Sensory play tubs


What’s a sensory tub? Basically it’s a box of goodies that children can explore. They’re easy to put together using things from around the home and give the children lots of touchy, feely, exploring possibilities. There’s a lot of science, maths and hand-eye co-ordination that’s incorporated too. If you’d like to make one all you need to do is:

  1. Grab a tub: a washing up bowl, a cardbaord box, a storage box. You need something which is large enough for your children to get their hands inside so they can have a good dig around and with sides high enough to hold the contents but low enough so your children can sit beside the box and reach inside easily.
  2. Add a main ingredient: water, sand, cotton wool balls, dry pasta, oat flakes, shredded paper are all great options. You want something which is interesting to feel and manipulate.
  3. Mix in some treasures. It’s always fun to hide things inside the tub for the children to discover: ice cubes in water, little toys, fir cones and shells.
  4. Have some tools on hand. Sometimes children need nothing more than a tub of water to splash about in but you can extend the play and learning possibilities if you provide some items they can use with the tub. Scoops and spoons for digging, buckets and pans to fill, ice cube and dip trays for sorting, jugs for pouring, tongs or a fishing net for picking up.
  5. Let the children play. The idea is to provide a tub of interesting textures, shapes and sounds and let the children explore. Sit back and observe them play and notice how they chose to investigate the tub. Are they interested in pouring, or counting, or collecting? You can chat to them while they play and look at the things they discover but sometimes I think it’s good to sit back and let the children lead the way.

Do you have any favourite ingredients for sensory tubs?

happily shared with Science Sunday and Preschool Corner Tot School and Preschool Corner


  1. says

    My little man loves sensory tubs. We have had rice, lentils, pasta, oats, but his favourite by far are the messy ones. Two of his most recent favourites have been gelatine and (extra) water. I made a 15L tub of ‘gelly’ with some hidden treasures and then just this week we did coloured frozen ice bricks. Oh so cold and wonderful.

    You can see both of them at

  2. says

    We love sensory boxes (or ‘digging boxes’ as we call them) in our house! Some of our favourite ingredients are feathers (from craft stores), plastic eggs, confetti, oats and pasta. My kids love it…which reminds me that I need to make one again!

  3. says

    ah, yes! we love these too.

    i guess we tend to call them “_________ tub” according to what is in the tub. : )

    lately we’ve brought snow in from outside every day. good times.

  4. says

    I’ve seen lots of these on US sites- they seem to be an American thing. Very nice. Quite a combination of messy play and imaginative play, but with lots of scope for investigation and exploration. We shall make some of these soon. Thanks

  5. says

    I just found you through Feature Yourself Friday! Love all the ideas you have on here. I have a 2 year old and we need to start getting messy. Neither of us are into that, but I know we need to be! I also have a baby on the way so I’ll be looking for all you little tot ideas too.

  6. Lori says

    Really enjoyed this post and all the suggestions for sensory tub ingredients. At our preschool, the sensory table is always a favorite choice during learning centers time.

    Flax seed and small black sunflower seeds (purchased in the bird seed section at Target or WalMart) have a wonderful calming effect on excited preschoolers. These seeds have a silky quality that feels great when you run your fingers through them or pour them through large funnels and scoops.

    • Cathy @ NurtureStore says

      Thanks for the idea Lori – I’ve never used seeds in a sensory tub before.

  7. says

    Sensory tubs really are so awesome for exploring new things. It’s such a shame I’ve had such horrid luck with them.

    Try 5 or 6 or who knows, stupid computer

  8. Melanie says

    My daughter is learning animals and the sounds they make. I made a farm tub filled with plastic animals and dried corn. Far less messy than sand and she loves it. Everytime she finds an animal it gives us the chance to name it and make that animals sound. Loads of fun!

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