Safe and Unsafe Sensory Materials for the Base of Your Sensory Bin (2024)

Why Sensory Bin Beans Are Unsafe & the Benefits of Better Alternatives

Safe and Unsafe Sensory Materials for the Base of Your Sensory Bin (1)

The benefits of sensory binsfor children have been proven by experts. They can improve fine motor skills, invite sensory exploration, promote intellectual and language development, and provide calming experiences that help your kids to regulate. These foundational benefits will serve your children well into adulthood. However, the sensory materials used within the bins can either be helpful or harmful for children. For example, sensory bin beans are unsafe because raw or undercooked beans are toxic, while the benefits of rice sensory play are numerous!

Messy Play Kits strives to be the place to offer the best and safest sensory play ideas. So, if you’re going to make your own sensory bin at home or for your classroom, or purchase one from a retailer like my Monthly Sensory Bin Subscription, please ensure that they are made of only the safest sensory materials.

How to Choose the Best Sensory Materials for Your Bin

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Age-Appropriate Materials

Before making or buying a sensory bin, first think about age-appropriateness and your child’s current abilities.


Has your baby been introduced to food yet? If not, water and ice are great sensory materials, or you can try sensory bottles and sensory bags.


Are your toddlers still putting everything in their mouths? If so, your sensory bin can’t have any choking hazards and should only include sensory materials that are safe to eat raw in small quantities. One sensory play tip I love to offer for caregivers raising children in this stage of development is to feed your kiddo before they play, so they’re less tempted to consume the base materials as food.

Dry Versus Wet Materials

You can also use dry or wet sensory materials for the base of your bins. One benefit of dry ingredients is the ability to put a lid on the bin and store it away for repeated play experiences. While wet sensory materials can provide for fun, mushy, and messy sensory opportunities, they should only be used a few times, storing them in the fridge for a few days before discarding them.

The Problem with Sensory Bin Beans

Although sensory bin beans are popular, please, don’t use them as play materials with your children. Again, eating raw or undercooked beans can be toxic and cause food poisoning, including symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. However, there are a number of other sensory materials that you can use instead.

The Benefits of Rice Sensory Play

Personally, I love throwing rice into the bases of my sensory bins. Rice has a great texture, it naturally comes in different colors, it can be eaten safely in small quantities, and can be dyed a number of other fun colors to stimulate your kiddos’ imaginations! I use liquid watercolors to dye my rice. It’s like food coloring but nontoxic and washable! These are just some of many benefits of rice sensory play. My Rainbow Sensory Bin shows how rice can be dyed in a variety of colors and organized, helping your kiddos to practice creating systematic solutions to problem solving by making order out of disorder.

The Best Dry Sensory Materials for Your Bin

After rice, there are a number of other dry sensory materials that can be used as thesensory bin filler that invite your kiddo into the wonderful world of sensory stimulation and creative imagination! With proper storage, your kiddo can use these sensory bins again and again! Here is a list of dry sensory materials that you can use for the base of your bins:


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I know I’ve already raved about rice, but I just can’t talk enough about the benefits of rice sensory play. Rice is affordable, accessible, and reusable.Also, there are so many different kinds of rice! You can use brown rice, white rice, black rice, or wild rice. Or you can use a variety of rice types and mix them all up! If you’re worried about rice being poured out all over your table or floor, take a look at my Washable Dropcloth to help contain the mess.


Dried chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a great replacement for sensory bin beans. They’re hard and circular. They have a light tan color that can replicate sand or desert landscapes. Let your little create a safari-themed sensory bin or a beach escape! Or you can dye them different colors and use them as seeds like I do in my Gardening Sensory Bin and the Galactic Sensory Bin. Your little ones can practice organizing them in rows just like they would real fruits and vegetables!


Dry oatmeal is another fun sensory material for the base of your bin. Soft and light brown, it can also be used as a great replacement for the ground or dirt! Your child will love creating a sensory environment with trees, bees, bugs, and other plants. Check out my Forest Sensory Bin for a great example of how to use oatmeal as a sensory bin base.


The yellow color of cornmeal can also replicate sand! See how I use it in my Pirate Sensory Bin alongside shells, coins, gems and great beach toys for scooping. Cornmeal can also be dyed to reflect grassy environments. My Sports Sensory Bin includes green-dyed cornmeal mixed with toy sports balls, pipe cleaners to use as boundary markers, and even a rake to reshape the play space. Lastly, my Dinosaur Excavation Sensory Bin uses cornmeal that covers dinosaur toys for a fun archeological dig!


Lentils make for a great neutral-colored sensory bin base. This sensory material can help the other objects in the bin stand out! Think archeological digs with hidden fossils, animals, and plants. Or, I use it in my Magnetic Sensory Bin to invite kids to find metal objects that will attach to the magnet like a sand treasure hunt!

Dried Pasta

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Different types of dried pasta can be combined to create a colorful and diverse sensory bin base! The various shapes can represent other things like bowties can be butterflies, while penne can reflect caterpillars. That’s exactly what I did in my . I also used black bowtie pasta as bats mixed with orange small shell pasta to mimic pumpkins in my Halloween Sensory Bin.

Popcorn Kernels

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Both my Farm Sensory Bin and my Alphabet Sensory Bin use popcorn kernels as a part of their bases. The bright yellow, shiny color and hard texture make this a durable and beautiful sensory material for the base of bins.

Decaf coffee grounds

Coffee grounds (make sure they’re decaf!) are another fun way to create a sensory bin base. From black sand to volcanic ash, this dark sensory material will keep your kids engaged all day!

Split Peas

The natural green color of split peas makes for a great grass replacement. Add some play plates, cutlery, toy food, plants, and bugs and have a picnic! Check out my Picnic Sensory Bin as a fun example.

Black Eyed Peas

Black Eyed-Peas (the food not the band!) are technically beans. However, unlike other sensory bin beans, they are safe to eat raw. Be careful though, as eating too many can cause digestive discomfort. They can be a great sensory material because they’re naturally multi-colored!

Magical Sand

Magical Sand, also called Kinetic Sand™, is such a fun sensory play material! It’s sand that’s slightly magnetic, so will stick together a little better. This enables kids to shape and sculpt the sand into fun objects without using liquid. This will allow the sensory bin to be used over and over again!

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Dry Cereal

Dry cereal is another fun way to introduce your child to sensory play. It’s crunchy and comes in so many shapes, colors, and tastes depending on your child’s preferences! And what a great way to use up old, stale cereal!

The Best Wet Sensory Materials for Your Bin

Wet sensory materials provide messy and stimulating creative playtime for your child, which helps with their brain development. Although most wet bases should only be used once or a few times, storing in the refrigerator in between, they are such a great way to engage your kids in creative play. If you’re concerned about keeping the mess contained, check out my blog post with some tips and tricks on how to do so. You can also purchase the Mess Maker Apron to protect your kiddos’ clothes. Here are some of my favorite options for wet sensory materials:


Water is a great sensory material for all ages! If your child loves the water, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers will all benefit from water play. Water can be poured into a sensory bin with other age-appropriate objects that are different weights. This will teach children about buoyancy and density. Kids can also learn about volume by practicing pouring!

Water Beads

Water beads are an excellent way to utilize the splashy sensory benefits of water without the mess! You can make them bigger or smaller (or have a mix of sizes!). They come in a variety of colors too. Your kids can pretend to be playing in the ocean. Check out how I used water beads in my Coral Reef Sensory Bin. If your water beads are stored in an airtight bag or container, they can last a long time and be played with again and again!


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Ice, although cold, can be another great way to use water in a different shape! You can teach children about the science of ice and how the element of water changes depending upon temperature. Add colored ice cubes to your bath time, freeze toy animals in muffin tins with water, or freeze water balloons. Or you can even make your own ice spaghetti monster!


Oobleck is such a fun way to show children how some sensory materials are non-Newtonian fluids, meaning they can have the properties of liquids and solids simultaneously! You can buy an Oobleck Kit so you can create and color oobleck from scratch (an additional sensory play activity!) from Messy Play Kits or make it at home with cornstarch, water, and liquid food coloring.


Depending on your religious observances or dietary preferences, gelatin can be used as a smooshy sensory material. It’s safe to consume and comes in all sorts of fun colors! It can also be cut into a bunch of different shapes with cookie cutters. If you’re seeking a vegetarian or vegan gelatin replacement, check out these four gelatin substitutes. Here are some Kosher gelatin options as well.

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Cooked Pasta

Cooked pasta can also be used as a great sensory bin base. However, it will need to be refrigerated after each use and then discarded after a few days. The squishy and edible nature of this sensory material will keep your kids engaged!


Pudding has a variety of flavors, tastes delicious, and is great for messy, gooey sensory play. It can be a great mimic to mud and mixed with objects that your child might find in the ground like worms!


Applesauce is one of my favorite sensory materials for babies who have been introduced to food. It’s a tasty, sweet treat that your kiddo can get all over their faces and trays, practicing olfactory and taste sensory play.

A Monthly Bin Subscription: Sensory Materials Included

All of the sensory bins I introduced above are included in my Messy Play Kits Monthly Sensory Bin Subscription. If you want a box of reusable and themed sensory materials sent to your doorstep every month, so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of buying, dying, and combining sensory materials, subscribe today! I also sell individual sensory bins when I make too many for my subscription orders, so check out which ones are available now.

If you want to make your own sensory bins at home or for your classroom, remember to toss out those sensory bin beans and instead let your little ones enjoy the benefits of rice sensory play and other wet and dry sensory play resources like water beads and oatmeal. As always, enjoy the mess!

Safe and Unsafe Sensory Materials for the Base of Your Sensory Bin (2024)


Which is an unsafe ingredient to avoid in sensory activities for children? ›

For example, sensory bin beans are unsafe because raw or undercooked beans are toxic, while the benefits of rice sensory play are numerous! Messy Play Kits strives to be the place to offer the best and safest sensory play ideas.

Are sensory bins safe? ›

Toddlers and preschoolers should always be supervised when using sensory bins to discourage them from eating the materials. Here are some more safety tips for making sensory bins: Don't use items that pose a choking hazard, either as filler material or odds and ends. All sensory bin materials should be nontoxic.

How do you make a sensory base? ›

Sensory Goop
  1. Grab a container, bowl or dish of some sort.
  2. Pour in some corn flour. ...
  3. Add some water, start small and decide the consistency your happy with. ...
  4. Add some colour! ...
  5. Depending on your intended use add some extra materials to encourage imaginative play.
May 19, 2022

Is rice safe for sensory play? ›

Unfortunately, a lot of the “traditional” sensory materials such as dry rice, beans, sand, and paint just are not safe for young babies who use their mouth as their main way to explore the world. A lot of ideas I found seem to revolve around just putting toys, kitchen items, etc. in a bin for baby to explore.

What toys are not appropriate for children? ›

Watch for Toy Dangers
  • Sharp edges and sharp points. Toys for older children may have sharp points or edges that can hurt a small child. ...
  • Small toys and toys with small parts. ...
  • Loud noises. ...
  • Cords and strings. ...
  • Toys that fly or shoot objects. ...
  • Electric toys. ...
  • Toys with magnets.

What are sensory safe foods? ›

Snacks for the Sensory Seeker
  • Nuts.
  • Thick or hard granola bars.
  • Apples, pears, carrot sticks, cucumbers.
  • Pretzels.
  • Crackers.
  • Ice chips.
  • Rice cakes.
  • Bagel or pita chips.

Are sensory bins safe for toddlers? ›

Short answer: yes. Creating sensory bins for toddlers allows them to build skills and understanding through play-based, hands-on learning. Sensory bins are easy, in-expensive, and effective for supporting toddler in their growth and development – but (spoiler alert) they don't have to be messy to be fun.

Are sensory bins good for autism? ›

Sensory bins are growing in popularity—and for good reason! Parents are realizing sensory play is crucial toward enhancing child development. Sensory play is great for neurotypical children and children with sensory processing disorder and autism.

Are coffee beans safe for sensory play? ›

Sensory Play

Coffee beans (not ground coffee, that would be super messy) are actually an amazing material to use as the base of the sensory box. The beans are large, and yet can easily flow through your child's hands. They allow your child's sense of smell to be activated, while also using their sense of touch.

What do kids do with sensory bins? ›

Sensory bins provide children with the opportunity to explore and learn through hands-on tactile play that engages their senses. These bins encourage and support various types of development and are great activities to have in your home.

What is the purpose of sensory bins? ›

Essentially, a sensory bin is a container filled with materials specifically chosen to stimulate the senses, allowing the child to explore and interact with the items as they choose. Sensory play is a great way to expose your child to a variety of textures, facilitate communication, and actively engage with your child.

How do you store sensory bin materials? ›

That said, here is how I sort of organize my sensory bins and their bits and pieces. My go-to essentials are a big storage bin and the gallon size zip lock baggies. I put the to-store-for-next-time sensory bins in the gallon size baggies.

Is playdough a good sensory activity? ›

Playdough is a wonderful sensory and learning experience for children. As your child shapes the playdough into a ball or a snake, they're thinking creatively. The squeezing, pinching and pulling movements also strengthen your child's hand muscles and develop their fine motor skills.

Can you use flour for sensory play? ›

Flour Sensory Play is such an easy way to start Sensory Play with Your Toddler. Find out how to make cloud dough and how easy it is to create simple sensory play with flour. This is a great activitiy for toddlers and preschoolers!

What is pluffle? ›

Playfoam Pluffle is a range of sensory toys for kids that's perfect for tactile, creative play. When children touch, grab and squish this feelgood fluffy stuff, they get to grips with fine motor skills. Playfoam Pluffle's slow motion lava-like flowing action is mesmerising to watch.

What is a sensory food problem with children? ›

Many children with sensory sensitivities have eating and drinking difficulties. Difficulties can range from very restricted or limited diet (due to taste or dislike of how it feels/habit) to mouthing or chewing objects (food and non-food). Some food or drinks make us feel calm, others make us more awake.

What can cause sensory issues in children? ›

It's not clear what causes sensory issues in children, though researchers believe it may have something to do with the way the sensory pathways in the brain process and organize information. Sensory processing difficulties are common in autistic people.

What are sensory ingredients? ›

Good food fillers for sensory bins that are not considered taste-safe as they are not cooked include rice, pasta, beans/lentils, and popping corn. Additionally, you can make these taste-safe recipes: Rainbow Spaghetti (cooked) Pudding Dough.

What are examples of sensory issues in children? ›

Symptoms of sensory processing disorder
  • Think clothing feels too scratchy or itchy.
  • Think lights seem too bright.
  • Think sounds seem too loud.
  • Think soft touches feel too hard.
  • Experience food textures that make them gag.
  • Have poor balance or seem clumsy.
  • Are afraid to play on the swings.
May 15, 2023

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