Believe it or not, a lot of things my kids use throughout the summer come from Dollar Tree. You can get a lot for a little, even with the quarter price increase. Since the children are incredibly rough on their toys, I don’t feel quite as bad if something breaks. To use Dollar Tree items for kids, it requires a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. This guide will provide you with over 75 Dollar Tree items your kids need for summer and a tip or two on how to use them!
Silicone Kitchen Tools
Plastic shovels crack and break in the heat and cold. The kid-size silicone tools hold up extremely well in all weather. Not only is there a variety of fun tools like ladles, brushes, whisks, spatulas, tongs, and spoons, but they come in different colors so each child can have their own. Use them in water, sand, mud, mulch, pea gravel, or anything else kids see fit.
Measuring Spoons and Cups
The quality of Dollar Tree’s measuring spoons and cups is pretty surprising. I actually have two sets that I use in the kitchen because they work really well. As for outside play, they stand up to weather and being stepped on or thrown against other toys. They have yet to break or crack despite being left outside during all four seasons. We use them in our outdoor play kitchen to measure out sand which is great math and science skill building. They make great molds for wet sand too. Since it is only $1.25 for the set, I was able to get one for each kid to avoid sharing squabbles.
Measuring Cup (Wet)
The plastic wet measuring cup is used in our backyard for pinecones, rocks, sand, and water. The handles work well with little hands and make pouring easy. No cracking or breaking on ours yet, so they seem to hold up well!
The Betty Crocker colander is small enough for the kids to play with. Use it to wash rocks or sift sand. The plastic holds well and there hasn’t been any cracking. We do try to keep this one put away for the colder months to avoid brittle plastic breaking.
What would an outdoor kitchen be without some bowls? I love the small size of these as they work perfectly for kids. There are stainless and plastic ones to choose from, but try to go for the stainless if you can. The plastic one is pretty sturdy, but it has cracked on us.
Sure, you could use these for making some refreshing lemonade on a hot summer day, but citrus squeezers would also be a fun addition to a water table. Add the squeezers with things to be squeezed like sponges, yarn, and construction paper. Also try other fruits like grapes, berries, or tomatoes. These are great for working on fine motor skills and strengthening hand muscles.
Otherwise known as a sieve, these hand strainers can sift sand to find buried treasures or little rocks. Use in a water table or pool to scoop out toys or as a bug catcher. There are different sizes to suit your needs, but since it is Dollar Tree, getting them all is certainly feasible!
I suggest getting a couple packs of the condiment bottles if you can. There are many uses for them during the summer and beyond. Fill them with water and squeeze onto sand or even hot sidewalk to draw shapes, pictures, or practice letter writing. Add a few drops of watercolor or food dye to make paintings on a pillow case, sheet, or old towel. Wash to keep playing or let dry to use for play or clean up. These are just a couple of examples. Let imaginations go and have fun!
For $1.25 you can get a mold to make 4 popsicles. Little ones will have fun adding fruit to the cups. Fill with water or your child’s favorite juice, smoothie, or yogurt and freeze! A homemade frozen treat always tastes better and it definitely makes parents feel better. The popsicle maker is one Dollar Tree item kids need for summer!
While it is obviously a great use to make ice for hot summer days, ice trays can be used a number of ways – including outside of the freezer. Adding watercolor or food dye, a popsicle stick and then freezing creates frozen paint brushes. Use the trays to send children on a scavenger hunt or sort things they find on a nature walk. Presenting children with a bag of mixed beads, gems, or anything to be sorted will keep them busy for quite awhile!
A funnel can be great practice for hand/eye coordination. Fill bottles (like the condiment ones from above) with sand or water using the funnel. The funnel set found in the kitchen gadgets section comes with three, all in different sizes, making it a great value!
What are my kids going to do with a veggie brush, you ask? Lots of things! They can scrub off dirt from rocks, logs, or structures. The brush can be dipped into water and used on a sunny patio as a paint brush or make interesting prints in the sand. I guarantee if you give your child a harmless veggie brush, they will find a fun, new use for it!
When used carefully, bamboo skewers can be neat tools for fine motor skills including hand/eye coordination. Kids can create their own fruit kabobs by threading berries and other cut fruit. Walk with the children finding different groundscapes to see what the skewers poke into easier. Mulch? Grass? Rockbed? The skewers can also be used like pencils to help children form the proper grip while writing in sand or mud.
A potato masher can be used for art projects, sensory activities, or motor skills, so it can be a good idea to have one designated for play. Dip them in paint and stamp away or mash some sand, mud, or dough. The metal, wavy masher (where available) makes a sturdy hand rake for pea gravel pits or unearthing rocks.
Like the ice cube trays, veggie trays can be used for sorting, but with bigger materials. They are also a good way to keep craft supplies together when taking them outside to work on. You can also use them for their intended purpose by putting snacks, fruits, and veggies in them for outdoor eating.
Cake Frosting Shapers
These are great for carving out sand castle details, making pictures in the mud, or playing with dough. The scrapers can make cool patterns in sand and would be great to make roads or paths for creative imaginative play.
Silicone Dressing Dispenser
The smaller size of these dressing dispensers make them easier to hold and squeeze for toddlers. They can be filled with paint, water, or other liquids to strengthen those hand muscles. If the tops are secure, you could also fill with water and freeze to soothe gums for teething babies.
Mini Square Containers
While these could be used to store small craft items, kids will love using them to form sand cubes. Challenge preschoolers to see what they can find to put inside to assist with spacial awareness skills. We also use them for temporary bug storage (no lid) while observing them before releasing them back into their environment.
Water Dispenser with Spigot
“Mom! I’m thirsty!” “Mom! I’m out of bubbles!” Sound familiar? Grab a couple of these for $1.25 each to hold off some of those pleas. Definitely a Dollar Tree item kids need for summer; fill one with ice water and keep it for drink refills. Use another to fill with soap water for a bubble refill station. Not only does this encourage independence, but children will enjoy the novelty of dispensing the liquid.
3 Pack Plastic Cups
Whether you decide to use them as outdoor cups to drink out of that won’t break when dropped (because, kids…) or you use them for play, pick up a few sets of these cups. My two love them in the pool or tub and often pour their pretend nature punch into them.
We use the white shower curtain liner as a drop cloth or table cloth for art projects mostly. It wipes up decently, but if it doesn’t and gets stained it is no big deal. A shower curtain can also be used if you have a projector and want to do movie night or to use as a blank canvas for slip and slide art – not for the faint of heart.
Long Reach Pick-up Tool
Kids love grabber tools. It works their hand and arm muscles and challenges their hand/eye coordination. Have them use it to pick up trash on a walk in the neighborhood for a lesson in community and self-esteem. Take it to the beach and try to grab shells or rocks. Or come up with a reaching game of your own!
The texture of sand paper is used often for sensory activities, so why not grab some for yourself to use at home? Use the paper by itself or attach it to blocks and let children rub two together for some music. Rub it on the sidewalk for another type of sound. Give them a piece of wood and allow them to sand it, pointing out how the texture of the wood is changing. Different grits of sandpaper feel different and will produce different results, so give them all a try!
Orange Safety Cones
You can buy a single in the automotive area or a two pack in the toy area. Which ever you choose, know that they can be used for more than just setting boundaries. Create goals or track areas to maneuver balls or bikes through. Use them as a post for a ring toss game by cutting out the center of a paper plate or a glow necklace. I have also used them to play the shell game with younger toddlers and older infants to work on object permanence.
I have let my kids use these paint brushes with water to brush just about anything in the backyard on a hot day. They love holding the bigger brushes and covering more area and I don’t mind because the water evaporates. Another cool way to use them is with chalk. After making a chalk drawing, use the dry brushes to blend in the chalk. This keeps the dust and color off of fingers and conserves chalk by spreading the color out.
Paint Trim Cups
Fill them with water and use with the paint brushes from above. The handle is easy to hold and carry around whether it is filled with water, snacks, or sand. They also make great scooping buckets to take to the beach or use in the pool.
Hanging out until dark in the summer time is something most families do. Even if you aren’t camping, pick up a few of these lanterns for the kiddos. They will love running around with them as the sun sets and the fireflies come out. They can also be used indoors for living room camp outs or fort play. I found these two different types at my local Dollar Tree. Either would work well, so pick them up because they make a great Dollar Tree item kids need for summer!
Don’t live near the beach? No problem! Pick up a bag or jar of seashells from Dollar Tree and add them to the sand box. Children can search for them just like they would on the beach. They are also fun to play with in the water or just by themselves. Talk about some of their differences or similarities and use the ice trays to sort them.
LED Waterproof Candle
Another fun addition to the pool or water table is to add waterproof LED candles. Warm summer evenings will be that much more exciting watching lights ripple in the water. Set them up around the bathtub for indoor play too.
Usually used for scrubbing pots and pans, the nylon scrubbers can be fun for kids too. Their texture is what catches the attention of children initially, but toss them in soapy water with some of the sand toys and let the children wash their own dishes. Use them with paint to create interesting stamps.
Regular sponges can be used similarly to the scrubbers. They can be cut to fit inside a citrus squeezer or to work with any project or activity you’d like. Car wash sponges are also a great addition to the list of Dollar Tree items kids need for summer. I fill up a big bucket and let the kids wash down their bikes, scooters, and ride on cars.
A shower or window squeegee can be used to smooth out sand, push water, or even paint. Truth be told, I have let them sponge water on our patio door and squeegee it off. It may not be a streak-free clean, but at least I didn’t have to do it!
Sponge Mop Head
Not only can the sponge be used for water play (or window washing), but the attached squeezer is great for building strength and motor skills. Fill a bin with water and let them explore. Children love to use the same tools adults do and giving them free range with them allows them to explore, problem solve, and think outside the box.
If you can get your children to do laundry then you must be some sort of magician. Otherwise, a laundry basket can be used for more than just clothes. Use it as a ball toss goal inside or out. Practice fine motor skills and patterning by weaving ribbon or even paper strips around the outside. Flip it to cover a toy and let infants problem solve trying to get it out during tummy time. As a bonus, you can also use it to hold stray toys!
The pinching variety of clothes pins are my favorite to use. When squeezing them open, children are working their finger muscles, which will help when grasping writing utensils. This can also teach them cause and effect as they pinch to see the other end open up. Use them for holding items like cotton balls, leaves, or other material that you can then use as a paintbrush. Take them apart and use the wooden pieces for craft projects.
As all of the products and activities should, this requires adult supervision and involvement. Clothes line or utility rope can be used create boundaries on the ground for a variety of activities. Encourage gross motor by making it wavy and letting children jump over it. Lay it out in shapes or even like a floorplan to play house. If you have a couple of trees to string it up between a couple times, children can throw balls over it like a net. Preschoolers and older children create spider webs by wrapping more line or rope back and forth in an up and down and diagonal motion.
Oval Slotted Baskets
Perhaps less of a play item and more for storage purposes, these oval slotted baskets are great. Place sand or water toys inside to store, but still be able to air out and dry. The handles make them easy to transport to the beach or water table. A fun way the kids can use them is to stand behind the basket and have another child toss a water balloon into it. When it goes in and bursts, the child gets wet!
These divided caddies are great for transporting supplies (craft or food) inside and out. We love to eat outside when weather permits, so having something to carry all of our goodies in is super helpful. They are a great size for children to be able to carry their own caddy filled with sand tools or anything else they don’t have enough hands for.
Clear Contact Paper
If you haven’t been using contact paper with kids, you’re missing out. This is one item I haven’t been able to live without since discovering classroom uses years ago. It makes a great substitute for lamination if you want to preserve an activity. It sticks to walls and windows and removes easily. My favorite use is to encourage children to stick fallen flower petals, leaves, or other nature bits they find to create a collage.
While this is something I’m sure you already have in your arsenal, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up some more for the summer. Crafting on rainy days always tend to require colorful paper to brighten the day, but even sunny days could use some. Sun bleaching around toys is a fun way to learn about the sun’s power – and maybe even the importance of wearing sunscreen.
Brown Paper Wrapping
Giant paper for life-size art? Yes please! Kids will love drawing or painting over such a large surface. Trace the outline of their body and have them design and color in a cool outfit for the summer. Use it to cover tables of surfaces you don’t want colored on or practice team work and social skills by creating a mural.
Windy days can send papers soaring, making art outside difficult. Pick up some clipboards (and maybe a box of binder clips) to help keep paper in place when painting or drawing outside. They are also portable lap desks for drawing in the car or holding checklists for scavenger hunts and nature walks at the park.
Plastic Activity Tray
If you have checked out any of my other activity posts, you might recognize these trays. They work great for keeping materials together, but separated for each child. They are slightly sectioned off to provide space for four different objects if desired. This makes it convenient for sorting and classifying.
Found in the teacher section, the jumbo tweezers are just the right size for little hands. If you are at a loss with what to do with them, I can assure you that if you hand a pair to a child, they will practice pinching just about everything!
Paint w/ Water Activity Books
There were two different types of these available the last time I was in Dollar Tree. One is similar to the Water Wow pads by Melissa & Doug, as it includes a fillable pen that then reveals pictures when colored. These are great for travel because they are virtually mess free. The second type was a pad with pictures and built in paint. Simply wet a paint brush and paint away! These might require some care since there is actual paint involved.
Floating Water Game
Parents and grandparents should remember these. I know I do! Another great item to take for traveling is this handheld water game. Shaped like a video game, children can press the buttons to try to get the rings where they belong. I have to admit, I may have played with it for quite awhile in the store myself. For only $1.25 each, it might be wise to pick up a few!
Pick up a multipack of toothbrushes next time you stop at the Tree. There are kid and adult sizes available. Toothbrushes can be used as a unique paintbrush to create interesting art. Give children a little soap and water for some mini scrubbing action or use it dry to spread chalk or sand. It is the little tool your kids never knew they could have so much fun with!
Mesh Bath Sponges
These bath sponges can create a ton of bubbles! Stick them in a tub with soap and water and squish and squeeze away. Children will enjoy the process and the results! I have also used the mesh bath sponges with paint to stamp fun patterns, give hair to portraits, or imaginary creatures.
An extendable massager is just the right size for little ones to push along. Create designs or draw pictures in the sand or with paint. Comb through the long grass or even just relax with a summer massage and some lemonade.
Finger Paint Soap
Crayola finger paint soap is an awesome addition to the pool or tub. Not only does it bring color and creativity to water play, but it is also soap! It has been said (perhaps in jest) that if you give a child soap in the pool then they can skip a bath, so this is definitely a win-win.
This is a medium that is used quite often in sensory activities. The foam is enjoyable to touch and can be mixed with a number of other materials to change it up and make it interesting. Add drops of color and swirl it in for a galaxy effect. Mix with equal parts of glue to make puffy paint and create 3D art. The best part is that shaving cream is essentially soap, so it practically cleans itself.
Every time I pick a spray bottle up for myself, the kids always seem to run off with it. Most of the time they are squirting each other with them, which is perfect for hot summer days. They can also be used for activities like spraying colored water onto white shirts or paper. Twist the tip to make a stream and create a target for them to try to aim for. The sprayer will strengthen hand muscles and they will be working on hand-eye coordination.
Consider this a flexible hand rake. The spa comb can be used in a sand table or pea gravel pit. It would even be great for art projects, as children can maneuver the tines like a brush.
Protect those little eyes with a pair of sunglasses. For only $1.25 a pair, you won’t be out a fortune if they get broken or left at the park. It might be wise to pick up a few pair right away in case of such instances.
First Aid Kit
Warm weather and outside play means more active kids and most likely more accidents, especially when little ones are just learning to walk, run, or climb. These handy little first aid kits are perfect to slip in a diaper bag, purse, or even a pocket for on the go boo-boos.
Plastic Baby Plates
I have tried a few different plates for outdoor kitchen play and these plates found in the baby department seem to hold up the best. The plastic is a little thicker and doesn’t become brittle. Plus, they are the perfect size for the kids to handle. They also make great picnic plates!
Wipes come in handy for pretty much anything. The smaller packs available at Dollar Tree are convenient to stuff in a purse or diaper bag or even keep in the car. They will clean up those little fingers and faces in no time and wipe up spills or art marks in a flash.
Little ones might not be able to wiggle their hips enough to actually hula hoop – though it is always adorable to see them try. However, hula hoops come in handy for lots of outdoor games. Create Venn diagrams while sorting and classifying toys or natural materials. Let children to roll the hoops or encourage young infants to move outside the hoop by scooting or crawling.
Obviously great for the pool, these foam noodles are a must have from Dollar Tree for summer. My kids sometimes use them to battle each other, but if you prefer a less violent use, try using them for a marble run (for children over 3). Cut them in half for stability and use them as a low balance beam for gross motor practice. They can also be cut into 1, 2, or 3 inch pieces to create stacking blocks for littles.
If you need something to freshen up pool play, pick up one of these fishing games. Children will have three fish to test their hand-eye coordination. Don’t have a pool? Float them in a plastic dish pan or just toss them in the grass. Pick up a couple sets and challenge children to see who can catch the most.
The packs of animals make neat additions to sand or outdoor play. Children can create mini habitats depending on the type of animal pack you get. It could also make a great extension activity for a summer zoo trip as children try to navigate to find the animals in their collection.
Mini Sweeper w/ Dustpan
Sure, kids could help clean up if you’re lucky. If you teach them to have fun with the tools used for tidying up, you might be more successful. The mini sweeper and dustpan are the perfect size for little hands and allows them to coordinate their hand movements. Start with just the brush and have toddlers sweep beads into a shaped area. Once they master the sweeping motion, add in the dustpan to help move debris away.
Another summer staple is sidewalk chalk. We are always drawing pictures on the patio, driveway, and sidewalk until the rain comes and gives us a fresh canvas. That being said, we go through a lot of chalk. A small bucket for $1.25 is more than reasonable and buying multiples will give you quite a supply. Don’t just use the chalk for pictures, though. You can create a number of activities by drawing on the ground.
Did you know Dollar Tree has large bottles of bubble soap? Pick up several of these for the summer because bubbles are fun and spills are inevitable. When you get them home, pour them right into the water dispensers so older children can help themselves to refill their bottles or the bubble machine.
Watercolor Paint Palette
This is my favorite traditional medium to use outdoors. Not only does it bring color to objects with water, but clean up is a breeze too. Paint on paper or even the sidewalk. Try adding color to white flower petals or see what happens when you add spots to a piece of paper towel. Being outside and letting nature be an inspiration for children is sure to develop some special art.
What do you do when children want to use that color and that color? And that color? You pick up a paint palette! Children can choose up to 6 colors to be placed in the shallow wells of the palette. This helps to conserve paint and give children the freedom to choose how their art looks.
Speaking of paint, how about some chunky brushes? They gather up a lot of paint so kids get the instant gratification when it hits the paper. The thicker handles also make them easier for kids to grasp. Pick up a couple of sets so you can designate one for paint and one for the sand table. They work well for archeological digs when uncovering delicate dino bones.
Sand Claw Scoop
If you have a sand box or a larger area to dig, these claw scoops are amazing. They provide the leverage you need to pick up big scoops of material and are actually pretty fun to use. They are a thinner plastic so take care when the temps get cooler as they will become brittle. Despite that, they would also be fun in the snow if you’re careful.
We have many of these, but it never feels like enough. More often than not, they are used for pinecones, mulch, and other yard debris as opposed to actual sand. Kids love to carry things around and this handled vessel is an inexpensive way to let them do it easily. Plus, it comes with a shovel in case you actually want to use it with sand.
A dishpan can have many uses over the course of the summer. It is the perfect size sensory bin for infants or a single toddler. Fill with shaving cream, Orbeez, or other messy mediums. They also work great when you don’t want to fill up the pool, but a little water play is in order. Even set up a wash station for cleaning off toys and bikes.
This type of ball makes a great alternative to water balloons. There are no little pieces to pick up and no faucet required. Just toss them in the pool or in a bucket of water and let children throw them around. Squeeze them by hand or with a citrus squeezer for some hand muscle building.
Designed to prevent slipping in the tub, the bath mat can be used for the same purpose in the pool. Sometimes when toddlers are just learning to stand and walk, being in a slick-bottomed pool can be dangerous. Put a few of these in the bottom to keep them from falling. They can also provide a bit of texture to explore with feet or during tummy time. Place under a jumper with a puddle of water, so when littles take a hop, they will feel a little splash on their feet and legs.
Not only does it have a pretty sweet texture, but it is also useful for giving things a bit of a scrub. Kids will love playing with it by itself or in water. They can toss it around or see how it works at getting mud off of a shower curtain or other surface.
This food scoop is sturdy enough to use in a pea gravel pit or with wet sand. The scooping design is also helpful for the way kids tend to dig through materials. Other longer handled shovels tend to crack and break. It also holds more substances so little ones can get their tasks completed quicker.
A shampoo massager sounds dreamy by itself, but the handheld design makes it a great tool for children. Stamp it into wet sand or dough to create a bunch of holes at once. Rake it through sand, rocks, or grass for different sensory experiences. Even use it to gently brush along your infant’s skin for some sensory stimulation.
With this list, your children are guaranteed to have one epic summer!