Sensory Bins





Sensory boxes, tables, or bins,  are a fun tool you can use as a reinforcer/reward, during naturalistic teaching, or for calming/transitioning purposes.

Sensory boxes and bins can also be taught as a leisure skill activity or a play choice. Sensory boxes can be as diverse and varied as they need to be, based on what the child likes. Provide reinforcement to the child when they interact with a sensory box, to increase the likelihood that the child will play with the sensory box again in the future.

Get a container with a lid that can be securely closed and fill it with various items such as pieces of fabric, beads, beans, rice, clay, sand, flour, water and ice, water and bubbles, glitter, confetti, pieces of string, lace, etc.

A word of caution: before creating a sensory box check with the family first and make sure the child has no allergies. If you are working with a child who has mouthing behavior be sure to supervise them closely when they are manipulating a sensory box. I would also avoid very small items like beads, with a child who mouths as these could easily be swallowed faster than you can react. Look for larger items like pieces of fabric, OR things that are fine to eat such as dry cereal. Placing/cutting holes into a closed and see-through box can also be a way to manage mouthing behaviors while manipulating the sensory box/bin.

I typically use sensory boxes/bins with clients who can become overstimulated and need a calming, structured activity to engage in. I will also use a sensory box during transitions. For example, when I arrive to a session I might place a sensory box on the table as I prepare my materials so the child has something to engage with. Then when I am ready to begin work I add myself into the child's play. After that I slowly add in tasks, and we transition away from the sensory box.

Sensory activities should not be used in a way that will reinforce inappropriate behaviors, or to allow a child to escape a task. Please be careful not to use sensory tools, toys, or items in ways that will strengthen problem behaviors over time.

Sensory boxes are very simple and cheap to make. I am always a fan of free/ low cost ideas that can be incorporated into therapy. ABA does not need to break your wallet.

All of the containers below can be purchased at any craft supply store for a few bucks,  and the items inside can be purchased, made, or may already be present in the client home.






This is a sensory box filled with sand. I use purchased sand rather than sand from a beach or park so I know it is clean and not filled with dirt, bacteria, or wood splinters. Place a few items inside the box for the child to manipulate such as multicolored rings (I got this from a toddler ring stacker toy). This way you can embed learning tasks by saying things like "Give me the red ring" or "Pour sand on the orange ring".



These boxes are filled with varying pebbles/marbles and stones. Again, I purchase these rather than collect them from outside. I put in different textures, colors, and sizes so they are more interesting to manipulate, if the client enjoys cool items just store the box/bin the fridge between uses (the stones will be very cool to the touch!).




This is a pasta box. You can use any type or color pasta you would like. Some parents don't like to use sensory boxes with food items inside (flour, pasta, etc.), because the child will try and eat the items. You can either not use food items, or you can teach the child rules for playing with the sensory box. One of the rules would be to not place items in the mouth. A visual for each rule could be taped or laminated onto the lid of the box, to help with teaching how to appropriately interact with a sensory box.




This box has beans inside. Another way to incorporate language into this activity is to gently close the box by placing the lid on, and then prompt communication using the child's main communication method (can be vocal or non-vocal). Once the child requests to open the box/remove the lid, provide immediate access as well as praise, a smile, a high-five, etc.



This box is filled with rice. The rainbow effect on the rice can be obtained by adding a few drops of food coloring to the rice, stirring the rice, and then letting it sit and dry. Another language tip is to use the sensory boxes to teach choices. To do this I will place a highly preferred sensory box on the table, and something that is very non- preferred, like a book. The child can then vocally or non-vocally indicate which item they want, by making a choice. So this combines fun and language instruction, all in the same activity.


For parents, if you have difficulty in public situations such as waiting at the doctors office try bringing a small sensory box or bin along so your child has something to do while they are waiting. Waiting can be made easier if little hands can be kept busy.


*Resource: A parent told me about this GREAT website called Small Potatoes that has some of the most creative and imaginative sensory boxes I have ever seen!

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