Sensory play with bottle

Incorporating Sensory Bottles into Sensory Play

June 7, 2023  • by Debbie Bagley

Sensory play may seem like other forms of early-childhood play, but it is important for childhood development, and helps form essential nerve connections in a child’s brain.

Sensory activities help young children learn and understand about the world around them in so many ways, because they use the five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. This improves young children’s gross and fine motor skills, cognitive growth, communication skills, and social interactions, according to pediatricians at the Cleveland Clinic

Sensory Bottles are a simple and fun way to engage curiosity and wonder with children of all ages through sensory stimuli. All you need is a bottle filled with different materials. 

To make your own, simply fill them with water, food coloring, a small amount of baby oil, and objects. Adding the oil is optional, but can help the objects move around more slowly and fluidly. Or, if you would rather, you can omit the liquids and just add things of different sizes, colors, and textures, so they make sounds as they move around inside the bottle.

The possibilities are endless. Use your imagination and get creative with what you can add to your bottle.

Build the Sensory Bottles Together

In my opinion, the best part of this activity is creating the sensory bottles together with your students. Teachers can do this with students in small groups or as a whole group at school. When you invite children to learn and explore with you, this helps promote curiosity as well as interest and connections.

First, involve the students in brainstorming ideas for their sensory bottle. What would they like to add? Does your student love a certain color? You can find little things, like glitter, food dye, and more, all centered around a favorite color and its various shades. 

Involve the students in hunting for items. What do you have around your classroom, or their home that would be fun to add? Searching the outdoors, in craft stores, or dollar stores, can often also yield plenty of interesting items.

As you gather the items, have conversations about how the items look and feel as you add them in. This allows you to engage other skills at the same time. For example, ask the students to think of how certain materials will look and sound as they move around inside their bottles. After adding in, talk about what changes they notice as they shake, turn, twist, swirl, and squeeze the bottle in different ways. 

You can practice additional learning skills as they help you create the sensory bottles. For example, they can sort the items by similarities and differences before putting them in, or you can ask them to help you count the items as they drop them in.

You can also use sensory bottles along with music. This adds another element of playful motor coordination as they shake and move their bottles fast/slow, high/low, jerky/smooth.

Another fun activity is to create sensory bottles for different themes throughout the year, such as: weather, seasons, arctic, and oceans.

Whatever theme you choose, keep your sensory play activity conversational and fun as you create with your students. My students always loved it when I made up silly stories as they added the items. This helped it feel playful and engaging.

A simple story example could be: 

“Once upon a time there were three fish sisters. (They count the 3 fish). One was yellow, (they add in the yellow fish), one was blue (they add the blue fish), and the other was pink (they add in the pink fish). These 3 fish loved swimming all day long. One day they met a new friend, Ollie the Octopus. He had 8 legs (they point to and count the legs). They asked Ollie to play with them. (They add in the octopus). Ollie and the 3 fish sisters decided to count the shells at the bottom of the ocean. (The students count the shells as they add them into the bottle).”  And so on…. 

You could tie in shells, plastic pearls, glitter, bubble beads, and more as you continue your imaginative story. Involving them in this way helps them learn storytelling skills as well as using their imagination for creative free play. You could also challenge them to make up their own stories, and together you could write them down, illustrate them, and make them into little books to enjoy over and over. 

When used in these ways, sensory bottles are a great hands-on way to learn about and practice multiple subjects – math, reading, science, social skills, language, and writing.

I would love to hear all about the Sensory Bottle ideas you have!!

Example of an Ocean Sensory Bottle:

@studies_weekly Sea Life Sensory Bottle 🐠🐬🐙

Materials Needed for Ocean Sensory Bottle: 

  • Plastic Bottle
  • Water
  • Duct Tape to tape on and secure the lid
  • Glitter
  • Water absorbing Beads
  • Food coloring
  • Mini shells
  • Foam sea life stickers or small plastic figures like Mermaids, sharks, fish etc..