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. 😉 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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