Confession: I just started using sensory bins in speech therapy this past school year and I am NOT ready to leave them in 2019!
Okay, you may be thinking right now “Uhmmm, does this crazy SLP plan on throwing away the fillers after one use or is she just cool with potentially infecting every student?”
Neither, I promise! lol. While I know I have to put away my traditional sensory bins that used fillers like rice, water beads, dried beans, etc. I can still safely use some easy-to-clean alternatives!
Try these this year instead!
Card Holders – These work perfectly with my free sensory bin visuals that I send to my email subscribers! (More info on that below) I specifically searched high and low for these because I wanted card holder that were deep enough to cover the bottom portion of my visuals. These worked perfectly! You can read more about this sensory bin alternative here!
Baby Bottle Drying Mat – This one is fun and dishwasher safe! Getting the visuals to stand upright is a bit of a hassle though. You have to stick them between a few strands of “grass”. Otherwise the visuals just fall to the bottom, which is totally fine. You can see in the pic some have fallen to the base of it and you can still seem them sticking out a bit. Click this link to learn more about how I plan on adding sound effects or music to my sensory bins this year for more sensory input.
Water Beads – This is one of my favorite sensory bin alternatives. When you gently press your hand down on the bag you get a sensation from your head down to your toes. It feels SO GOOD, just like our old normal sensory bins! You really only need a tiny bit of the dry water beads because they expand SO MUCH! You can read more about this activity here on this Instagram post.
Hair Gel and Food Coloring – We all have that old hair gel that made our curls look like Ramen noodles rather than tousled waves, right? No? Only curly girl problems? Well, those are good problems to have because now we finally have a use for those old bottles that have been collecting dust! You can read more about this sensory bin alternative here in this post.
Shaving Cream – I’ve used this one for years! All you have to do is squirt a bit of shaving cream in a bag and you’re ready to go! You’ll want to bring the bottle of shaving cream to school with you though because it tends to settle and disintegrate a bit so you’ll need to top it off every now and then. Read the full post here.
Water, Oil, and Food Coloring – This one is so easy! Just toss a little oil, water, and food coloring in a bag and you’re ready to go. I didn’t measure anything when I did it. I just kept adding a bit of each until I got to a ratio I liked and the two mixtures still separated a bit. You can read more about this sensory bag here in this post.
Acrylic Paint & Oil – This is one of my favorites! You just need a bit more paint than oil, mix it in a bag, and you’re ready to go! You can also use a paintbrush to move the paint away, which adds a super fun twist! You can read more about this option here in this post!
Lotion – I love this fun oral hygiene sensory bag! Fill a bag with lotion, slide your material under the bag, and then let your students expose what’s underneath with a toothbrush. To add a bit more of a sensory experience, let your students squirt a bit of toothpaste out on the table to add a scent to the activity, and then let them drag their fingers through it at the end of the session. To sanitize the toothbrushes, buy a few packs so you have enough for each student to have their own in one day. Take them home in a wiped-down Ziploc bag and then boil them for about 3 minutes. I tried this to make sure the cheap toothbrushes didn’t melt and I am happy to report that they did not!
Hair Gel, Food Dye, Glitter, and Sequins – Your pink & sparkly-obsessed students are going to flip their lids when they see this bag! Pictures don’t do it justice. You can make them any color by swapping out the food dye. I linked an amazing kit above that will help you make the most dazzling bags, but you can also get glitter and sequins at the Dollar Tree as well. In the picture below I used 2 bags to help prevent any accidents. You can still clearly see what is inside.
Cheap Shampoo, Food Dye, Buttons, & Beads – This was a fun one to slide the buttons around to cover each of the targets. You could easily work on following directions, prepositions, expanding utterances, and grammar while you do this activity. I used duct tape around all the edges to help reinforce the seals. (Insider tip – don’t mix this Dollar Tree shampoo and hair gel together. I tried it and it turned the mixture to a water-like liquid rather than the gel consistency that they both started as. Very weird, but don’t waste your resources trying it. I had to throw that bag away.)
Pom Balls, Hair Gel, & Googly Eyes – This is such a fun one for a spooky Halloween sensory bag. This is just like the bag above. It’s easy to target multiple goals by sliding the googly eyes around.
Foam Beads with Hair Gel – You could do this one with or without the hair gel. Try small bags each way and see which one you prefer. If you like the one with hair gel better, just add gel to the dry bag and now you have two that you like! I also tried one with hair gel and a little olive oil and that made it a bit easier to move the beads around. WARNING – these little beads are ticky! They stick to the top of the bag like crazy sometimes due to static. Other times they dumped right in no problem. I don’t understand it, but just beware, they have the potential to make you a bit crazy lol. Once they are sealed in the bag though, you have nothing more to worry about. They also sell these at the Dollar Tree.
Feed Corn – This was one of my favorite regular sensory bin fillers for my fall-themed activities! Just fill the bag a bit so there’s an even layer (or a little less) when you lay it out flat. If you overfill it, it’s harder to move the corn around.
Dried Beans – This is another fun one for your fall, spring, plant, gardening, or Jack & the Beanstalk themes. Just dried beans in a bag. Doesn’t get easier than that! *For reference – that is a snack-sized bag on top of resources printed 4 per page.
Pom Balls – How easy is this sensory bag filler? We all have pom balls laying around somewhere, right? Grab a few, toss them in a bag, and you’re good to go!
Sensory Bottles – We’re always so focused on tactile stimulation that we forget about visual input. Chloe Elizabeth is my go-to source on all things sensory bottles! She has a great blog post that explains how to make them and she lists all her favorite “fillers”. The pic below shows some she’s already made. How cool do they look?
– You can seal the bags with packing tape, Duct tape, or just fold the top a few times and clamp it with a chip clip, binder clip, paperclip, or clothespin. Don’t seal the shaving cream one though because you’ll need to top that one off. You could also tape all four seams (like I did in the blue shampoo one above) to help reinforce all the edges.
– To use the sensory bags, you just have to place your visuals UNDER the bag, not inside it.
– Bring extra bags and paper towels to school with you just in case the unimaginable happens and a bag explodes. That has never happened to me personally, but of course it’s possible.
– You can double bag your activities to make them stronger. I did that in the red Valentine’s Day one shown above.
– Every student in your group can have their own sensory bag if you make multiples. Print your visuals 4 per page and use snack, sandwich, or quart size bags to cut down on space and cost. I rarely use gallon-sized bags or full page activities.
– Don’t forget to wipe down the bags and whatever you are using underneath with disinfectant each time they are used!
– Be aware of any allergies just in case a bag does leak and a child comes in contact with the contents.
Some Notes About Bags
I’ve tested a bunch of different bags and here are my thoughts.
– Consider labels on the bags. I discovered that freezer bags are stronger, but they often have a big white block in the middle to label the contents. This prevents you from seeing what is below that section of the bag. Non-freezer bags often don’t have any label so you can see straight through them.
– Check out the boxes and see if they show any pictures of the bags. I bought a bunch of different types of bags just because I know I will use them eventually, nothing wasted. I prefer generic store brands from my local grocery store and Wal*Mart brand.
– Workaround for the label issue – Use freezer bags but size up to Quart if you are using small activities (those printed 4 per page). That way the label is up at the top of the bag and you only need the lower 2/3 or so. The label won’t interfere with seeing your visuals. (I did this in the Halloween bag shown above)
– You could also double bag and/or tape all around the edges for more security.
Looking for Materials to Use with Your New Sensory-Bin Alternatives?
-Get FREE sensory bin visuals sent right to your inbox each month when you sign up for my emails. Every month I send a link to 15+ sensory bin freebies that will get your through the entire year.
-Try sliding these speech & language activity mats under your new sensory bags! Many of these have been shown in the pictures above.
-Use the printable activities that you already have! You can pair these sensory bin alternatives with so many resources that are sitting around your therapy room.
-Try these free speech & language mats that work perfectly with the shaving cream, lotion, and hair gel sensory bags.
– Make your own visuals like the ones shown in the oral hygiene picture.