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Sensory Boxes

Children use all of their senses to explore and learn about their world. Sensory boxes provide tactile stimulation and can be so much fun. However, everyone has differing sensory preferences. Some prefer cold or hot, loud or quiet, scents, movements, weights, fidgets, or textures. A sensory box may calm, focus, or engage a child. 


What is it? 

A sensory box is a container that holds a volume of material to feel with the hands or feet. For example, it may hold water, sand, rice, beans, feathers, leaves, shaving cream, or jello. It is important to change the sensory boxes occasionally for cleanliness and to provide a varying assortment of sensory textures for exploration. 


How to make one? 

The container should be large enough to move the filler without spilling over the side. Here are some base items to fill your sensory box: 





Shaved ice


Cornsarch & water

Pom poms

Shaving Cream

Water beads

Fall leaves

Cotton balls

Packing peanuts



Fishtank rocks

Shredded paper

Pine needles



Ice cubes


Easter grass


Colored pasta

Glass Beads



Popcorn Kernels

Cut up sponges


In addition to the base fillers, add treasures to seek and sort. Here are some examples: 

Picture cards

Bead necklaces

Magnetic letters

Play jewels


Fun erasers

Small play animals

Play people


Play cars and boats

Magnets Easter eggs Pinecones Shells Photos


You may need tools to add fun and learning: 



Measuring cups

Small rolling pins


Sorting cups


Sifter or Colander

Cookie cutters

Magnet wands


For added ideas, allow space for further learning exploration near the sensory box: sorting cups, graphing sheets, muffin tin, etc. 

Add Visuals! 

Attach a cookie sheet on the wall near the sensory box. (I use 3M Command Picture hanging strips). I use magnets, ticky tack, or Clear mounting squares / dots to attach a paper with directions or an activity. For example, here is a bean box with magnetic letters. The cookie sheet has an alphabet for matching letters. I can change the paper on the cookie sheet to show words to spell, student names to spell, lower case letters for matching sets, color sorting graph, or pattern strips. 


 You may also use tab and flap cards to include visuals on a key ring. 



How does it help?

There are several ways to use a sensory box at home, school, or in therapy. 

Functional: Exploring starts with functional motor and cognitive skills. These include holding, filling, dumping, pushing, and sifting. Larger arms muscles push mounds of sand and a tight pincher grasp selects one grain of rice. 

Multi-sensory: In addition to textures, sensory boxes can stimulate other senses. Hearing the rice or water pour from one container to another provides auditory stimulation.  Add scents such as peppermint, vanilla, pine, or cinnamon. Use food coloring or purchase colored fillers (blue sand, painted rocks, colored pasta, etc.). Add simple colors to be mixed and made into new colors (ie: drops of blue and yellow fingerpaint in shaving cream). Consider edible sensory experiences such as puddings, cooked spaghetti, and jello. 

Social Play: Children may play parallel next to a peer. They share common tools such as shovels, buckets, or spoons. Children can also work cooperatively toward a common goal as they explore in the sensory box together. Negotion skills may help solve problems such as "you use the red bucket first and I will use it after you."

Imaginative Play: Sensory boxes can promote imaginative play as students drive play trucks over sand, dig a hole for play people, or construct a habitat for animals. 

Language: Many language opportunities can be provided though use of sensory boxes. One child may describe attributes, use action verbs to narrate, or name objects founds. Peers may communicate wants, comment, exclaim joy or frustration, delegate roles, or develop a shared plan. Hide small objects or picture cards that target specific vocabulary or articulation practice.  

Social-Emotional: Social skills are always embedded in every activity. With sensory boxes, students follow rules. They learn whether they can or should eat or throw the items in the box. They should try to keep the materials in the box. They may need to take turns or negotiate with peers. They should follow procedures to follow on cleaning up.  

Curriculum: Sensory boxes may also be used with curriculum concepts. Here are some examples... 

  • Develop hypothesis to test if an item floats or sinks

  • Organize a model ecosystem for an animal

  • Magnetic letters can help with alphabet knowledge or spelling

  • Hide sight words to find and identify

  • Picture cards may teach rhyming, story vocabulary, or math facts 

  • Measuring cups and tools can help with measurement concepts 

  • Hide coins to find and add up for math fun


Most of all sensory boxes are fun! Enjoy the learning.