Frugal Sensory Bins for Beginners

Frugal Sensory Bins for Beginners


Building a sensory bin supply might seem overwhelming to some so here is an easy starter guide for beginners. For whatever reason I’ve always been drawn to sensory play. I have sensitivities of my own to certain textures, which most likely plays a part in the attraction but also gives me a bit of an insider’s look at what it’s like for a child who has texture and sensory processing needs.

What follows is a small(ish) Dollar Tree haul that I brought home just the other day – most of the items being for my own artsy projects around the house and me getting a head start on first birthday party planning for my little guy. I spent $50 and some change; not all of the items purchased are shown, just what I feel are perfect for preschool-aged children. PLEASE keep in mind the age of the children that you have or are working with and make sure that what you put in their hands is age appropriate!

This is about $25 worth of items gathered from several different aisles at my local Dollar Tree. Not only can these products be used to build some fun sensory bins, they can cross over to many play-based learning topics/centers.

This is about $25 worth of items gathered from several different aisles at my local Dollar Tree. Not only can these products be used to build some fun sensory bins, they can cross over to many play-based learning topics/centers.

Cat litter boxes = perfectly sized bins for smaller sensory pairings, water tables and for individual play. There are two of them here and they were located in the pet aisle. These can also be used for art projects - to prevent spilling, marble painting, or washing hands and feet after hand/footprint projects.

Cat litter boxes make perfectly sized bins for smaller sensory pairings, water tables and for individual play. There are two of them here and they were located in the pet aisle. These can also be used for art projects – to prevent spilling, marble painting, or washing hands and feet after hand/footprint projects.

Four smaller plastic (laundry) baskets in cream and brown

Four smaller plastic (laundry) baskets in cream and brown. These were located in the home textile area of the store, specifically in the aisle with decorative storage bins. I am currently in the process of DIY-ing one of them as a decorative toilet paper bin on a shelf in our spare bathroom. I’ll show a picture when its complete!

These are great for adding into a dramatic play area but can be used as sensory bins when learning about bugs and spiders in particular. Using yarn, shredded paper, cotton fluff, spiders, bugs and tweezers – weave the yarn in and out of the opening of the basket, leaving gaps big enough for little hands to get through them. Place the paper and/or cotton fluff at the bottom of the basket, place bugs on top and spiders in the web. The children can use the tweezers to rescue the bugs and/or manipulate the set up of the bin.

Three packs at $1 a piece with 25 Dinos

Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?! Three packs at $1 a piece with 25 Dinos in them cannot be beat! I’ll be using these for my son’s 1st birthday party but throw them into a bin with some medium-sized river rocks and plastic trees/greenery and you’ve got the makings of great fun. Add in books about dinosaurs, lab coats, clip boards and science goggles for your little paleontologists.

You can locate these in the toy aisles.

I’m planning on using these little cubes for some crafting, but tear them open and throw them into a bin with toy construction vehicles, hard hats, hammers and pretend nails or golf tees for an imaginary construction site.

I grabbed these from the arts/crafts aisle.

decorative woven wooden balls

I actually bought these for decorative accents in my spare bathroom “remodel” but thought they would be fun additions to a sensory bin stash. I would throw them into bins with plastic woodland creatures and natural wood slices. In my former classroom I brought it 9×9 squares of Astroturf; lay those as the base with a few river rocks per tub and a few fake flowers.

decorative blue marbles

Marbles. I purchased these for a specific project I’m working on, otherwise I would have bought decorative rocks/gems instead. These are one of those age appropriate items that you MUST use with caution. If you’re putting these in front of younger children (3 and under) you are looking at a bin full of choking hazards. Not that 4+ year olds don’t put things in their mouths as well, but they tend to have a better understanding of the danger in choking.

Colored decorative rocks/gems/marbles build a wonderful base for bins that are water related. Dump these into a bin and throw some plastic sea creatures in. Add water for some next level sensory.

These can be found in the home decor section of the store. Look for the vases and you’re there.

I didn’t always use bins for sensory play. We had a few lunch trays that were often used for art that I would snatch up every so often and throw out a few things like these blocks. Several things could be added to them, like characters/figures, plastic creatures, sorting items or rocks. These could also be tossed into the construction themed bin. I picked them up in the toy aisle.

I think that I grabbed these from the tool and cleaning supply section of the store. I like to use them for fine motor activities instead of tweezers or wooden clothespins. They’re great for throwing into sensory bins or even using them in art projects that involve painting with cotton balls.

Another find for birthday party plans, but also items that can be used in a dinosaur themed bin. I’m not sure I would use them as is, the edges might need to be sanded in order to be used in a free play setting. I actually would put something like this out in free art and collage making. They would also go well with a moonsand table or in Play-doh.

Other fabulous staples to add to your sensory bin collection:

  • wine corks
  • fabric/fake flowers
  • sand
  • fabric leaves
  • yarn scraps
  • soil
  • fabric scraps
  • imitation grass
  • buttons
  • river rock
  • decorative rock/gems
  • birdseed
  • shredded/crinkle paper
  • fish tank gravel
  • play doh
  • cotton fluff
  • cotton balls

Use discretion with the following items when adding them to a classroom setting. Not every child comes from a home with adequate food, so it can be seen as insensitive to allow kids to “play” with it.

  • rice (colored or plain)
  • noodles (multiple styles, colored or plain)
  • dry lentils
  • dry corn
  • dry beans (black, pinto, kidney, white)

For more fun ideas, follow me on Pinterest!

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