In the midst of spending more time indoors, finding engaging activities is key. One of our favorite solutions for fun is the bean sensory bin.
Our dried bean sensory bin has been a long-lasting favorite sensory activity. Both my toddler and my preschooler get use out of it. The dried beans work both as a boredom buster and as a soothing sensory experience.
Sensory Beans for Soothing
When my four-year-old is feeling cranky and out of sorts, one calming technique I’ve found is to start some kind of sensory play near him, without trying to push any kind of involvement on his part.
Our bean bin works well for this. I’ll take it out and just start running my hands through the beans and scooping and pouring them myself. Invariably, he joins in, and the calming effect works its magic.
What Do You Put in a Bean Sensory Bin?
For our bean bin we use a large Rubbermaid container filled with about two inches of dried Pinto beans (roughly 8 pounds). We tend to keep an assortment of sensory toys like silicone cups and plastic scoops in the beans too.
Fun Sensory Activities for the Bean Bin
- Immersive Play: My kids often like to climb right into the bean box, taking sensory play to a whole new level.
- Treasure Hunt: Hide toys in the beans and ask your kids to find specific ones for a sensory treasure hunt. Alternatively, let the kids take charge and hide the toys and then give you directions to search for them in the beans.
- Buried Bliss: Encourage burying hands or feet in the beans, a simple yet delightful sensory experience.
- Scooping and Pouring: Give your child cups and spoons for some scooping, stirring, and pouring fun.
- Bean Transfer Challenge: Lay down a large blanket underneath to catch stray beans, then make a game of transferring beans from the main container to smaller ones or toy dump trucks.
- Create Roads: Pour the beans onto a blanket and explore the sensory fun of making roads by pushing the beans around either with hands or with toy cars.
- Playdough Fusion: Take a handful of beans and squish them into playdough for a unique textural experience. Kids can use beans to make pictures and patterns.
- Outdoor Adventure: If you’ve got a yard and the weather permits, take the bean bin outdoors. It seems like most activities are made more exciting by bringing them out to the lawn. Spread out a blanket and enjoy some sunshine. My kids like bringing stuffed animals out and “serving” them beans for a teddy bear tea party picnic.
Choosing the Best Beans for Sensory Bins
You can use all kinds of dried beans in a sensory bin, either mixing multiple kinds together or using a single type. We’ve used dried Pinto beans mainly because they’re inexpensive (dollar stores can be a good source), and they have a pleasingly smooth texture.
You can experiment with different types, like black beans, lentils, or even chickpeas to add variety to the sensory experience. If you’d like to dye your beans, any of the lighter colors will work, but using white beans like Navy beans or Lima beans will really make colors pop.
How to Dye Beans for Sensory Play
You can add visual appeal and options for color sorting activities if you add color to your bean sensory bin by dyeing the beans. Beans take dye pretty well, especially if they’re lighter in color.
- Place dried beans in a plastic bag with a few drops of food coloring (about 15 drops per cup of beans, give or take, depending on how bright you want the color).
- Shake the bag until the beans are evenly coated
- Spread them out to dry, and voilà – a vibrant and visually stimulating sensory bin.
Managing the Mess
While the bean sensory bin is a lot of fun, it’s not without its challenges. If the beans escape, be prepared for a bit of hands-on cleanup, as vacuums don’t always cooperate with bean retrieval. Storing beans in a container with a lid helps prevent spills. Consider laying down a sheet to contain the mess and make cleanup easy.
May your bean bin adventures be filled with laughter, discovery, and plenty of sensory fun!
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.