Kids love sensory bins. You can use items from the ocean to create a “seaside” sensory bin. Inside, explore the beaches, meet sea creatures, and make a salt dough starfish craft project. This ocean sensory bin is easy to create and customize for any ocean theme. Perfect for older toddlers, preschool, and kindergarten-age kids. See how we set up our ocean sensory play below and grab a fun printable ocean animals coloring book for free!
Ocean Sensory Play
Kids love to dig their hands into a newly made sensory bin, scoop and pour, and carry out storytelling. Creating an all about the ocean theme sensory bin is a perfect theme for spring and summer.
Our ocean activities are designed to be enjoyed even if you don’t live near the ocean. Below you’ll find many resources to help you assemble an entire ocean-theme unit! I know they will have so much fun with the hands-on activities below.
Best Sensory Bin, Tub, or Sensory Table
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Start with the right sensory bin or tub when creating a sensory bin for kids of all ages. With the right size bin, kids will be at ease playing with the contents, and the mess can be kept to a minimum.
Is a sensory table a good choice? A more expensive, heavy-duty sensory table, such as this one, allows one or more kids to stand and play comfortably. This was always my son’s favorite sensory bin, and it works just as well for home use as it does in the classroom. Roll it right outside!
If you need a sensory bin set on a table, make sure the sides are not too tall so kids do not feel like they are struggling to reach into it. Aim for a side height of around 3.25 inches if you can place it on a child-size table. That makes it much better. Under the bed storage bins also work well for this.
Unless you have space restrictions, try to pick a size that gives your kids room to play around without continually knocking the contents out of the bin. These more compact sensory bins with lids are a good alternative.
Sensory Bin Tips and Tricks
TIP: Due to various sensory needs, some kids may feel more comfortable standing to engage in the activity. Sitting on the floor or kneeling in front of a sensory bin may also be uncomfortable. My son’s sensory needs made standing the best choice for us.
TIP: When designing a themed sensory bin, consider how many items you put into the bin versus the size of the bin. Too many items may feel overwhelming. If your kid is playing happily with the sensory bin, resist the urge to add just one more thing!
TRICK: It’s important for the adult to model the appropriate use of sensory bins and to keep a close eye on young kids who may want to throw the filler and items. Keep a kid-size broom and dustpan handy to help them learn how to clean up spills.
Themed Sensory Bin
Choose the theme! What colors best represent the theme? For this ocean sensory bin, shades of blue, green, and tan come to mind when I think about the ocean.
You can extend the theme into the types/colors of scoops and containers you add. To keep your sensory bins budget-friendly, I recommend having a handful of these items that can be reused easily among various themes!
Hands-On Activities Suggestions
Add a feature that encourages fine motor practice with the young age group that a sensory bin is designed for. This can be as simple as scooping the filler into a small container and dumping it into a more complex activity using kitchen tongs to grab objects and transfer them to a container.
You can even add a simple matching or math activity. Have the kids match the items to a visual next to the sensory bin. This, of course, will depend on what you add to your sensory bin. Additionally, you can place a counting mat next to the sensory bin. Allow the kids to remove and count seashells, fish, or stones!
Think sea turtles, whales, colorful fish, seashells, and more plastic ocean animals! Easy to clean and reuse, plastic animals in various themes are perfect to have on hand.
Optional Sensory Bin Fillers: You aren’t limited to the exact materials we have used for this sensory bin. Use the images below to guide creating a unique ocean sensory bin, and check out the additional ideas below. Feel free to combine and explore materials that work for you in your setting.
FIND IT: Local hobby and craft sources often have bags of vase fillers perfect for sensory bins! You can get all sizes of rocks, acrylic gems and tokens, and polished sea glass and shells! There is such a wide variety. If you take the time to separate and store the fillers nicely, you can reuse them easily with different themes.
NOTE: We no longer recommend using water beads due to extreme health risks. Please DO NOT use this as a sensory bin filler.
- Play Sand (Comes in All Colors)
- Aquarium Gravel or Small Rock (Vase Filler)
- Ocean Animal Toys
- Ocean Theme Items (Find Plastic Fish Tank Grasses at the Pet Store)
- Small Scoops, Shovels, and Pails
How to Set Up an Ocean Sensory Bin
It’s pretty much a 1-2-3 process for setting up a sensory bin. Remember, it will never look quite as pretty as the moment before your kids dig into it! Don’t make it too complicated.
STEP 1 FILLER: Pour the sand at the bottom of the sensory bin. Add the rocks to one side of the bin.
STEP 2 THEMED ITEMS: Set the sea toys in the bin on the blue sand: seaweed, shark, fish, etc. Add the sea glass. Set the shells, crab, and starfish on top of the rocks.
STEP 3 BIG ITEMS: Add the scoops and the bowl.
ENJOY! All that’s left is to invite the kids to explore the contents of the sensory bin!
TIP: Always add a few themed books to the side of the bin as a nice transition between activities.
Preschool Ocean Unit Ideas
Explore more ocean craft and activity ideas to create an entire ocean unit for a week or more. You can even check out our free week-long ocean theme camp guide!
Grab this free ocean animals pattern blocks mat set to add to your ocean unit and create a simple center in minutes!
Learn about jellyfish and create a fun glow-in-the-dark ocean animal craft to hang in a room.
Use our traditional salt dough recipe to create starfish for an ocean theme activity.
How do sharks float (or not sink) in the ocean? Kids will have a lot of fun with these water bottle sharks that share a bit of science.
The ocean can get pretty chilly…so how do whales stay warm? Try this fun blubber science experiment to test it out for yourself.
Have you ever tried watercolor and salt? This ocean art project uses a fun and simple watercolor technique as well as a free template for cute blowfish!
More Ocean Themed Sensory Bins
An ocean-themed sensory bin is as simple as filling a container with water and adding a few drops of blue food coloring to make blue water.
Ocean Water Sensory Bin
This ocean water sensory bin starts out as a fantastic ice-melting science activity and transforms into an ocean-themed sensory bin. Two activities in one!
Ocean Moon Sand Sensory Bin
Moon sand is another great sensory bin filler, and it’s a simple recipe you can make with items from the kitchen cupboard. Make DIY moon sand here.
Ocean Sensory Play Ideas
Colorful fish and the science behind why oil and water don’t mix!
Ocean Waves in a Bottle
Make a wave in a bottle or jar! Kids will love creating an ocean in a jar with this wave activity. Learn a bit about how a wave forms too.
Ocean Sensory Bottle or Jar
Sensory bottles are a great visual processing item and are often used to create a calming or relaxing experience for kids (and adults). Here are a few ocean sensory bottles to check out.
Use our fantastic saline solution slime recipe to make ocean slime filled with plastic ocean animals and small gems. Make several shades of blue and swirl them together.
Perfect for kids in Kindergarten through Upper Elementary School! Grab this Ocean printable project pack and read the reviews!
- 10+ Ocean theme science activities with journal pages, supply lists, set up and process, and science information. Easy to set up, fun, and fit into your available time, even if it’s limited!
- 10+ Printable Ocean STEM challenges that are simple but engaging for home or classroom.
- Engaging Ocean theme activities include a tide pool pack, oil spill pack, marine food chain pack, and more!
- Ocean Theme STEM Story and challenges perfect for going on a STEM adventure in the classroom!
- Learn about Jacques Cousteau with a workbook activity
- Explore the ocean layers and create an ocean layer jar!
- Ocean Extras include I-Spy pages, bingo games, coloring sheets, and more for early finishers!
- BONUS: Ocean Science Camp Week Pullout (note some duplicate activities but organized for convenience)
- BONUS: Ocean STEM Challenge Calendar Pullout (note some duplicate activities but organized for convenience)