Find the Best Sensory Play Items at the Dollar Store

Sensory activities are a great way for young kids to explore and learn, and I’m a big fan of looking for ways to create these activities with items you already have around the home. But sometimes, you need to switch things up or stock up on a few new items to stash away for a boring day. And that’s when your local dollar store (or the dollar aisle of a big box retailer) can help.

They’re called sensory activities because they engage our senses. So you’ll want items that have a variety of textures, can be easily manipulated with little fingers, and are brightly colored or scented.

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A recent trip a few stores in my area—Dollar Tree, the “Dollar Spot” at Target and Five Below—yielded a couple of new strategies you may find helpful when shopping for sensory play items.

Focus on hitting multiple senses

Any activity that deeply engages one sense is good; if you can find something that appeals to two or more senses at the same time, that’s even better.

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Five Below, for example, had an impressively large selection of slime (good sensory item), but the one that caught my attention was the “Scented Fizzygloop,” which engages both the sense of touch and the sense of smell. Great name, great bang for your sensory buck.

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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Anything that involves water play was always a hit in my home, and scented bathtub fingerpaints would be hard to top. You get to splash and make a giant painty mess, all while smelling fruity scents.

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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I even found something that engages THREE senses—gingerbread houses have a variety of textures for the fingers, they smell delicious and you can eat your masterpiece when you’re done (we did eat ours once and it did not taste good—but a sense, nevertheless, was engaged).

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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Plus they look cool! That’s four senses!

Go for the seasonal

Speaking of gingerbread houses—you’ll always be able to find bubbles or squishies or slime in the regular aisles of these stores, but you’ll probably find the best selection of sensory activities in the seasonal section of the dollar store or dollar aisle. You can usually find a new twist on old favorites. For example, Kinetic Sand is incredible stuff. But this time of year in Target, you might find “winter sand”—plus this “Snowputty Surprise,” a holiday version of the traditional dinosaur-buried-in-clay activity:

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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Or a seasonal squishy that can also be decorated:

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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Dollar Tree, in particular, didn’t have much by way of true sensory activities in its regular toy aisles, but offered more arts-and-crafty items in its seasonal section, like these bags for kids to color:

Photo: Meghan Moravcik Walbert

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I liked these because the canvas texture of the bag is different from the usual smooth paper kids are used to drawing on. And if you happen to have scented markers at home, you could pull those out for an even richer sensory experience.

Dollar stores/sections are also great places to stock up on the basics—things like gel window clings, activity packs, puffy or glittery stickers, Silly Putty and Play-Doh, which all have different textures for kids to experience.

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