How to Host a Sensory Bin Swap

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Earlier this week, I had a few friends over for a busy bag and sensory bin swap. I wasn’t as organized as I wanted to be but it still took us no time at all to put together our bins and each of us ended up with four different sensory bins. I would call it a success!

How to Host a Sensory Bin SwapDoing a sensory bin exchange is a great way to get new ideas too and share what works well with your kids and learn what is working well for others.

There are several different ways that a sensory bin swap can work but all are great ways to keep the costs down and get some new ideas.

Here are a few ways a sensory bin swap can work:

1. A group of moms can each make one sensory bin and then once a week or once a month, they can rotate their bin over to the next mom. If you have a group of six moms participating, this will mean that your kids will get to play with six different sensory bins and you’ll only have to make one!

2. A group of moms can each make one theme bin but duplicate it as many times as there are people in the group. The moms then get together and give out their bins. Each mom will go home with as many bins as there are people in the group. It’s fun to add a dinner out or at least tea when getting together as a reward for all your work assembling the bins!

3. A group of moms can work together to create all the bins or bin bases. You will make one of each type for everyone in the group so the amount of sensory bins you go home with at the end will depend on how many you all have planned.

Of course, you can also do an informal swap with just one other mom and rotate your bins out that way. There will be less variety in doing it that way.

How to plan for a sensory bin swap:

  1. Find friends who want to join you and decide which type of swap you want to do. Don’t know any moms in your area who make sensory bins? Ask in your online groups or ask other moms you know to help you spread the word that you are looking to organize a swap. You will likely have a lot of interest.
  2. Decide upon the sensory bins that you want to make so that you are sure there won’t be duplicates.
  3. Buy supplies.
  4. Make your sensory bin(s).
  5. Get together to exchange bins.

Supplies needed:

You will need large resealable bags or stackable bins with lids to store the sensory bins in.



You will also need sensory bin bases. There are so many options for sensory bin bases. I have a list of non-food sensory bin bases that you can read for ideas or you can use one of the common food bases such as rice or dried beans.

Sensory Bins Ideas:

bags for sensory bin swapAt our sensory bin exchange, we each ended up with the makings of four bins.

For the bug sensory bin, we used rice that I had dyed green. I provided peppermint oil to scent the rice but didn’t do it ahead of time because some kids don’t like certain scents and I wanted to let everyone make a choice for their family. For those who wanted the scent, I added a few drops of the peppermint oil to the bag and once shaken, we had peppermint scented rice.

I had gotten a pack of stretchy spiders and a pack of stretchy caterpillars so we divided those up among the bags. I had also found some bug shaped pasta at Bulk Barn and we put that into small bags to add as well. I also had some plastic spiders and we threw some of those in as well. I had some toy insects that I put into my bag.

bug sensory bin in a bag

For the farm sensory bin, we used popcorn seeds as the base and added a smaller bag of dry soup noodles for the hay. I found silicone yellow egg poachers in sets of two at the dollar store that I thought would work really well in a farm bin.  I also found little sticks called matchsticks and knew they would be great for making fences in this farm bin. I included a little pack of farm animals for everyone.

farm sensory bin in a bagThe kids and I made our farm bag into a bin later in the day. I added a few of our toy animals and the bin was ready for play. I also added a funnel and a small container and lid for pouring and scooping. Granola Girl liked scooping the popcorn seeds into the container, putting the lid on and shaking it to hear the sound it made.

farm theme sensory binThis sensory bin wasn’t originally a frog bin, but I had bought a pack of jump frogs and a pack of kitchen sponges from the dollar store and when I commented that the sponges would make good lily pads, a frog bin was born! We included play puffs (I bought two pails of them at the dollar store and we each took half a pail), a kitchen sponge, a frog stencil, plastic jump frogs, stretchy frogs, and toy frogs that I had in the house already. Once my kids have used this bin, I can re-use the play puffs for crafts.

frog sensory bin in a bag

For hundreds of sensory bin ideas, you can also follow my Sensory Bins board on Pinterest. Follow Sharla Kostelyk’s board Sensory Bins on Pinterest.

How a sensory bin swap saves money:

Hosting a sensory bin swap enables you to buy things in larger packages and share the cost. This can be as simple as splitting a set of funnels that you pick up at the dollar store or can be a larger item such as splitting the cost of a huge bag of kidfetti.

I shopped for our sensory bin items at the dollar store and at Bulk Barn. Not including the cost of the bags or bins, each of the sensory bins averaged $2.50. We each paid $10 and ended up with four sensory bins and a few other odds and ends like a homemade sensory ball. Had I made just one of each bin, some of the costs (like buying a pack of stretchy caterpillars just to use a few) would have stayed the same so the cost of my bins would have been much higher.

This post is part of a 5 day series on Simple Sensory Solutions as part of a Hopscotch with iHomeschool Network. Pop over and see the other great topics from an amazing group of writers!

Seaside Sensory Bin

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

I find that coming up with sensory bins in the summer is so much easier than in the winter. Not only are themes somehow easier to think of, there are not as many limits because clean up is so much simpler. If it’s a bin that is going to potentially become a huge mess, I can set it up on the deck or in the lawn and the mess is no longer a consideration. This particular sensory bin wasn’t that messy but it still floated between outside and inside as the kids took it where they wanted it.

Seaside Sensory BinWhen I was grocery shopping on the weekend, the pool noodles were on clearance so I picked one up knowing that I could find a use for it. Out of one pool noodle, I was actually able to make this sensory bin, a busy bag, an activity, and still have half leftover that is currently being used by my children as a sword!

To create this sensory bin, use a serrated knife to cut pieces of the pool noodle. In one area of the bin, put sand and seashells to create the shore. In the other, put the pool noodle pieces, glass beads and little blue foam bits. I chose these items both for the variety of texture they created and because I thought that the pool noodle slices gave the illusion of waves and the little foam bits looked like bubbles.

seaside sensory bin playThe seashells make great scoops for play. The kids also invented a game of holding one of the pool noodle pieces in their mouth and having others stack the rest of the pieces on top of that piece to see how high of a tower they could create without it falling. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I made the bin, but I like to let them direct their own play.

If you are looking for more sensory bin ideas or information, you may be interested in my book and following my Sensory Bins board on Pinterest.

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins

Nutrition Sensory Bin

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

This may just be the simplest sensory bin I’ve ever thrown together. I wanted something that could help reinforce some of what we are learning about nutrition and that wouldn’t be messy so I chose not to use real food (other than the dried beans).

Nutrition Sensory BinWhen we were vacationing on Vancouver Island last summer, I picked up a lot of these fruits and vegetables at this cute store that has live goats on the roof! I knew that they would come in handy for play and have been wanting to use them in a sensory bin.

For the sensory bin, I used dried beans as the base and added some of our play food including the very life-like food that I bought last summer. I used some felt food like the cheese and bread and tomato slice to add different textures.

The food includes squash, onion, peppers, eggplant, cheese, avocado, bread, tomatoes, cucumber, grapes, and lettuce. I didn’t have any play meat. I guess it’s more of a vegetarian sensory bin!

You can create a similar sensory bin using whatever play food you have and use it to spur on a discussion about what foods are healthy.

I also have some play ice cream and cookies and donuts so I will be adding those to the bin on another day and asking the kids to separate the foods into healthy eat whenever foods versus treats and only eat occasionally foods.

I’m thinking that I will add a real banana and real green pepper since I have some and I want to see how quickly the kids notice!

If you are looking for more sensory bin ideas or information, you may be interested in my book and following my Sensory Bins board on Pinterest.

The Ultimate Guide to Sensory Bins

Sensory Bin Cleanup

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Since I wrote my book on Sensory Bins, one of the most common questions I get is about the cleanup. Although I do address both how to prevent or cut down on messes and how to clean them up in the book, I have a few additional suggestions and I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.

Hate the messiness of sensory play? Here are some tips.Image credit: MatHayward / 123RF Stock Photo

One of the easiest ways to clean up of course is to avoid the mess in the first place or to control where the mess happens. Sensory sinks are a great way to contain the mess of a sensory bin in an easy to clean area. Here’s an example of a sensory sink from Teaching Mama.


The bathtub is another great location for a sensory bin. The deck or backyard are other great areas to house your sensory play when the weather allows it. Controlling where the mess happens will help you with clean up later.

Another tip is to place your sensory bin inside a larger, deeper container such as a Rubbermaid storage tub. This way, any spilling over of the materials will go into the tub instead of all over your floor. This works especially well with little ones as they then have to bend way over to access the sensory bin and don’t quite have the leverage to throw its contents all over the floor!

I suggest that you never have sensory bin play on a carpet as carpet are harder to clean. Many sensory bin bases can easily be swept up after play as long as they are dry bases.

Dry sensory bin bases are easy to clean up as long as they don’t get wet. Try to teach your kids to keep water or other liquids away from those sensory bins. My kids are a bit older and are very good about this but when we have little ones come over, which is fairly often, water does get mixed into a dry bin from time to time. Water and dyed purple rice for example was a bit more unpleasant to clean up. It also meant that I couldn’t re-use that purple rice in a subsequent bin as it had to be thrown out. Water and black beans or dry lentils are also some of the mishaps we’ve had around here.

At the dollar store, you can buy shower curtain liners. They often come in clear but you can get them in pretty much every colour under the sun if you want to create a more cheerful look to accompany the play. These are great for placing underneath a sensory bin, particularly a bin with a messy base such as this one from Fun at Home with Kids.

ooey gooeyYou can use all kinds of things for a drop cloth underneath your sensory bins including old blankets, an actual painter’s canvas drop cloth, or plastic disposable tablecloths (these can also be found at the dollar store). If you are using something such as the shower curtain liner or the plastic tablecloth and things really get out of hand, then you can always bundle up the mess afterwards and throw the whole thing away and only have spent $1.

Of course no matter how well you plan and prepare, sensory bins are probably going to lead to messes. A few months ago, one of the younger kids who was over visiting dumped two of our sensory bins together. One was our desert sensory bin and the other was a construction sensory bin. I had been planning to make other bins using the sand base of the desert bin and sand is not the cheapest base out there, so I decided I was going to have to find a way to salvage it. I removed all the larger items and then used a colander placed above a large Ziploc bag to sift out the sand from the Kidfetti (also one of the more expensive sensory bin fillers) so that I would be able to re-use both bases. It was a bit of a tedious task but it worked!

separating sensory bin bases

The best rule of thumb really is not to create sensory bins that have a potential mess factor that you aren’t willing to live with!

Now if cleaning up sensory bins just isn’t your thing but you still want your kids to be able to enjoy some sensory play, you can always fill a sink full of water and bubbles and have them clean their toy cars or dishes. You can even have them clean some real dishes while they’re at it!

For instructions on how to create a sensory bin, information about why they are so beneficial for children, relevant recipes, printable idea lists and more, get your copy of my ebook Sensory Bins: the What, the How & the Why for just $2.99.

Sensory Bins Cover 3DYou may also want to follow my Sensory Bins Board on Pinterest where you can find hundreds of great sensory bin ideas.

What tips have you found for cleaning up sensory bins?