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Children learn through doing, and they learn through play. When we provide them with rich sensory experiences such as tasting, touching, and smelling, we are helping them to think creatively and constructively.

When you can’t go outside to explore, or you want to provide an outlet for a curious child, sensory tubs are great for building fine motor skills, allowing for messy play, and producing opportunities for curiosity and wonder.

What Is A Sensory Tub?

I’ve always wanted to try different activities with my kids but I didn’t want to create the mess and/or I didn’t have a place for all the stuff.

Sensory tubs are boxes or plastic containers that are filled with things you can touch, see, taste, smell, or even hear.  They can be themed on a topic, a sense, or an activity.

They work great for all ages, but they are usually geared towards toddlers and preschoolers.

Making Thrifty Sensory Tubs

There are plenty of ideas for sensory tubs on Pinterest, and I decided that I would try to make a few using only items I could purchase at our local Dollar Tree.

I purchased everything, including the tubs, at the dollar store.  I spent around $20 for everything shown and I had plenty of extra leaves and tongs left over (they came in a pack of 6 for $1).

Fall Themed Tub

Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I thought a fall themed tub  would be fun.  I included large macaroni, paper leaves with twistable stems, little decorative gourds, boot laces, tongs, and a scoop.

Activities:

  • Lacing macaroni
  • Scooping
  • Sorting
  • Picking up objects with the tongs
  • Linking the leaves together
  • Counting

This tub was planned more for younger children who would enjoy scooping and lacing large objects (around ages 2-4) . They can touch the different textures, hear the macaroni rolling around, and even taste the pasta.

Winter Themed Tub

This tub was all about color and fluffy winter fun!

I started with some cotton balls and a package of colored pom poms.  Then I added Christmas jingle bells, themed erasers, garland, and tongs.

The jingle bells provided a lovely sound sensory and the fluffy cotton could be used to count or fill the rings on the garland.

Water Sensory Tub

By far the most popular tub for my kids and my nephews was the water sensory tub. It had plastic sea creatures, sea life sponges, plastic shower curtain rings, some decorative gemstones, a water squirter toy, a turkey baster, and of course water with a hint of green food coloring.

This tub works great for older kids as well as toddlers. My oldest nephew (6) enjoyed squirting with the baster, sorting the gemstones, and filling and squeezing out the sponges.

Making Your Own Dollar Store Sensory Tubs

Making your own sensory tubs from items you can find at the dollar store is easy and fun. The best part about these tubs is that they store nicely and you can bring them out on a rainy day when your kids just need to play their sillies out.

Be careful about storing items that can spoil and liquids.  I drained the water sensory tub and dried out the toys before I stored it. The macaroni will keep for a long time, but not forever – so I check it each time I get it out to play with.

For safety, you should always supervise your children while playing with the tubs.  Toddlers love to put things in their mouths, plus my 2-year old started to throw the cotton balls everywhere.

For more ideas, themes, and inspiration about making sensory tubs and sensory play in general, check out these awesome blogs:

Do you use sensory activities in your home? What theme would you make a sensory tub?

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Aadel Bussinger
Aadel has been married to her career Army man for 13 years and they have 2 daughters and a freshly made son. She is a homeschooling mom, volunteer, and online college student. Her hobbies include cooking, organic gardening, sewing, and crocheting. She blogs about their military, unschooling life at These Temporary Tents.
Aadel Bussinger

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