Have you ever thought, “I just need 15 minutes to get the laundry folded, put dishes in the dishwasher, or take a quick shower?” Or maybe you get an important phone call and you need your kids to play quietly. When I was pregnant with twins I was in full on panic mode. I had an almost three-year-old at home with me. I created these bins with the small expectation of getting 15 minutes of quiet play. These totally exceeded my expectations. I was able to get showered and ready in 30 minutes and not have my son asking 5 million questions. Honestly, these bins were created to ease my mom guilt. I wanted a tech-free way to occupy my 3-year-old so I could spend time with my twins and not feel guilty.
I try to weave some learning into each bin. Learning comes in the form of alphabet practice, fine motor, gross motor, or just plain old using his imagination! These are bins he can do independently. We have either done the activity before, or it was self-explanatory. Seriously, take the extra 3 minutes the first time you have a bin or item to show them how to properly clean it up. It saves you so much time in the long run! I have taken some items out of the rotations because they made me want to drink, aka they weren’t an easy cleanup.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I got some items from the Target dollar spot, Amazon, or gifts that my oldest received. Some of these I bought and used in my classroom. These are just ideas of things you have laying around, things you can put on their gifts lists or items you can pick up at garage sales or Facebook Marketplace. When I started I had 6 bins, one for each weekday and an extra to trade out items when I saw he was bored of them. Don’t include items they play with every day. For example, I ended up taking out our Magnatiles because that was a daily play item. Start simple, begin with two bins and go from there. I added Amazon affiliate links for your convenience. I can’t wait to see how these save your sanity like it has for me!
16 Examples of Mama Needs a Minute Bins
Quiet Bin 1
Imaginex Figures– My son played with these sets when he was three. He really started getting into them at 4.5. The pirate ship is his favorite! He just likes pretending with the men and small accessories.
Pipe Cleaners and Beads- The dollar store carries these! I have a plastic baggie I put them in. When my son turned 4, I added them to the bin. When he was almost three we were making bracelets together, he thought it would be funny to act like he was shoving it up his nose. I firmly told him no. Well, he shoved it up there and laughed. This was a day before I had my twins. Luckily, we pushed the nostril down without the bead and he got scared and cried really hard and it shot out the other nostril. Basically, if your child likes to push the boundaries at times, or is 2-3 years old, hold off until they are closer to 4 years old.
Squigz- My one-year-old twins loved the bigger ones! We own the smaller Squinz, but learned about the bigger ones when one of my twins was evaluated for PT. The Physical Therapist stuck them on the mirror and my son stood and pulled them off. I find it funny (now) that one of my twins just didn’t feel like walking. In the moment every ounce of me was worried. Two days before his evaluation, at 16 months, he decided he would try out walking. Now he is unstoppable! These were a great motivator to get him standing and working on his balance as he pulled them off. If you plan to use it with a child younger than three, watch them closely. In a quiet bin, any size would work for 3+.
Quiet Bin 2
Wooden Cars (similar set)-I got the ones in the picture at Target Dollar Spot.
Preschool Puzzle– (similar one to the one pictured) The puzzle pictured above is retired from Lakeshore Learning.
Paper, Hole Punchers, and Scissors- All of these are great for hand strength and fine motor skills. I like these fun scissors
Quiet Bin 3
Colorful Bears (We have the older version) Don’t underestimate these! There are so many possibilities. You can practice patterns, color sorting, pouring, etc.
Dinosaur Magnets– I add a metal baking sheet and he makes scenes.
Mickey Lacing- Great for fine motor. Here is a similar set– they don’t sell the Mickey version anymore!
Playmobil travel set.
Target’s version of Plus Plus – I found these in the Target dollar spot during back-to-school time. We also have these and love them. We keep ours in our travel/doctor visits/restaurant bags.
Quiet Bin 4
Button Art– Great for fine motor! It grows with your child.
Dollar Store Generic Jenga Game- The blocks created countless opportunities for open play and imagination. I love seeing what he comes up with. When combined with the animals he made fences, walking paths, mini houses, etc.
Mini Animals– We own ones similar to these. They are so much fun. I like to talk about and sort animals by their habitats. I have some books that go along with this that I put in there too.
Free Letter Tracing Roads– We love these! I added a hot wheels car and mini train and let my son play away!
Opposites Puzzle- I got this in the Target dollar spot. Here is a similar set! The similar set I linked is perfect for a classroom. If you have a child with special needs or a younger child, they can rely on the pictures. An older child or a typically developing child that is able to read can use the word side. The price is great too!
Quiet Bin 5
Letter Tracing Electronic Game– This is a newer version. I use this with the students I tutor too. They love it! It shows step-by-step where to start and gives feedback. It has a mute button in case you are at a doctor’s appointment or on an important phone call. Parents love it because it teaches correct letter formation in a fun way!
Math Addition and Subtraction Puzzles-I split this set into addition and subtraction Ziploc bags. When my 4-year-old does this independently, he just does the addition. When I’m sitting with him I introduce some subtraction concepts to him.
Lacing Beads– I love how big these are! I tie a few knots at the end of the string, so the beads do not roll off. These are great for fine motor. The large beads are great for little fingers.
Brain Flakes– I bought these when I was teaching first grade. They loved STEM building challenges using this. They made bridges, roads, houses, animals, etc. It comes with soooo many pieces, you could even share these with a friend!
Transportation Magnets– I bought these from the Target. I add in metal baking sheet from the dollar store and my son makes “scenes” with them. I linked it under the name.
Animal Heads and Tails Cards- These are also from Target dollar spot. Yes, I love Target! Here is a similar set. This is great for a young learner!
Quiet Bin 6
Sesame Street Letters– My son loved Sesame Street as a toddler. He got this when he was 2 and around 3 started to put the letters and beginning sounds in names to match them.
Magnetic Cars– I got this from Lakeshore Learning. My son loves to experiment with the magnets.
Play Pack Grab and Go– Surprise! I got this from the Target dollar spot. They are great for on-the-go too! It has 4 crayons, stickers, and a small coloring book.
Magnetic Faces– My oldest got this from Lakeshore Learning as a gift. It is like Mr. Potato Head but with magnets. It has a magnetic board similar to the size in size to a piece of notebook paper. My son laughs after he creates a funny picture! I love this and Mr. Potato Head because it really helped my son think about the details of his face which translated to his pictures… when he will actually draw for me! 🙂
Target Table Builders- These look like mini tables.
Quiet Bin 7
Rhyming Cards– This is great for my 4-year-old. Rhyming is so important for kids!
Water Wow! These have a cult following! I may or may not own 6 of them. I also use the ABC book in tutoring, my students love it! We take them to doctor appointments, church, restaurants, you name it! You just unscrew and add water to the “pen”. Voila! It dries and you can use it all over again! Seriously, what a great deal!
Alphabet Puzzle- similar set
Chip Clips from the dollar store and a ruler- My son likes to sing the “5 green and speckled frogs” song. Then he squeezes (fine motor strength) it off the log and has it jump in the imaginary water. I saw this idea from one of my favorite preschool bloggers!
Hot Wheels and Thomas Trains- He uses the ruler for the road too.
Quiet Bin 8
Carnival Knockdown– I have to admit I was not a fan at first. My 4-year-old was not ready and he became easily frustrated. I got them out a couple of months later and we experimented with the height, distance, and angle of the launcher. He loves it! I added it into the bin after I was confident he could do it independently. The science and math concepts he learned with this is unreal. It has small balls, so keep it away from younger kids. This entertained my son for an hour by himself.
Lacing Set– My son got this as a gift. It is great practice for little hands!
Felt train set- Target dollar spot! Duh! 🙂
Magnetic Shapes- Take a guess… Target Dollar spot! Add in a dollar store metal baking sheet and let your child free play. My son combines shapes to create pictures. I found some on Amazon that are great!
Alphabet Puzzle Cards- Target Dollar Spot around back to school time. I found these similar ones that I like better! The price is great, and they have upper and lower case matching and words and picture matching. This set will grow with your child!
Quiet Bin 9
Number Popsicles– I let my one-year-old twins play with these. They are big and fun for them to pull off and on, then as they get older they can start matching them.
Transportation Stamps, Ink pad, Colored pencils– I added some paper and added them in the bin when I fully trusted my 4-year-old.
Mini Puzzles– Such a good price! I had these separated by puzzle, but my son just went through a phase where he mixed them up. Now he likes the challenge of figuring out which puzzle it belongs to. Win-win!
Character Take Along Clings– These are great for on-the-go! There are a bunch to choose from!
Bean Bags– These are similar bean bags. I love how the bin that holds everything, doubles as the “bucket”. My son loves tossing the bean bags which are great for working on gross motor skills. Mom win!
Quiet Bin 10
Linking Chain– These are a similar set at a fantastic price! I bought these over ten years ago to use in my classroom, they are super sturdy and have endless possibilities. I used the chains to track our good classroom behaviors and earn incentives. We also used them for fine motor practice, adding and subtraction concepts, and indoor recess. My son loves pouring and using these in his sensory bin!
Building Brick Bin– This is great for fine motor skills. I love the open play I see my son do with this. It has a built-in base plate and folds up for traveling! I mean come on…this is genius!
Mini Stamper Markers– I added paper. Be sure you really trust your child before giving them markers that could end up on the couch, wall, and coffee table. Not that I would know or anything…it’s amazing what a kid can accomplish in two minutes. Similar markers on Amazon.
Pom Pom Balls, Tweezers, and Scissor Scoop– The ones pictured are from different sets. I linked some great fine motor tools that can be used for so many things! My son likes sorting by color and scooping them up. You can make pictures or patterns with them too!
Quiet Bin 11
Construction Block Set- They don’t sell this set anymore. I found an adorable farm set! It melts my heart listening to my son play with these type of sets. As he gets older his stories and conversations get funnier.
Fire Truck Puzzle– It’s 4 feet long and one of our favorites!
Lacing Shapes- Similar set – These are great for fine motor skills!
Letter Sounds and Names– I love this set! I had one in my classroom that students used when they forgot what sound a letter makes. I only wish it had headphones! This is the only item I added that makes noise you can’t turn off.
Similar Memory Matching Game- This Disney theme is sure to have your little ones begging to play. Mom tip: Split the game into smaller games so it doesn’t overwhelm them.
Quiet Bin 12
Water Pipe Building Blocks– These are fun to combine and build using your imagination!
Car Carrier and Nesting Car Garages– My oldest loves these! He loves the wooden cars and sorting them by vehicle, number, and type of garage. Warning, my one-year-old twins ripped two garages. I wish they were wooden!
Lakeshore Learning Animals– These are great for babies, my 4 year old even gets these out to play. They are bigger than Little People and fun to play with!
Quiet Bin 13
Mess Free– These have been a lifesaver! They only write on paper!
More Coloring without the mess! This one is great for traveling, restaurants, appointments, and when I need 10 minutes of no one hanging on me.
Camping– This has to be my favorite set of all time! The picture on Amazon doesn’t do it justice. It has 11 pieces. I love to play with it and work on words with my twins! My 4-year-old loves it too! We bought the camper to go along with it. It is so much fun!
Tangram Cards- I bought these for my students to use. I got them at Lakeshore Learning. I saw this set and I fell in love! If you are an avid Amazon shopper, here is a great price for a set! Be sure to get a set that has the cards and tangrams pieces.
Quiet Bin 14
Magic Writing Board– This is one of my teacher tricks. When I am tutoring or working with my son, this instantly makes writing/tracing more fun. Have a spelling or sight word list to practice with an older child, bam! This will grow with your child.
Reusable Stickers – They will have fun being creative and it is a fine motor bonus!
Thomas the Train– Around age 2, my son was obsessed with Thomas. I grabbed part of his train collection. He has a million because he was an only grandchild for so long, some were passed down from cousins, and others were gifts. He loves seeing how long he can make a train!
Quiet Bin 15
Bugs and Cage– Don’t underestimate these! My oldest still likes to play with it and he is four. He has had them for over 2 years. I would love a peek at what he is thinking in his head as he plays with these. I like these way better than the “live” ants he would bring to me outside.
Quiet Bin 16
Tractor/Farm Play– My son got these as a gift. He loves getting out his farm bin!
Aqua Doodle– I bought this for my classroom for kids to practice their spelling words and sight words. I let (make) my son practice his name with this!
Fine Motor Stringing– Here is a similar set!
Felt Food- I got this from the Target. Here is a felt food set that I think my son would enjoy more!
- Bins only come out during “quiet time”.
- Must be done independently.
- Hide toys for a few months so they will be new to them again.
- Take the time the first time to show them how to clean up.
- Have several bins so you can rotate them. The first time I started with 5 bins and had a backup bin of items I would trade out.
- Target dollar bins are great for this too!
- You do not need to buy all new, trade toys with a friend. You can also shop garage sales. Check out social media buy/sell groups.
- The dollar store has simple items that kids love for open play.
- Don’t use items that can be a choking hazard or magnets if your child is younger and still puts things in his/her mouth.
- I didn’t add “art” items until recently. Honestly, I didn’t want to worry he was going to use them on the walls when I wasn’t watching. A great alternative is Color Wonder markers/paper for your little one.
- A simple item can astonish you after watching a child use them. For example, our dollar store Jenga like set has been used for roads, cages, skyscrapers, etc. Open play toys are the best!
I made these 16 bins to show you some ideas and some that we have done before. Rotate an item if they do not like them or they are tired of them. Remember, if there is a toy they haven’t played with in awhile, get it back out, often it feels like it is new to them.
Use your judgement on what items are appropriate for independent play. I suggest 3+ but play depends on your child and level of supervision. I hope this saves your sanity like it has done for me!