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How to make an easy and colorful ocean sensory bottle for your toddler or preschooler. Tips and instructions for making an affordable fish sensory bottle.

Now that we have a full blown toddler on our hands, we’ve been getting into sensory play a lot more.

Sensory bins definitely form the bread and butter of the sensory play and messy play we do. Our daughter loves getting messy, sticking her hands into the different bins we make, and generally turning our kitchen into a disaster zone.

Recently, we’ve discovered sensory bottles, too.

Sensory bottles are a perfect tool for dealing with those big feelings and big frustrations of toddlerhood. In fact, sensory bottles are sometimes also called calm down bottles. The slow-moving objects, suspended in liquid, are hypnotic to watch.

And that calming, hypnotic-ness can be a huge helper when you’re faced with a toddler meltdown.

An ocean sensory bottle for children isolated against a white background. Inside the bottle there are a number of colorful plastic fish, plants, and some seashells.
Our ocean sensory bottle includes slow moving fish and floating seashells.
A close up photo of an ocean sensory bottle for children isolated against a white background. Inside the bottle there are a number of colorful plastic fish, plants, and some seashells. A green plastic fish is shown prominently.
And the colorful, cheerfulness of the bottle gets our toddler’s attention instantly!

If you’re interested in making your own ocean sensory bottle, keep reading for my tips and instructions.

Why Make an Ocean Sensory Bottle?

Little kids are naturally inquisitive and curious. They LOVE learning, and do so darn much of it in the early years.

I want to encourage that learning, and sensory bottles are a great way to introduce different subjects and vocabulary, in addition to being a good calm down tool.

I came up with the idea for this ocean sensory bottle during a trip to the ocean. My daughter wanted to go swimming so badly, but the water was far too cold and we weren’t prepared.

Since she couldn’t actually go swimming, we started talking about what lives inside the ocean. We’ve ordered some fish books for toddlers, too, which encourages her enthusiasm for the subject.

My toddler at the “beach ocean” (her words) thinking about who and what lives under the sea

Tips for Using this Ocean Sensory Bottle

Sensory bottles are fun on their own, but they’re also a great add-on to get your child interested in a new subject, or delve deeper into something they’ve shown an interest in.

We like to use our sensory bottle in combination with different fish books for toddlers.

An ocean sensory bottle for children isolated against a white background. Inside the bottle there are a number of colorful plastic fish, plants, and some seashells. The children's book The Pout Pout Fish is pictured beside the ocean sensory bottle.
The Pout-Pout Fish is one book you could read when using your ocean sensory bottle.

Our daughter also loves the Goodnight Our World series of books, making Goodnight Fish a natural choice!

Tips for Making an Ocean Sensory Bottle

Choosing the Right Sensory Bottle

Making a sensory bottle is actually pretty easy.

The first trick is choosing the right bottle. You need a bottle that has a wide enough mouth, so you can fit all your fillers in easily. I recommend using a plastic bottle, as glass gets a bit heavy for toddlers to pick up and hold. And of course, there’s the risk of glass breaking.

Many moms I know use empty VOSS Water bottles, but you can also buy empty sensory bottles on Amazon.

A shot of the materials used to make an ocean sensory bottle for children. The materials include plastic fish toys, plastic aquarium plants, sea shells, glue, water, and a clear plastic bottle against an isolated white background. Also pictured is the children's book, The Pout Pout Fish
Materials used in our ocean sensory bin

Choosing Fillers for Your Ocean Sensory Bottle

We found our fish and plant fillers on Amazon – you could also look at a Dollar Store or hobby store like Michaels.

Look for fish that aren’t too big, as you’ll need to fit them into the bottle. We used the toy fish from this set and added aquarium plants and an octopus we had from Wild Republic sets we’ve bought in the past.

We also added some craft shells we already had in the house.

A shot of the materials to fill an ocean sensory bottle for children. The materials include plastic fish toys, plastic aquarium plants, and sea shells against an isolated white background.
An ocean sensory bottle for children isolated against a white background. Inside the bottle there are a number of colorful plastic fish, plants, and some seashells.
The fish we chose as fillers we chose are super colorful!

Other Tips

We used 1 x 5 oz. bottle of clear glue for this sensory bottle, which gave us the right amount of “flow” or resistance so the fish float slowly. Make sure you use clear glue only – we like this Elmer’s clear school glue.

A process photograph showing elmer's glue being poured into a clear plastic bottle as part of making an ocean sensory bottle for children

You’ll also need to think through how to keep the bottle tightly sealed so your little one doesn’t open it. Depending on your child, you might want to use a bit of hot glue to seal the lid.

When it comes time to add the water, we find room temperature water works best. This may depend somewhat on your climate though, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Other Optional Fillers for Your Ocean Sensory Bottle

We kept this sensory bottle pretty simple, but there are lots of ways you could jazz it up a bit:

  • Sand – if you choose to add sand, I suggest you only use a small amount because it can cloud up the bottle if you use too much. If it’s store bought sand, make sure you rinse it first. Some store-bought sand is really dusty, which will also cloud the water! We added a bit of sand to ours, which you can see in the close-up photo below.
  • Glitter – glitter looks amazing in sensory bottles, because it gets suspended in the glue, adding some extra layers of mesmerizing!
  • Food coloring – depending on which fish fillers you choose, you may want to add some food coloring to make your ocean blue.
An ocean sensory bottle for children isolated against a white background. Inside the bottle there are a number of colorful plastic fish, plants, and some seashells.
A close-up of our ocean sensory bin, complete with a bit of sand.

How to Make this Ocean Sensory Bin

Voila – it’s time for sensory bottle play! 

Final Thoughts

I hope you liked this craft and find it as fun and easy to make as we did. If you have other parent friends who are interested in sensory bottles, please share this post with them!

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