Walk down the aisle of any toy store and you’ll find plenty of bells and whistles designed to entertain toddlers. They’ll each claim to help your toddler grow up to be smarter, faster, kinder, more fiscally responsible, etc. However, we all know what happens when you bring home that big shiny toy — your kid really just wants to play with the box.

While that can be momentarily frustrating, it’s actually good news! With that knowledge, you can save some serious money on your Target bill. Plus, if you want to take the box fun to the next developmental level, you can add some simple household items to that box, or another container, and ta-da you have a sensory bin.

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is a container full of objects or materials that toddlers can touch, manipulate, and explore. Those little hands love to get into everything (leave them alone with a Tupperware cabinet for a few minutes and you’ll see what we mean) so sensory bins are the perfect simple toy. It’s also a great learning tool because touching and feeling are how toddlers work on fine motor skills and develop cognitive processes for more complex learning later on in life. Sensory play is also fantastic for teaching children problem solving and social skills.

You can put any number of things into a sensory bin and feel very pleased with your parenting skills. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Water sensory bin

A toddler sensory bin can be as simple as a container of water and two cups to pour water in and out of. You can also add in small toys that will either sink or float and watch those little wheels turn as your toddler figures it out.

2. Rice sensory bin

A bin of rice is another great option for a sensory bin because not only can toddlers explore how the grains slip through their fingers, but you can also add a small can to put rice in and shake or introduce a spoon for stirring. Check you out — cooking class and music class!

3. Water bead sensory bin

Water beads are a toddler favorite. These small beads filled with water are smooth and slippery making them super interesting for toddlers to try to manipulate. They are actually quite soothing too so be careful, you might find yourself getting very zen next to your toddler at the sensory bin instead of emptying the dishwasher like you had planned.

4. Snow sensory bin

Bring the snow inside so your toddler can explore mother nature from the warm comfort of your kitchen floor. If your little one doesn’t like the cold feeling, grab some mittens to have the full experience or give them a small sand shovel or a plastic spoon to dig.

5. Shaving cream sensory bin

Shaving cream can make for a fun sensory bin because toddlers love a good mess! For older toddlers or preschoolers, you can also use shaving cream on a baking tray to trace out letters or shapes with your fingers.

6. Sticks and leaves sensory bin

Taking it back to nature! A scavenger hunt together outside can lead itself to extended fun with a sensory bin full of their finds. Sticks, leaves, rocks, and pinecones are interesting to explore, compare, and hopefully not eat… keep an eye on those small rocks.

7. Cotton ball sensory bin

For sensitive little hands, cotton balls are a great sensory bin item. Nothing sticky or pointy or cold about them! Cotton balls can also be fun to stack, count, or toss into the air. Bonus — the clean up for this one is very minimal which makes us think cotton balls should have actually been first on the list!

For more fun activities for toddlers, check out these interactive, educational, and musical classes for toddlers.