This fun ocean sensory bin is a fun way to teach kids about the ocean and let young children build and play with their very own little ocean made out of pantry items you can find at home! Add a few ocean and beach themed toys for a sensory experience and fun ocean day activity!
We did one beach trip this summer (to our favorite Anna Maria Island), and he’s always asking to go back!
There’s just something about the beach and ocean that are magical. One of my favorite parts is all of the different sights, sounds, and textures you feel at the beach from the sand in your toes to the water crashing at your feet.
I thought it would be fun to come up with a little beach themed sensory bin for my preschooler to enjoy some ocean sensory play at home. I know it’s not quite the beach, but he thoroughly enjoyed it and did ask about the beach until at least the next day!
I love this because while it’s messy play, it’s contained messy play all inside its own bin. And it uses the sense of touch to learn about sea creatures!
Plus, it’s fun for when it’s a hot summer day and you don’t want to be outside or even a rainy day where you can’t be outside!
Plus, I made this with all food safe items (other than the added toys and sea creatures) so if you have a little one who likes to put their mouth on things, it’s not the end of the world.
Why You’ll Love This Activity
- Sensory play activity – this bin has a bunch of different feelings and textures with the use of the jello, Cool Whip, and “sand.” Kids will love to explore the different textures of the items as well as play with their own toys in it.
- Beach or Ocean Themed activity – if you need something for beach week or an ocean week, this fits well since it includes both! You could bring this out at a beach party, pool party, or a party with an ocean theme!
- Small world play – while you could do this as a larger sensory bin, I designed this one as a smaller world where kids have to rescue sea animals and really enjoy the beach and ocean together in a small contained space.
These ingredients are to make the ocean area before your kids start playing with it. I’ve also included a list of items that I recommend for housing and playing with your ocean sensory bin below.
- Bin – I like to use smaller bins to keep things a bit more contained. I used a small 6.5 quart container with a lid kind of like this one for this bin. Ideally you want something that is wider and shorter so that there’s more surface area to play in. They also often have great bins you can use at the dollar store if you want something really affordable.
- Berry blue jello – it could really be any blue Jello, I just really like the color of the berry blue flavor.
- Cool Whip – make sure this is thawed!
- Graham cracker crumbs – if you don’t have crumbs, you can also put graham crackers in a food processor and process until you get crumbs. If you don’t have graham crackers, you could also use cereal that’s been ground up in the food processor.
- Baby puffs – these are optional but make a really fun addition as starfish.
- Bin – I like to use smaller bins to keep things a bit more contained. I used a small 6.5 quart container with a lid kind of like this one for this bin. Ideally you want something that is wider and shorter so that there’s more surface area to play in.
- Sensory tools – these can really be anything that you have around your house like a pair of tongs, droppers, etc. or you can buy actual sensory tools. These are the ones pictured in the photos that my kids like. The goal is to get items that will help kids develop their fine motor skills while enjoying the sensory play. Bonus, if they’re different colors!
- Ocean animals – these could really be anything but the plastic ocean animal toys that are in the photos are these! Sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, and fish all make great additions to the little bins!
- Pipe cleaners – these are fun to use to make waves, designs, and more.
- Little People Toys – you can either use these or you can really use any sort of people or characters. My boys started using their superheroes after they got tired of the cute Little People.
- Bowl with soapy water – get a bowl of water with a little soap to clean the animals. This is a really fun way to teach kids about ocean life as they clean jello off the sea animals and pretend play animals living in the sea.
- Toothbrush – this is also optional but can be used with the soapy water for cleaning off the animals.
How to Make an Ocean Sensory Bin
This is pretty easy to put together, especially considering how long kids will likely play with it once it’s all done and ready to go!
1 – Make the Jello Ocean
Add one cup of boiling water to the jello mix in a medium bowl and whisk for two minutes until well combined. Then whisk in one cold water to help set the Jello.
Pour the Jello into the bin and place the Jello into the refrigerator, tipping it up at a slight angle (to get the angled look in this bin) by sticking an item under one side. You want it raised up about an inch so that the Jello sets up on just one side of the bin.
The other side will be the beach area.
With the bin still at an angle, gently place the sea creatures into the Jello side of the bin then let the Jello chill for at least two hours so that it can setup and the animals can get stuck into the Jello.
2 – Finish the Beach Sensory Bin
Once totally set, remove the bin from the fridge and fill the non-Jello side with graham cracker crumbs for your sandy beach full of sensory sand.
Add piped on dollops of Cool Whip in between the sand and the ocean to create the edge of the water, or sea foam. This also is a good talking point about waves, tides, and how the waves crash into the sand.
You can also sprinkle little star shaped baby puffs onto the sand to create starfish or sea shells.
Finish off your ocean with some pipe cleaner waves and little people toys hanging out at the beach!
3 – Play
Once the sensory bin is completed, give it to your kids to enjoy with any of the sensory tools mentioned above! They can just play with the people on the beach, grab the animals out of the ocean and clean them, and more!
Kids will have so much fun using their little hands to explore this ocean-themed sensory bin – diving the animals down again and again, making the people swim in the water and then dry off at the beach.
If the kids aren’t up for just free play and need ideas, a great idea is to give them assignments to do like they have an ocean related job – be a lifeguard, be a dolphin trainer, be a marine biologist, etc. This is especially good if you have kids of all ages playing together because it’ll give the older kids something to focus on.
Just be warned, this imaginative play in a sea sensory bin may not be enough and if they’re anything like my kid, they’ll be asking for a real beach day soon and if you live a long way from the beach, they may be out of the luck!
Mix it up by adding in other ocean themed items like Swedish fish, gummy sharks, mermaids, sequins, and anything else you might find in an Ocean.
Place the sea animals into the unset Jello gently so that they don’t all just end up sliding to the edge of the bin. You really want to place them nicely, this also keeps the Jello from splashing all over the place.
Store the sensory bin in the fridge for up to three days if your kids want to keep playing with it – ideally covered. Any longer than that and you’ll want to dispose of the Jello inside and create a brand new bin full.
1. Make blue Jello with sea animals in one side of the bin and let it chill angled so that it’s just one side! 2. On the other side add graham cracker crumb sand, starfish, and Cool Whip sea foam to divide the sand from the water.
3. Then add in some waves, Little People, and beach toys for fun sensory play!
An ocean sensory bin can be filled with anything that’s ocean or beach related! Add people, toy sea creatures, or even edible ones like Swedish Fish or gummy sharks. Sea shells are also a great addition as are star shaped baby puffs to be Starfish.
If you’re planning to use this more than once, refrigerate the sensory bin between play times and up to three days. The Jello and Cool Whip both need to be stored in the refrigerator when not in use.
More Ocean Activities
If you’re looking for ocean theme items like recipes and activities to do with kids, then you’ll want to check out some of these simple ocean themed favorites!
- Shark attack drink – this fun kid-friendly ocean attack drink would be a fun way to follow up this ocean sensory bin!
- Shark punch – or if you want something a little more creamy, try these shark floats that are also a fun ocean themed drink!
- Ocean blue popsicles – these fun blue lemonade popsicles are full of edible sea creatures!
- Summer LEGO challenge – this summer LEGO challenge has tons of beach and ocean themed LEGO challenges to complete! Just pick and choose the ones you want to do.
- Beach scavenger hunt – a fun beach themed scavenger hunt you can do at the beach or just at home!
DIY Ocean Sensory Bin
- 1 3.4 oz box berry blue jello
- 2 cups water divided
- graham cracker crumbs
- Cool Whip
- Baby puffs star shaped
- Blue colored pipe cleaners
- Add one cup of boiling water to the jello mix in a medium bowl and whisk for two minutes until well combined. Then whisk in one cold water to help set the Jello.1 3.4 oz box berry blue jello, 2 cups water
- Pour the Jello into the bin and place the Jello into the refrigerator, tipping it up at a slight angle (to get the angled look in this bin) by sticking an item under one side. With the bin still at an angle, gently place the sea creatures into the Jello side of the bin then let the Jello chill for at least two hours so that it can setup and the animals can get stuck into the Jello.
- Once totally set, remove the bin from the fridge and fill the non-Jello side with graham cracker crumbs for your sandy beach full of sensory sand.graham cracker crumbs
- Add piped on dollops of Cool Whip in between the sand and the ocean to create the edge of the water, or sea foam.Cool Whip
- Add star shaped baby puffs to the sand to create starfish or sea shells.Baby puffs
- Finish off your ocean with some pipe cleaner waves and little people toys hanging out at the beach!Blue colored pipe cleaners