter to make it really sparkle. 

Water: Never underestimate the power of a simple water bin! There are tons of quick (and cheap) ways to throw together a water bin. 

Float plastic eggs and silicone cupcake liners to scoop and match colors. 

Add some sliced fruit and flower petals to water and ice for some spa scent exploration. 

Wash some toys or babies with a little sudsy soap and sponges. 

Shaving Cream: A classic to add to your messy play repertoire. For kiddos who are new to shaving cream play, you may consider starting in the bathtub. Kids are already wet and can easily dunk messy hands into water if they need a quick rinse. 

Add some water color paint to shaving cream for some simple DIY bathtub paint.

Make a car wash by spraying toy cars with shaving cream, then using brushes and scrubbies before dunking into a tub of water.

Other wet and semi-wet bin filler ideas: kinetic sand, moonsand, monkey foam,floam, play dough, paint, jell-o, mud. 

Mixed Texture Fillers: 

Mixed textures of both wet and dry are more complex and challenging, but also super fun!

For this bin we started with dry rice in one tub and floam in the other with mix and match popsicles.

The ultimate dessert themed bin! We used ABC cookies and frosting with rainbow rice “sprinkles” for some messy pre-writing fun. 

WTP insider tips:

  1. What: Have your supplies ready, including clean up items, such as towels and wipes or a brush and dustpan within easy reach. Consider using a tarp or shower curtain under bowls or tables to catch inevitable spills. 
  2. Where: Place for your sensory bin/bowl/table so that your kiddo can easily access with both hands. Use the floor or a low coffee table or a step stool or learning tower to reach higher surfaces. 
  3. When: Maybe don’t start a messy play activity right before you need to leave the house in clean clothes or right before nap/bedtime. If you are doing a really messy activity, plan for right before bathtime. 
  4. How: We know that all kiddos respond to sensory input differently. Some kiddos will dive into tactile input and cannot get enough, while others are more hesitant to engage. In general, dry media is easier for our bodies to integrate and may be a better starting point for a hesitant friend. Allow kiddos the opportunity to use a barrier tool as needed with novel or messy media so that they can still participate while working towards touch. Examples of barriers: paintbrushes, cups, Q-tips, cotton balls, tongs, spoons, etc. 

As always, children require close supervision with sensory play! Have fun, stay safe, and GET MESSY!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission (at no additional cost)which will help us continue to run our site and create content!

Perform activities recommended by Walk, Talk, Play at your own risk with appropriate adult supervision provided. Walk, Talk, Play is not responsible for any injury caused while performing these play activities. 


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