As I mentioned in “15+ Name Activities for Preschoolers”, I love using sensory writing trays (also known as tactile writing trays) – both inside and outside the classroom. Recently, we made a vanilla spice version that was a hit with Engineer and Girly Girl! You’ll notice I included Jell-O, which is a material Engineer and I have enjoyed experimenting with.
To create this vanilla spiced sensory play, I grabbed the following materials and placed them on the kitchen table:
- Table salt
- Kosher salt
- Jell-O vanilla pudding powder
- Cinnamon sticks
- Ground cinnamon
- Whole allspice
- Ground allspice
- Whole cloves
- Ground cloves
Engineer and Girly Girl helped me add the ingredients to some baking trays. They drew pictures and wrote their names in the salt before we added anything else. They noticed the difference between the table salt and the kosher salt right away, which drew them into the activity even more.
After the salt, I gave them each a handful of the vanilla pudding powder. They smelled it, then let it run through their fingers. They pointed out the pudding powder, “smells yummy and feels all powdery; it’s softer than the salt.” The powder was added to the salt, followed by more design-making and writing.
Then came the spices! Honestly, I wasn’t too sure how the spices would go over with the kiddos. Sometimes the scents I like aren’t enjoyed by Engineer. However, I worried for nothing, as both kids LOVED the spices! I started out with the whole spices — cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and allspice balls. Then we added the ground versions of the spices.
Note — in order for the sensory tray to work the best, just a thin layer should be added to a pan, a plate, or a tray. This way, the children’s marks are easier to see. The kids can still reap the benefits of writing in a thicker layer of sensory material, but it’s harder to see what they’ve written that way.
After about half an hour of writing and drawing in the sensory trays, Engineer and Girly Girl moved onto pretend play with the ingredients. They measured, transferred, mixed, and “baked” all kinds of yummy concoctions! This lasted for another hour or so, before they decided they needed a real snack. Both kiddos actually went back and played more after snack time, too! Needless to say, this was a hit! After the kids were definitely done, I put the vanilla spice mixture into two mason jars. We’ll definitely be using this again sometime soon!
Some of the benefits of sensory trays include:
- They’re a great way for children to practice writing letters, names, numbers, and words.
- Sensory trays also help children in the pre-writing stages. These kiddos can make lines and squiggles on their own, or they can copy marks an adult shows them.
- The different textures helps connect the children to the form of letters and words. Fingertips are very sensitive, so finger writing in sand or salt (for example) causes the kids to attend more to what they’re doing.
- It’s a novel experience for children, which means they’ll remember it more.
- Mistakes are no big deal when writing in a sensory tray. Simply shake the pan and everything’s “erased”!
- They’re FUN, and shouldn’t learning be fun?!
Have you ever done sensory writing with your children or students? What kind of materials do you use?