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Entertain Your Kids (and Get Stuff Done) with a Sensory Box

If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a preschool classroom, you’re probably familiar with the mysterious attention-holding sensory box. Its ability to keep a young child’s attention is so life changing that you need to have one in your own home – trust me!  Not only will it keep them occupied for unheard of amounts of time, it also comes with all these developmental benefits.

A sensory box is simply a container (preferably with a lid for storage) filled with tactile materials for kids to explore.  I know it looks messy and scary but your kids will learn to keep everything in the box.  Start out with a filler like rice or dried beans, add cups and other scoopers and start experimenting from there.  I searched high and low to find these Little Tuffies Trucks, which are the perfect size and have working parts for moving and dumping beans (my current filler of choice).  Click through for more ideas.

I made C this “diggers and dumpers” sensory box for Christmas and he comes up with new ways to play with it on a daily basis (building mountains of beans, burying trucks in the beans, transporting the beans from truck to truck, etc.).

For a great source of inspiration on what else to put in your box, check out Pink and Green Mama.  If you’re a regular reader here you should recognize that name by now.  MaryLea is a virtual guru of enriching kid activities (remember this?) and she has a special gift for creating all sorts of sensory box themes.  I’m eyeing the rainbow rice for S’s first box.

What do you think, feeling brave enough to try this? Which ideas are your favorites?



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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Globe trottin' mama January 24, 2011 at 5:08 am

I hosted a playdate a couple weeks ago and did a kiddie pool sensory box of snow. I also threw in some food colored water to achieve a colorful effect. Kids loved it. I usually am not motivated enough to do one for just my daughter, but I should rethink that.


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com January 24, 2011 at 6:50 am

Are you talking about REAL snow inside? How cool would that be? I’m impressed.


Bernadette {Chic Spaces for Little Faces} January 24, 2011 at 11:44 am

I just tried this with my son this weekend. I bought a bag of dried black eyed peas and poured them into a jelly roll pan. I also gave him an old oj container with a handle, a funnel, ladel, and a bunch of other containers. He had a blast pouring the beans into different containers and using his little bulldozer trucks to pick them up. It is a mess because the beans keep falling onto the floor but it is worth it. He woke up this morning asking to play with it again. I actually got the idea from the Simply Montessori blog that was posted on your article about pre-schools. Thanks for the idea!


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com January 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Bernadette – One idea I’ve heard to help contain the mess until they get the hang of it is to put them and the box in/on something to catch the spills. I’ve heard of one mom using a blow up kiddie pool – or you could even do a sheet. Glad you’re finding some inspiration here.


Bernadette {Chic Spaces for Little Faces} January 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Oh ya, that is a good idea. Maybe I’ll try a large plastic container like in the picture above.


Emily January 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I just made one of those! My little ones loves shoving his hands in and opening and closing them: http://embrita.blogspot.com/2011/01/sensory-tub-take-1.html

I may pick up some sand toys for the outdoor one I have in the planning stages – I love yours!


Margaret January 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Your sensory tub looks like so much fun! My girls would love this. The messier, the better for us… so we might try coffee beans next!


Chloe January 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Okay okay I’ll get one!!!!


The MOB January 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm

After having a particularly frustrating rainy day today, this is the perfect idea to entertain Mr. O when we can’t get outside to get moving. I probably even have a spare rubbermaid container sitting in the garage. Thanks for the great idea!! I love it.


coolkids January 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Love your idea and all the ones posted. I think we may have to do this for the weekend!


Mrs. Q. January 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I love it! My kids (3 and 5) love their sandbox, but it’s covered in a foot of snow, so this is just what they need until it thaws out!! I will be running out to get a huge bag of rice this afternoon. Last trip to the store I mistakenly bought a box of Minute tapioca, so I dumped that in a big pan and added some colored sugars. The kids had a blast “cooking” and learning how to properly measure and level dry ingredients.


SpartanGirl February 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm

We LOVE sensory boxes here. My kids (2 and 5) can literally spend hours playing in theirs. I keep them confined to the kitchen table (linoleum floors are easy to sweep!) because they can be messy, but the FUN they have is definitely worth it. Our sensory box is currently hosting rainbow rice and our own version of fairies (squinkies and polly pockets).


Rachel at Sun Scholars March 19, 2011 at 12:55 am

This is so perfect!!! Beans are so much cleaner and easier to pick up than rice and sand. What a great idea!

I’d love to have you share this at my For the Kids Friday Link Party! Stop on by and see all the fun we’re having!



marta April 21, 2011 at 7:27 pm

oh my goodness, this is genius. my boy is going to love this.. our april is rather rainy here in idaho. so happy to find your fantastic website.


Rachel Hill June 15, 2011 at 1:45 am

Absolutely love it, and I totally want to make one. Was wondering where you got the little clip on “spinner” in the picture shown above? That would be great for water too! Thanks!


Steph at ModernParentsMessyKids.com June 16, 2011 at 4:25 am

Hi Rachel,

You’re right – the spinner actually came with a water table we bought. There area some similar toys listed in the Favorite Things store under the “sensory box” section.


Anonymous December 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Such a great idea!! I have a 18 month old that puts everything in her mouth and heard beans are dangerous if ingested does anyone know if this is true?


Kamryn January 10, 2012 at 5:58 am

I just read on “Pink and Green Mama” to use UNCOOKED OATMEAL for the little ones! We will be making one tomorrow for sure, such a great idea. There are a ton of ideas on her site.. :)


Anonymous March 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm

how about sunflower seeds?????? unsalted of course and hopefully no nut allergies…


Anonymous May 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I just made one for my 2 year old daughter! Thanks for the great idea :)


safdar ali May 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

The kids have always fun with car toys. And they have more pleasure when got toy car gift.

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Keri May 25, 2014 at 6:40 am

Fun for my 3 1/2 year old, but will need to be extra careful around his little sister (14 months) since she puts virtually everything in her mouth! Maybe we will try fava beans or broad beans. The bigger, the better…for clean up, that is!
Thanks for the great ideas. Fun stuff!


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