6+ Sensory Bins for under $30 – with tons of other ideas!

Sensory bins are the best for keeping small hands busy. You can switch out all the “fillers” and create tons of different combinations! Sensory bins are so versatile and are perfect for all little learners.
Sensory bin ideas from the Dollar store

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***2023 Disclaimer – this post was written in 2015, when I was a brand-new mom, my son was almost 3, I had no job, and I was very pregnant with my second kid. 7 years ago. I now have 4 kids (11, 8, 5 and 5) and have a more realistic “mom head” on my shoulders. I’ve done my best to update it to the current me but have recently decided to move my blog in a little more mom centered direction. To find out more about that direction, you can find out more about it here –6 Essential Self-Care Tips for Moms – How to do Self-Care Right.”. ***

When my son was about 3 years old and I was very pregnant with his little sister, I didn’t want to go ANYWHERE. I was a new mom, trying to prep to welcome baby #2 but also felt as though I needed to entertain my toddler because we couldn’t afford preschool.

I thought making sensory bins for him was self-care for me. In a way, it was. It kept him busy while I could watch a show or drink hot coffee. But I was young and had no idea that there was a whole other self-care world out there.

Now, I consider myself the Self-Care Advocate for the Modern Mom.

What is self-care for moms?

Self-care is an umbrella term. Over the years, a lot of focus has been on self-care for moms, however not many people have truly defined it.

Self-care covers a wide variety of things. From taking a shower with no interruptions to a weekend away with girlfriends.

The 3 types of self-care under this umbrella are:

  1. Self-maintenance: these are the things you need to function. For example, showering, eating 3 meals a day and snacks when hungry, drinking your water, taking medications, making doctor appointments, etc. These are basic human needs.
  2. Self-preservation: These are the things you can do during the day that fill your bucket, but that you can do when you are responsible for the kids. Listening to a podcast while making dinner, reading a book while they’re watching TV, planning a park play date while you chat with the other moms. These things get you through the days to your bigger self-care items.
  3. Self-recharge: These are the things you do outside of the house, without the kids and it’s something for yourself, not the family. For example, dinner with friends, movie by yourself, getting a massage, going to a workout class, getting coffee before work. The frequency is going to depend on your support.

How do sensory bins relate to self-care for moms?

Setting your kids up with sensory bins allows you to take a break and get some of that self-preservation we so desperately need and deserve every single day. Obviously, this is also going to depend on how old your children are.



Now, I know you came here to learn about sensory bins, not self-care for moms. Consider the self-care for moms a little bonus. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The box above will take you to the sensory bin guide printable.

Read on for the sensory bin content…

I could not WAIT to get to Dollar Tree and try all of these sensory bins. I went armed with a list after scouring Pinterest. The fact that I actually thought I would stick to my list was comical. The *list* also was for under $20. My trip was $40, BUT I bought some stuff that wasn’t for my sensory bins and since everything was $1, it was easy for me to take it out of my total and get a new total. Here is how I started:

Sensory bin supplies from the dollar store

Sensory Bins Shopping List

  • 6 bins (I know I said that this would make 6+ – sit tight, we’ll get to that)
  • 2 bags of cotton balls (I ended up using only 1)
  • 2 bags of dry beans (again, I ended up using only 1)
  • 1 bag of pasta (I bought Ziti)
  • 1 bag of creepy crawlies
  • 1 bag of lizards / frogs (obviously these and the previous ones can be switched out with anything – this is just what D likes)
  • 2 sets of 3 rubber ducks
  • 1 set of play kitchen tools
  • 1 set of tongs (D calls these “pinchers”…he loves to play with ours at home)
  • 1 box of baking soda
  • 1 bag of decorative rocks
  • 1 bag of decorative sand
  • 1 bag of decorative pebbles
  • 1 set of coffee scoops
  • 1 set of 3 toothbrushes
  • 1 container of oatmeal
  • 1 bottle of vinegar
  • 1 set of funnels
  • 2 cans of shaving cream
  • 1 foam alphabet set

Here is a breakdown of my sensory bin items:

Sensory bin supplies from the dollar store

The shaving cream is part of the “+” of my bins. I will get into that also.

Here are the items that will be in the bins:

Sensory bin supplies from the dollar store

And then here are the tools that he’ll use (he LOVES tools):

sensory bin supplies from the dollar store

So first I am going to show you the 6 bins that I made, then I will give you ideas for the “+” bins. I will have to run to the Dollar Tree again and pick up 1 or 2 more bins that will act as “messy bins.” The bins that need to be switched out and can’t hold certain stuff (ie, clean mud, shaving cream, water, etc).

The first one I tackled was rocks and sand. I was super excited about this one because of the pretty colors I picked out.

sensory bin with rocks and sand

I let D pick out which toy he wanted to put in this one and he chose the creepy crawlies.

bug sensory bin

In true sensory seeking kid fashion, he could not WAIT to get his hands in there. His imagination went wild with this one. They were all on a mission together to save the good guys and fight the bad guys Kids can learn colors, numbers, get their sensory output fix for the day, whatever.

Next one was the rocks and D actually had the idea of what to add to the rocks. I have to admit, those construction vehicles were not purchased at the Dollar Tree. But how could I say no, when it was his idea to toss them in after seeing the rocks? I just couldn’t.

construction sensory bin

Next, we loaded up the bin with dry oatmeal. You could very well use wet oatmeal, but don’t reuse it. You would have to toss it out after you played with it but I bet it would be very fun.

oatmeal sensory bin with lizards

I was going to write numbers under the creatures bellies but there just wasn’t enough time with this guy digging in.

Next up was beans! I don’t know why, but beans are my favorite sensory item. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first that I used when I was a developmental therapist? They are heavy but not too heavy and they’re cold. I even like playing in the bean bin. We added the toy kitchen utensils and a scoop in this one. D loves the kitchen utensils so he enjoyed this bucket.

sensory bin with beans

Next was cotton balls and rubber duckies. I wrote numbers on the bottom of the rubber ducks because we’ve been having some problems with a few numbers. He wasn’t too thrilled with this one, (probably because it makes the least amount of mess) but he’ll come around.

rubber ducks for sensory bins
sensory bin with rubber ducks and cotton balls

Finally, we did dry pasta and a mini foam board I found that he could put the letters into. I love this one! We are trying to learn the difference between numbers and letters and this one is awesome because it has letters and numbers.

sensory bin with dry pasta and letters
sensory bin with foam letters

As for my “extras….”

messy sensory bin items

*Baking soda and vinegar is just awesome together. I’ve never shown D before but I will. It’s a really cool reaction, so this will be in my “messy bin” (the bin that needs to be cleaned out after every use!)
*Shaving cream is also awesome and will be a part of the messy bin.
*The toothbrushes will be in a soapy water messy bin with his cars so he can wash them.
*The funnels can really go into any bin. D found a home for them in the oatmeal bin!

Other things we will do in the messy bin:
*Clean mud (shaved bar soap and torn up toilet paper mixed with water)
*Baking soda and water (3:1)
*Play dough (homemade or otherwise)
*Water beads (these are found at most craft stores and some dollar stores)
*Pumpkin guts
*Hair gel
*Cooked spaghetti noodles

The opportunities for sensory play are ENDLESS! You can also add any small plastic toys really to these sensory bins. I could go on for hours on sensory activities.

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48 thoughts on “6+ Sensory Bins for under $30 – with tons of other ideas!

  1. I love your simple ideas! Thanks for sharing. It was mostly reminders for me after childcare for 35 years but now it is saved on pinterest! Thanks again!!๐ŸŽˆSusie

      1. I work with children as B.H.S. many having sensory needs. I found flatter containers with locked lids at big lots 4″deep by 12″long 8″wide. They really stack well in my in the back of my car. I also used dollar store finds in them……rice w/ measuring cups &set measuring spoons, green sand and fairies and a few fairy decor items (from big lots), white sand with frozen mini figures, water beads clear and a box of growing your own bth from dollar tree. Like you it provides sensory play while economical. I also have one filled with kenetic sand and mini molds that I used 50%and 60% off coupons to keep cost down.

        1. I love this idea!! Would they be suitable for a 26 month old?

          1. With supervision, yes! ๐Ÿ™‚

      2. Love your ideas with the sensory bins. I teach Kindergarten and these would be awesome for my kiddos. Thank you!

      3. Hi melanie
        I might reading your wonderful post.
        My 3 n half year son is borderline high functioning autism with sensory issues.
        I m not able to understand how to use these bins to teach or play with him. Can u post some videos or suggestions at my drshikhadeep@yahoo.com
        Will b really grateful for ur help

        1. Hi Deepshikha! I will send you an email this weekend

    1. I have a 1 and 2 yr old. Any ideas on how i can keep clean up to a minimum with this activity?

      1. I usually have my kids play with it on a towel!

  2. Sensory bins are one of my favorite tools to engage and stimulate students. I always have some sort of containers on the side to sort or collect items in. Great ideas! Thank you!

  3. With the numbers on the bottom of the duckies, what activity did you do with them? I’m working on number recognition with my 2.5 year old. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Sonya! Sorry for my late reply! We talked about the number or we would pull a duck, and then pull that many cotton balls out ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I am going to be teaching in an early childhood life skills room (3 โ€“ 5 years old) next year after being a 2nd grade teacher for 9 years! I am looking for these type ideas! Thanks!

  5. There are great ideas! I too am starting to teach 3-4 old and will be doing these! I was wondering how to do these in a classroom setting do you do one bin and kids rotate using it or 2 at a time? Not quite sure how to do that any suggestion would be wonderful! Thank you!

    1. I use them at home, but when I taught, I would do 2 kids at each bin if they are the smaller ones. And maybe 2 bins at a table, if you trust they won’t mix stuff from one bin to the other ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. I love these ideas. I teach special education and these bin ideas will be a great addition to my classroom for my younger grade students. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. I never knew this was a therapy approach but I have been making plastic shoe boxes of themes.So far I have made a seascape โ€œsandboxโ€ with shells, small plastic sea creatures, sand, rocks and some blue flat marble-like gems for โ€œwaterโ€. My next idea is to do woodland Box with some woodland animals, plastic plants, sand or some sort of โ€œdirtโ€ item and some different sized pieces of branch cut into โ€œlogsโ€. Then another spin off of that is to just cut up various slices of tree discs from different trees with the various colors, bark, rings, sizes, and weights and sand them down and maybe put them in a wood box of some sort which can double as a play space to stack them. Other themes might be insects, fake leaves, branches etc. These are more playscapes but similar idea. My granddaughters ask to come play with their โ€œsandboxesโ€ all the time.

  8. Thanks for these awesome ideas and economical finds. With a class of say 12-14 how would you organize/ schedule your sensory bins to accommodate that number of children using them at one time and/ or as I have my classroom set up into centers, would you simply make it a center activity? What sensory bin would you assign to what specific academic center if at all?
    Thank you

    1. We have a sensory table (sand/water) that accommodates 4 kids at a time. We just use larger quantities of the materials. Our kids are free to move to whatever interests them as long as there is space and they clean up after themselves. Usually whatever is set up in the sensory table is left out for a week. Water and other wet materials have to be cleaned out at least once a day. Shaving cream is a big hit, but unfortunately Michigan outlawed it a year ago.

  9. I LOVE these ideas. I too would like more info on how to incorporate into my TK class of about 25 students. I’m going to try and go shopping tomorrow and see what I can find. I’ll have my niece play with what I get to test them. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thank you.

    1. It can be a “learn as you go” kind of thing, really. Kids like to direct their own play, and that’s ok! See where they take it!

  10. I love these ideas! I have a three year old and went shopping today for this. I wondered if the โ€œdryโ€ bins with beans and macaroni need to be cleaned out after each use or can they just be covered and stored?
    Thank you!

    1. We have bins of dry beans and pasta from 2 years ago! You’re good ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. I keep a lid on my dry bins and have had some for years.

  11. I have a daughter with sensory integration disorder. She is 14 but this will be awesome for her! Thank you for sharing!!

  12. Thanks for your inspiration! I feel a trip to Dollar Tree coming on. I work with 2 and 3’s and have been looking for something different for our sensory box. Ours currently has rice in it with construction vehicles. When I first set it up, I dyed the rice brown to look like dirt. (I know, they do sell brown rice). I do hesitate on beans and rocks since they so nicely fit into ears and up noses. I’ve also used paper shreds in my bug/lizard box.

    1. Thanks for the ideas! Hahaha – yes, they do fit nicely up noses and ears so that may be difficult in a classroom setting.

  13. I use a plastic tablecloth under the bin. The kids have more space to get comfortable. I, too have resorted to using larger, flatter contsiners. I throw in tongs and chopsticks to build fine motor skills. So far the favorite base is lentils and kidneybeans. They love to run their hands through the beans, as they have a silky texture.

  14. How do you keep them from just dumping all the contents out of the box?

  15. Please remember raw kidney beans are poisonous do not use them with children.

    I love your bin ideas!!

  16. Do you you have any sensory bin ideas for a 16 month old.

    1. Hi Sierra! I have a good guide for bins if you sign up for my mailing list on the form in this post ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Hi Melanie
    I have a 3 yr old grandson who is high functioning autism with sensory issues. Can you send me the same email you sent Deepshikha so I can learn how to use the bins to teach, play and have fun with him. Thanks so much.

  18. I really love these sensory bins. I haven’t thought about using oatmeal before for something like this. The fact that you can get everything from the Dollar Tree is just an added bonus!

  19. Thank you so much for sharing! I find this so helpful. May I know the size of the bin that you use? Thanks again.

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