Simple DIY Ocean Themed Sensory Bin for Kids


Do your kids love new sensory bins? That’s definitely the case at our house, so I’m always looking for new ideas. After Shark Week happened recently, I decided to try an ocean themed sensory bin filled with sharks, whales, and all kinds of fun sea creatures.

And while my son love them, creating some of the elaborate sensory bins you see on Pinterest is exhausting (and expensive!). Especially when it just turns into a mess anyways.

So check out this simple but engaging ocean sensory bin you can make at home! This is perfect for Shark Week, summer time, ocean units, kids who love the ocean, or any time you’re stuck inside like a rainy day. Don’t worry about buying an expensive one or making anything too fancy because your kid will love a simple one, too!

Sensory bin with water, rocks, and sea animals

Sensory Bin Base Material

Most of the ocean themed sensory bins on Pinterest have some kind of sand as the base. However, with a two year old, sand is not the best option for us. He may love it, but it ends up everywhere.

I needed something simpler and easier to contain and clean up. That’s one of the great parts about sensory bins- you can make them as simple or extravagant as you want while still getting all the benefits.

For our base, we went with the easiest choice of just water. Water can get everywhere, but it’s pretty easy to clean up. And it’s still one of my son’s favorite materials to play with.

Add in Aquarium Rocks

Next, I chose to add some plastic, colored aquarium rocks to the bottom for extra sensory exploration. You can find these at your local craft store, Hobby Lobby, or even the dollar store. The rocks are a simple and inexpensive way to add color, texture, and dimension to an ocean sensory bin.

Ocean Animals

Next, you can add in the most exciting part-the animals! I found this pack of ocean animals with lots of sharks for my son. To avoid mold, just make sure the animals aren’t hollow if you’re putting them into water.

You can include any sea creatures you want, especially if your child really favors a certain one. Or if you happen to be learning about certain ones.

Plastic ocean animals and a plastic boat

Extra Ocean Materials

Lastly, you can add a number of other ocean related things. We chose to add a boat.

You could also add different rocks, under water plants, seashells, or submarines. I also so a cute diver toy to consider.

One tip that I like to give is to not put too much in for the size container you have. If the bin is too cluttered, a child can feel overwhelmed. If you extra materials to add, you can always swap them out from time to time.

Putting together a sensory bin

Once the water and the rocks were in the bin, I let my son add in the animals one by one. This is a great opportunity to start story based play. We would talk about each sea creature and how they jump or splash into the water.

He also choose when and where to add each animal. Eventually, he also added the boat when he added into his story he made about the animals.

child putting plastic sharks into a bin of water

Sensory Tools

The many benefits of sensory bins comes from all forms of sensory exploration and practicing fine motor skills. This usually looks like using little hands for pouring, scooping, splashing, or squishing. Add some extra tools for your child to use to do these things.

Most great sensory tools can be found in your home, and specifically in your kitchen. Some of our favorite are measuring cups and spoons, bowls, ladles, and cups. You could also add sifters or shovels to go with the ocean theme.

Encourage them to use these tools along with the animals and objects in the bin. We practiced scooping up the rocks with our cups and shovels.

adult helping a child scoop rocks and water from a sensory bin

Try the Bathtub

Because my son is still pretty young and usually does make some kind of mess with sensory bins, we chose to play with this bin in the bathtub. They turned out to be a great idea because as soon as he saw it, he dumped the entire thing.

The bathtub is an awesome option to make cleanup easier. If you have a water only sensory bin, you just have to remove the objects and pour it down the drain. The bathtub also contains any spills or splashes.

Alternatively if you don’t want to use a bathtub or can’t, you could bring this sensory bin outside to play. If outside is not an option either, try placing the bin on a few towels on a floor that is not carpeted.

Tips for Sensory Bins with Littles

Sensory bins are extremely beneficial for kids of all ages, but especially toddlers and preschoolers. These are also the kids that seem the hardest to use them with. Children this young tend to make big messes, eat things that are not edible, or decide to throw toys around.

I hear a lot of moms say that sensory bins are just too much work and hassle to do at home. But you just have to put in the time and effort to teach them how to use them.

Once children (even as young as one) can learn to use and enjoy sensory bins without making a mess, throwing things, or eating anything. Check out our entire how-to here.

Try even more sensory bin ideas!

Build your own sensory table to hold your sensory bins! This PVC Pipe table is super simple to make and allows your to change out the sensory bin in it with ease. Here’s the full instructions.

PVC pipe sensory bin

Check out this fun farm sensory bin that’s great for any time of the year! The full instructions are here.

sensory farm bin with animals and vegetables

Or read all about the benefits of sensory bins here

sensory bin with popcorn kernels

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