Sensory play is commonly discussed in early childhood education. Most of us are familiar with the IKEA sensory table photos on Pinterest, the playdoh kits on Etsy, or the absolutely amazing kinetic sand bin that will have even you fully immersed in the play. Honestly, I’m almost thirty and I get really excited about sensory play and creating sensory trays or bins for my kids. This year, I plan to be more intentional with sensory play invitations in our homeschool. Here are 5 simple steps you can use for creating an inviting sensory tray or bin.
Sensory Play for Brain Development
Sensory play is much more than finger painting or playing with homemade playdoh. It promotes language and fine motor skills, which is great for brain development. “Sensory exploration is a child’s way of examining, discovering, categorizing, and making sense of the world (source).” To create an epic sensory play activity, you want to think about all five senses and not just touch alone. Consider sight, smell, hearing, and in some cases, taste when creating or designing a sensory tray.
Creating an Inviting Sensory Tray in 5 Simple Steps
Pinterest can be pretty intimidating, and we might not always have it in the budget to buy pre-made sensory kits. So, lets keep things simple so that you can create your very own “Pinterest-worthy” sensory trays or bins.
Before you begin, you’ll want to have either a tray, bin, board, or whatever that can be used for your sensory play invitation.
Step 1: Filler or Base for Sensory Tray
Once you have your blank canvas (i.e. a tray), you can choose a filler or base. This is the main touch aspect of your tray. You can also include sight in this area by getting creative with color. Here are some examples of commonly used fillers and bases:
- dry beans or peas
- dry pasta
- dried corn kernals or popcorn kernals
- dried oats
- shredded paper
- water beads
To add color to these items, simply use dye. There are some great natural dyes you can purchase or make yourself with things like turmeric powder. Include your child’s sense of smell by using naturally scented playdoh. This can be done with things such as coffee or essential oils (be cautious when using essential oils that may cause harm if a child happens to eat any of these fillers).
*Using food as a filler for play may not be a responsible option for some, so I recommend using natural resources in your environment. Dirt, clay, sand, rocks, rainwater, etc. are great. Creativity is endless.
Step 2: Additional Textures
While we do have touch covered with our filler, you want to include additional textures to the tray. These could be a bit larger in size compared to the filler. For example:
- wool balls
- wood cubes or slices
- glass gems
- grapat loose parts
Step 3: Themed Trinkets
Here is the fun part! Themed trinkets. Creating a themed sensory tray is a fun way to include your child’s interest and make this invitation to play super fun. These trinkets are things you might find in nature (acorns, pine cones, flowers, etc.) or at your local craft shop, dollar store, or target dollar spot. Think seasonal here as well. Mini holiday trinkets like Christmas boxes or nativity pieces. Here are some fun themes and trinket examples:
- Autumn: felt leaves, acorns, and pinecones
- Space: astronaut figurine, space ship, and star trinkets
- Dinosaurs: dino figurines, sticks, and little wood eggs
- Ocean: sea creature figurines, shells, and a boat
- Farm: mini picket fence, animal figurines, and peg people or figurines
- Bugs: toy bugs and sticks
- Vegetable Garden: wood food, mini watering can, and empty seed packets
For a great black-owned and women-owned shop for pre-made themed sensory kits or non-toxic playdoh jars to use in your own tray, visit Capptivating Play.
Step 4: Sensory Tray Tools: scoops, tongs, bowls, rollers, stampers, ect.
Next, you’ll want to add a few tools to your sensory tray or bin. These are pretty straightforward. Remember, you don’t have to overwhelm the tray with tools, one or two tools will go a long way. Switch it up from tray to tray to keep things new and inviting.
Step 5: Educational Resources
Finally, add your educational resources. Because I love books, I recommend including one in every sensory tray invitation. Pair a related book with the activity and offer to read it as a read-aloud while they play. If your child is reading, including a book for their reading level. If they read it, great, if not, that’s fine too. They may just flip through for inspiration. Here are some other examples of educational resources to include when creating an inviting sensory tray or bin:
- flash cards
- chalk board
- worksheet (if your kid enjoys them)
There you have it! I hope you will give creating your own sensory tray or bin a try.
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Does your child enjoy sensory activities? What are their favorite types of fillers or trinkets? Share with us in the comments.
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