Sensory bottles are a fun and interactive way for children and adults alike to explore, learn, and self-regulate emotions.
As an adult on the autism spectrum, I know firsthand that sensory play has educational and therapeutic benefits for both neurotypical and neurodivergent kids. That’s why I created this guide to help you buy or make a sensory bottle for your child — or yourself!
In the spirit of creativity, I’ve chosen to feature primarily handmade items from small businesses, many of which are owned by teachers, education professionals, and/or parents — people who understand how to support kids who see the world in unique ways!
Sensory Bottles Overview
Before we get started, let’s cover some sensory bottle basics.
What are sensory bottles?
Sensory bottles, also known as calm down jars, are plastic bottles filled with an assortment of materials and different liquids that create visual and tactile stimulation for children and adults. They’re like a snowglobe, but more elaborate and unique, as they contain items such as colored sand, glitter, water beads, small toys, alphabet beads, and more that swirl together in a mixture of oils, creating a mesmerizing world right at your fingertips.
With so many options, you can buy premade bottles or unleash your creativity to create a sensory bottle your child will love. From glitter bottles that sparkle like a starry night to DIY sensory bottles filled with intriguing objects, there’s no limit to the sensory adventures that await. So, whether you’re soothing anxiety or exploring new concepts, sensory bottles are an invaluable resource to have on hand.
What are the educational benefits of sensory bottles?
Sensory bottles serve as a fantastic educational tool that can help children develop fine motor skills, enhance cognitive development, improve focus and attention, and practice language and communication skills. From teaching colors and shapes to reinforcing connections between objects, calm down bottles offer a powerful learning experience that children will love.
A paper published in The University of Montana Journal of Early Childhood Scholarship and Innovative Practice outlines how sensory bottles can be a key element in creating a Retreat Center, a safe space for preschool children to take a break when they are upset or experiencing sensory overload. And of course, this concept can extend well beyond childhood. As a neurodivergent adult, I have my own Retreat Center in my home where I can sit in my swing chair with soothing lighting and my noise-canceling headphones. We all need a space like that, no matter our age.
Do sensory bottles have therapeutic benefits?
Sensory bottles are a valuable therapeutic resource for kids and adults with disabilities and mental health challenges. They can help calm anxiety, promote mindfulness, and assist with emotional regulation.
According to Chloe Hill, MA, CCC-SLP, a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Southern California, sensory bottles can be a useful tool for aiding language development. “Kids love taking turns flipping the bottle while practicing descriptions, prepositions, requesting, turn-taking, basic concepts, and “wh-” questions. You can use them to work on articulation by having students say their target words between each flip of the bottle,” she explains.
With so many therapeutic benefits, it’s no wonder sensory bottles have become such a popular tool for mental well-being.
How Sensory Bottles Can Help Children with Autism and ADHD
Sensory bottles are a wonderful calming tool for children and adults with Autism and ADHD. The relaxing and focusing effects of these bottles enable self-regulation, helping children better manage their emotions and sensory needs. Calm down bottles can reduce stress and anxiety while promoting focus and attention.
Discovery bottles can help children with Autism and ADHD develop sensory processing skills, visual tracking, and improve their overall sensory integration. With their versatile nature and customizable themes, sensory bottles can be made or chosen to match a neurodivergent person’s special interests.
According to a research study conducted by the National Association of Special Education Teachers, autistic students benefit from the use of sensory bottles and sensory bags as part of an in-class sensory activity schedule that utilizes best practices for teaching children on the spectrum, including curriculum, structure, routine, and visual schedules.
Sensory Bottle Safety Considerations
Safety is paramount when using or making sensory bottles.
Adult supervision is required during all sensory play. Never leave children alone with sensory bottles, especially glass ones.
Glue the bottle lid shut to prevent spills and choking hazards. Using strong glue, such as hot glue from a hot glue gun or super glue, will help keep the bottle sealed and mess-free.
If you’re making DIY sensory bottles or buying them pre-made, consider plastic bottles to eliminate the risk of injuries from broken glass.
Regularly inspect bottles for any signs of wear and tear, such as cracks or loose parts, and replace or repair any damaged bottles to ensure safety.
Use with caution with children and adults who have pica, a disorder that causes people to compulsively eat non-food items, as they may try to open the bottle and drink the contents.
Premade Sensory Bottles
If you’re short on time or prefer a ready-made option, don’t worry! There are plenty of premade sensory bottles available to suit various themes, educational purposes, and interests. From glitter sensory bottles to calm down jars, there’s a premade sensory bottle out there for everyone.
Here are some of the best premade sensory bottles available that I recommend.
Magnetic Sensory Bottles
A magnetic sensory bottle is a fascinating variant of sensory bottles that uses the power of magnetism. These bottles are filled with small metallic objects and magnetic materials that respond to a magnet held outside the bottle. When the magnet is moved around the bottle, the objects inside the bottle move and dance in response, creating a mesmerizing display that is both fun and educational. Magnetic sensory bottles can be used to teach children about the concepts of magnetism, cause and effect, and even basic principles of physics. They are a great tool for sparking curiosity and encouraging scientific exploration, making them a fantastic addition to any sensory play toolkit.
Themed Sensory Bottles
Themed sensory bottles provide an excellent method for involving children in sensory play related to their interests. Imagine creating an ocean-themed bottle filled with glittering waves and tiny sea creatures, or a space-themed bottle with swirling galaxies and miniature planets! The possibilities are endless, and each themed bottle offers a unique sensory experience tailored to the child’s interests.
Not only will these themed bottles captivate children’s attention, but they can also serve as a valuable teaching tool. By incorporating elements related to a specific theme, children can learn about animals, space, and more.
Seasonal and Holiday Sensory Bottles
Celebrate the changing seasons and special occasions with seasonal and holiday sensory bottles. From sparkling snowflakes and jingling bells to colorful Easter eggs and spooky Halloween creatures, seasonal and holiday discovery bottles offer a unique and exciting way for children to learn about and celebrate the world around them.
Educational Sensory Bottles
Take kids’ learning to the next level with educational sensory bottles! These bottles are designed to teach children about colors, shapes, numbers, and more through sensory play. By incorporating elements like colored beads, alphabet letters, geometric shapes, and food coloring, educational sensory bottles can help kids reinforce various concepts and skills.
Educational sensory bottles offer a unique approach to learning that can be tailored to each child’s individual needs and interests. Whether you’re teaching a young child about colors, shapes, textures, numbers, letters, or science concepts, educational sensory bottles provide endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.
I Spy Sensory Bottles
Put your detective skills to the test with I Spy sensory bottles! These intriguing bottles are filled with small objects that children can search for and identify, promoting focus and concentration. By encouraging children to observe and recognize the items hidden within the bottle, I Spy bottles help sharpen visual and cognitive skills.
I Spy bottles can be customized to suit various themes and interests, making them an entertaining activity for children of all ages. Some examples of items included in I Spy discovery bottles are tiny animals, colorful beads, miniature toys, and other unique trinkets, all swirling within a colorful or glitter bottle.
Glitter Sensory Bottles
Among the many types of sensory bottles, glitter sensory bottles are undoubtedly one of my favorites. These mesmerizing calm down bottles use glitter, food coloring, and various liquids to create a stunning visual experience. As the glitter swirls and dances through the liquid, feelings of tranquility wash over the observer. Here are some premade glitter sensory bottles I love.
Sensory Bottles for Teens and Adults
Sensory bottles are not exclusively for children! Their calming and therapeutic effects can also benefit teens and adults. With more sophisticated designs and themes, sensory bottles for teens and adults can provide a soothing experience that promotes relaxation and mindfulness.
Whether it’s a glitter sensory bottle that mimics a tranquil, starry night or a nature-inspired bottle filled with calming elements like smooth stones and dried flowers, sensory bottles for teens and adults offer a valuable tool for stress relief and mental well-being.
Potion bottles are fun for older kids, teens, and adults who love magic and fantasy. They’re perfect for cosplay, LARPing, tabletop gaming, Halloween props, and so much more. When you shake them, glitter swirls, and some even change colors.
Mini Sensory Bottles
These travel sensory bottles can fit in your purse, diaper bag, or suitcase for portable stress relief.
If a more portable alternative to big sensory water bottles is what you seek, sensory disks could be your ideal answer. These flat, handheld disks offer similar benefits to sensory bottles but in a more compact and convenient form. Sensory disks can be filled with various materials, providing a unique sensory experience that can be easily taken on the go.
Sensory disks allow children and adults to engage in sensory exploration and discovery wherever they may be. With their flat, handheld design, sensory disks make it easy to enjoy sensory play’s calming and therapeutic benefits anytime, anywhere.
See more amazing handmade sensory disks at NeuroConfections.
How to Make Sensory Bottles at Home: A Step-By-Step Guide
Making sensory bottles at home allows you to tailor the experience to your or your child’s specific needs and preferences.
Create your own homemade sensory bottle by cleaning out a plastic water bottle, pouring in some soap and warm water, adding some glitter and other decor items, capping it off with a glue gun, and then shaking it up! Enjoy as the glitter and other items swirl around and slowly fall to the bottom. With a variety of bottle options, fillers, and techniques at your disposal, you’ll be able to craft the perfect sensory experience in no time.
Ready to create your very own sensory bottle masterpiece? Just follow this step-by-step guide.
Choosing the Ideal Bottle for Your Sensory Bottle
The first step in creating a sensory bottle is selecting the perfect container. The ideal bottle is a clear, round- or flat-sided container with a wide opening, such as VOSS bottles or Sparkling ICE bottles. These bottles offer a smooth surface for easy viewing and a wide opening for simple filling and sealing. Their durable construction ensures that your sensory bottle will stand the test of time.
For DIY sensory bottles, I think a blank empty plastic bottle that resembles a VOSS water bottle is the way to go. These 500 mL bottles will make your creation look just as professional as something you could buy in a store.
Of course, there are alternative options available, such as travel-sized shampoo bottles or other plastic containers. Whatever size and shape empty water bottle you choose, be sure it’s made of robust, non-toxic materials, such as BPA-free plastic or glass. Avoid using bottles that may break easily or contain harmful chemicals. Ultimately, the goal is to select a bottle that will provide a safe and enjoyable sensory experience.
Here are some excellent blank water bottle options to consider:
Homemade Sensory Bottle Fillers and Options
Once you’ve chosen your ideal empty water bottle, it’s time to get creative with fillers! The possibilities are virtually endless, allowing you to customize your sensory bottle to suit various themes, interests, and purposes. Some popular fillers include:
- Small toys
Here are some excellent sensory bottle fillers to use:
The Best Oils for DIY Sensory Bottles
The choice of oil is an essential factor in creating your sensory bottle. The best oils for sensory bottles are baby oil or mineral oil, as they are clear and slow-moving. These oils provide an ideal backdrop for your fillers, allowing them to move gracefully through the liquid. Plus, their slow-moving nature creates a mesmerizing and calming visual experience.
However, if you don’t have baby oil or mineral oil available, glitter glue, any cooking oil, or hair gel can be used. Just be mindful that using a different oil may alter the movement and appearance of your sensory bottle. Regardless of the oil you choose, ensure it’s non-toxic and safe for use in a sensory bottle.
Here are some oils to try in your bottle experiments:
Tips for Making Slow-Moving Sensory Bottles
Creating a slow-moving sensory bottle can be a bit of a challenge, but with a few helpful tips, you’ll be a pro in no time! To create a slow-moving bottle, mix warm water together with one part of clear glue, hair gel, corn syrup, dish soap, or glycerin. Add color to the water with food coloring, and jazz it up with glitter or other fun materials. You can also try filling it one-third full with water and adding baby oil or cooking oil to create a wave bottle.
As you experiment with different, liquid ingredients and filler combinations, don’t be afraid to make adjustments to achieve the desired movement and appearance. You may need to add more or less of a specific liquid ingredient to get the perfect sensory bottle experience. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if your first sensory bottle isn’t exactly as you envisioned.
Troubleshooting Common DIY Sensory Bottle Issues
As with any DIY endeavor, crafting sensory bottles may present a handful of challenges. But fear not! With a little patience and determination, you can troubleshoot common issues.
One common issue is achieving the right balance of air, liquid, and filler materials. If the movement or appearance of your sensory bottle isn’t quite as you’d like, try adjusting these elements until you find the perfect combination.
Another common issue is air bubbles. To reduce the air bubbles, try topping it off with a few drops of water, clear liquid hand soap, glitter glue, or clear glue. This allows the bubbles to rise to the top. Once all the air has been removed and you’re satisfied with the movement and appearance of your sensory bottle, seal it up and enjoy your mesmerizing creation!
Sensory Bottle Making Kits
Want to make sensory bottles as a fun project with your child? These premade kits have everything you need to make discovery bottles while providing plenty of flexibility for creativity.
What are your favorite premade or homemade sensory bottles?
Let us know in the comments!
Check Out More Sensory Play Resources in The Ability Toolbox
- Sensory Bottles for Kids and Adults
- Sensory Bags for Babies, Toddlers, and Beyond
- Sensory Bins for Toddlers and Preschool Kids
- Sensory-Boosting Therapeutic Gifts for Kids with Autism
Hey I'm Olivia and I'm a proud Autistic woman. My special interests are cats, stim toys, and electronic music! I love to write and help other Autistic adults find ways to enjoy life in this LOUD world!
Dr. Wilson graduated from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL. In addition to her private practice, she works as a science communicator, teaching health literacy in schools and online.