Sensory Trays

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What are sensory trays? How do they benefit children? What do you put in them? Let’s take a look.


Sensory trays are an instant visual attraction. Trays are used to contain a num-ber of different sensory items, set within a theme, for children to play and ex-plore. Other tools are also provided to aid play such as containers and spoons. The purpose is for children to learn more about the world around them, through their senses.
Since birth learning has been achieved through using all five senses and sensory trays can be used as another tool to explore further into different themes and skills as a child gets older, in a hands on and child led basis.

Ways sensory trays benefit children

Exploratory sense – by giving children a tray of open ended resources it encour-ages children to use materials in a way they see appropriate to them with no pressure to produce an end product. This also increases a child’s confidence to use both new and familiar materials in whatever way. It is important here to pro-vide for children but not to interrupt their play and let them lead their own learn-ing. Sit, observe and watch their imaginations come to life.

Language – this activity absorbs children in language. Although we have said to let your child play independently with this activity, always be on hand to sup-port if needed. Answer their questions ‘what is this called?’, ‘what’s that?’ and engage in their conversations with them leading but encourage them to make their own decisions as to what items are used for.
Maths – This is a great activity for maths skills to develop. Children will quickly want ‘more’ of a sensory item to ‘add’ to another. They will divide objects up, count things, order them, make comparisons, manipulate objects to fit elsewhere to just name a few.

Your role

As said previously, it is important that you let your child lead their play and learning and not get involved too much with this activity. However, it may well be beneficial to ask your child question about the resource they are playing with, but again try and keep these questions open so not to pre empt the answer. Ask about textures they are experiencing, noises any of the materials make through-out the exploring process and the different colours they can see.

Great bases for sensory trays

– Lentils
– Oats
– Seeds
– Coffee beans
– Coloured rice
– Pasta (cooked or uncooked)
– Popcorn kernels
– Sand
– Cornflour and water
– Shaving foam
– Crinkled or ripped paper
– Water

Some great extras to add
– Cinnamon sticks
– Leaves
– Conkers
– Shells
– Pine cones
– Flowers
– Herbs
– Glitter or sequins
– Cotton wool
– Smooth and rough stones
– Small world toys
– Corks
– Pegs

Additional tools

To provide the best opportunity for your child to gain the best out of a sensory tray other objects need to be provided such as:
▪ Sieves
▪ Spoons
▪ Tweezers
▪ Containers
▪ Bowls
▪ Tubes
▪ Words
▪ Funnels
▪ Transport objects e.g diggers
▪ N.B if you are using this resource for a number of children, make sure that each child has a new set of materials if any have been previously broken. For example in pictured sensory tray above the first child that used it pulled all the leaves off the twigs so I made sure I had replenished the twigs before the second child used it.
Sensory trays can be adapted to many different themes such as seasons, Christ-mas, Easter, foods, colours, transport and size.

We’d love to see the sensory trays you’ve made for your children!