5 sensory tray play ideas for toddlers and preschoolers

Posted in Play and Activities.

The basic idea of sensory play is any activity that involves and stimulates a young child’s sense of smell, sight, hearing, touch or taste. Some activities can even involve all five senses! Anything that can encourage a child to investigate, create, play and explore is always a good thing.

A simple and easy way to integrate sensory play into your child’s day is by creating a sensory tray using a long narrow under-bed storage container and filling it with a variety of things for your child to explore. 

Sensory trays can be used (with supervision) from the age of about 18 months, and can be enjoyed all through primary school, too.

Our favourite place to find ‘tools’ for sensory trays are cheap shops: lolly-scoops, measuring cups and spoons, ice-cream scoops, funnels, cutters and little cups and containers for filling and emptying. You can also buy small animal figurines, beads, glitter and sequins to enhance the play experience further.

Here are five fun sensory play tray ideas to try at home

1. Rice tray

Try filling your sensory tray with uncooked rice, a few drops of vanilla essence and a selection of mixing and pouring elements and watch as your child explores. You can add little animal figurines, cupcake patty pans, muffin trays and scoops. Even adults can enjoy the relaxing therapeutic process of running rice through their hands!

You may even like to add some rainbow colours to your rice to bring another element of fun to this activity. Check out this easy tutorial from Messy Little Monster.

Rainbow rice sensory play tray from messylittlemonster.com

2. Shaving foam tray

This one is probably best done outside for a quick clean up afterwards. Try emptying three canisters of shaving foam gel into your tray (cheapest is fine), along with a few drops of food colouring and a drop of peppermint essential oil for a sensory delight! Watch as your child explores with their hands and even their feet. You might want to have a hose nearby for this one when they’re ready to be finished for a quick and easy clean up… or you could even do the activity in the bath!

And check out these 14 other amazing activities to try with shaving foam, or you can even make your own aquafaba (a non-toxic alternative to shaving foam) with the liquid from a can – or three – of chickpeas!

3. Kinetic sand tray

Kinetic sand is a bit of a weird substance but it’s super cool, too. It’s sand with another component or two added to it which means it keeps it’s form but also goes really soft with pressure. You can also leave it out uncovered, unlike playdough. It’s a unique experience to explore. You can find it at Kmart.

Try placing this into your sensory tray with shape cutters, make hand or footprints in it, tracing letters or numbers, maybe add glass beads into it and make mandalas or even hide little gems in it for a ‘treasure hunt’.

Kinetic Sand product

4. Pom pom tray

Try adding some pompoms to your sensory tray, along with some old toilet rolls to push them through, an ice-cream scoop and some cups. You could also extend this experience by teaching colour sorting, counting and categorisation. 

Pom pom sensory play tray - feature

Just don’t let the cats near this one unless you enjoy picking them up from all over the house. I speak from experience!

5. Ooblek

Another fabulous messy one! Simply add one packet of cornflour to about a cup of water and a few drops of food colouring, then combine in your tray.

Ooblek is a weird substance in that, like kinetic sand, when it is held firmly in the hand it stays hard and then it turns back to liquid. It’s fun to play with and explore just on its own, but your child can also try running cars through it, using a colander or strainer, using mixing bowls or even experimenting with colour mixing by adding different food colourings to it. 

Ooblek doesn’t keep, so toss it out when you’re done and hose off.

Sensory play is a fun thing to do with your child, and after a while you may even find yourself thinking about the different things you could add or switch up your tray with. Other fun ideas are dry pasta, shells, shredded paper, bark and even dirt to make a mud kitchen.

Have fun exploring together!


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