Sensory Bins: Autism Teacher Approved, Budget Friendly


Discover Sensory bins as a tool to help navigate learning.

2020 is a messy year.

One word: Chaos. Our planners went into the trash. Our routines went out the window.

With many at home full-time doing virtual learning or at home part-time doing hybrid learning, how can we help calm the storm for our children?

As an autism teacher, I deal with numerous behaviors from spitting to hitting to property destruction to eloping. Why? One word: chaos. A simple change in plans for my students can alter their whole day. How do I calm the storm in the classroom? Sensory Bins!

Here’s a list of my favorite sensory bins (and cheap- hello Dollar Tree #teacherbudget):

1. The “have a broom and vacuum on hand” bins:

Grab a broom and explore.
  • Colored rice: Add rice to a container, add food coloring, drizzle ½ teaspoon of vinegar, shake, spread on tray, and wait to dry. (Pop in the oven for a few minutes to dry quicker.)
  • Colored pasta: Add pasta to a bag, add some rubbing alcohol and food coloring (amount depends on the coloring you want), mix, sit for 15 minutes, spread on a tray and wait to dry.
  • Farm themed: Cornmeal, chickpeas, or corn kernels. Add in tractors and farm animals.
  • Construction themed: Black beans or brown sugar. Add in construction trucks and paper towel rolls.

2. The “two-for-one deal” bins:
Play + a Snack!

Play while snackin’
  • Pudding: Add some carrots in pudding and bam, you have a carrot farm! How many carrots can you pick?
  • Jello: Blue colored jello, plus ducks and frogs … and you have a pond.
  • Whipped Cream: Add an airplane or helicopter to play in the “sky.” 
  • Apple themed: Apple Jacks and cinnamon sticks. Add in fake apples (or get crazy and use real apples).
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Oatmeal. Add in a toy bear and Little People girl.

3. The “heck yes, this is free” bins:

Thanks Mother Nature
  • Dirt
  • Mud
  • Leaves
  • Acorns
  • Pinecones
  • Rocks
  • Sticks
  • … Add dinosaurs, insects (I prefer fake insects!), monster trucks.

4. The “this counts as a bath too, right?” bins:

Staying cool
  • Car Wash: bucket of water and a bucket of soapy water. Add dirty hot wheels to clean.
  • Farm themed: a bucket of water and a bucket of soapy water. Add dirty farm animals to clean.
  • Mix colors: cups of water and food coloring. Get a dropper and work on fine motor skills.
  • Ice cubes: Water and ice cubes. Add polar animals for an Arctic adventure.

5. The “grab the wine, because we’re about to get messy” bins:

sensory bins full of sand, dinosaurs, and shovels to encourage exploration
Hold my wine.
  • Moon Sand: 4 cups of flour, 1 cup of coconut oil. Mix.
  • Oobleck: 2 cups cornstarch and 1 cup water. Stir. Add food coloring.
  • Fake Snow: 2 cups baking soda and ½ cup of cheap Suave shampoo (white). Mix.

What are your favorite sensory bins to make at home?