This is a post in our Play on a Budget series. Other posts include:
I thought I'd write a post on how to set up a starter kit of commonly used sensory/play materials for those of you who are just getting started. Every person has their own preferences, of course, but here's a list of what I'd buy (and why!) if I had a budget of $20 and could only shop at one store - the Dollar Tree. I picked the Dollar Tree because it seems to be everywhere in the US, and ought to be pretty easily accessible for most of you. If you don't have one near you, but do have a Target - I've put together a Target sensory kit here.
I was able to come in under budget again because a few of the things on my list were actually less than a dollar (baking soda and salt!). I have noticed a lot of variation in what is available at each Dollar Tree, so this is based off of the selection at mine - you may have more or less available at yours (hopefully more!).
First off, I had to include baking soda and vinegar because we SO love them. Just plain baking soda and vinegar is so much fun. We've also used them to make Fizzing Gelatin and our Fizzing Hidden Ocean World, our Fizzing Rainbow Slush, and even in our Fizzy Foaming Car Wash, to name a few.
Funnels, a big scooping spoon, and a set of measuring cups are things we use all the time for simple sensory play. Because they have such a wide application, I knew I wanted them in my kit.
Next from the food section, I grabbed oats because they are such a fun material to play with. You could set up our Oatmeal Textures Sensory Bin with these. I chose salt because it's a great material for dumping and scooping. We like to color ours, and you can see us playing with it in our Funnels and Tubes post. I bought flax seed because it would be a great substitution for birdseed - it's still a seed and would behave similarly - so you could do something like our Birdseed Sensory Play with the flax seeds. I bought cooking oil for use in making baby safe Cloud Dough.
I added Penne pasta for art, making necklaces, or doing a Dry Pasta sensory play; I added Linguine for making our Dirt and Worms sensory bin, or our Rainbow Spaghetti. I included beans because they are fun to plant and grow and can also be used as a fill material in small worlds or as a standalone sensory material. And finally I included rice because we love to play with rice by itself, as we did in our Rice Play and we also love to color it and add it to small worlds/sensory bins. You can read how we make rainbow rice in our How To Color Rice post.
I grabbed shaving cream, which we've used in a Shaving Cream Search and in our Dragon World small world. I also grabbed four sponges for use in a Washing Station. And I've included a bag of cotton balls for the Wet Cotton Ball sensory play and/or for making Baked Cotton Balls.
Our Dollar Tree didn't have a great selection of miniatures when I was there, but these guys were pretty cute, so I added them as "guys" for small world play.
Play foam is fun for Window Art (we also used it to make our Recycled Car City) and we use pom poms frequently (though I don't have any posts up currently involving them, so you'll just have to trust me on that).
Here is the complete sensory kit I would put together for someone starting out if I had just $20:
Now, there are a few other fantastic things that I'd like to point out at the Dollar Tree:
These are FABULOUS art/craft supplies. All of the above items are frequently utilized in our Art Room, so I figured I would point those out, since at $1 a piece, they are a great deal. I joke not, the Dollar Tree is the BEST place to buy googly eyes! They have the assorted sizes and the huge eyes are hilarious.
Recognize these from my small worlds? Love all three of these. We have several packs of the mixed gems.
And check these out! These are officially "sound tubes" but they'd work great for our Funnels and Tubes. Basically all you'd need to complete the set-up we had in that post is some suction cups, since the Dollar Tree also carries funnels and salt!
Our Dollar Tree had a lot of what I wanted, but there were a few items that I would still want to add to a kit if there was room in the budget/they were available in the store. I'd love to add flour to complete the recipe for Cloud Dough. I was also SO saddened by the lack of cornstarch since it's my personal favorite (you can see how we've played with it with Cornstarch and Water, to make Pretend Frozen/Melting Ice Cream, and in my Dinosaurs and Sticky Mud world). Finally, I would want to add some sort of coloring - be it food coloring, or our favorite - liquid watercolors. Liquid watercolors last longer, are more vibrant, come in a wider variety of colors, and are completely washable (at least in our experience). We buy our liquid watercolors from Discount School Supply.
To make things as easy as possible, I've also typed up a free printable shopping list, which you can access here: Printable Dollar Tree Shopping List.
For further reading in the vein of Play on a Budget, check out:
Sensory Materials that Last by Train Up a Child
Please always supervise your infant/child at play. Please stay within arms reach and never leave infants/children unattended.