Using a novel technique, like a sensory writing tray, is a great way to check off one of your early literacy activities for the day. Preschoolers tend to be more engaged in learning if they get to use fun new materials for learning. Plus, they have so much fun!
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 (I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post):
- 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?
Shared at The Sunday Showcase, Parenting Pin-It Party, After School Link Up, Tuesday Tots, Mom’s Library, Weekly Kids Co-Op, We Made That, Share It Saturday
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Ann @ My Nearest and Dearest says
What a lovely activity! We enjoy salt trays too so we’ll definitely follow your lead and add some yummy spices.
Thanks, Ann! 🙂 The kiddos have really gotten a lot of play time out of this! Tons of writing, drawing, and “baking”. I’ve been asked to get it out every day since we made it! Let me know how it goes if you try it.
Mum of One says
What a fantastic idea! I have never tried sensory trays but may give this a go with the toddler, I think he would really enjoy it. Thanks so much for sharing with the Pin it Party. Have pinned 🙂
This has gone over REALLY well here at my house – with kids ages 2 to 6! I’m happy it turned out to be so much fun for the kiddos. Let me know how it goes if you try it with your little one. 🙂
I have a 2 year old who I think will enjoy this activity, Come to think of it, I think I will too! 🙂
Thanks so much for stopping by! The kiddos have definitely gotten a lot of use out of this already! It’s been out everyday since we made it. 🙂 Let me know how it goes if you and your little one try it out. The 2 year old I watch over the summer has loved drawing in it and playing with it.
JDaniel4's Mom says
What a sweet smelling way to learn! This really looks like fun.
It has a yummy smell to it, definitely! Thus far, it’s been a real hit at my house — for writing and for pretend baking. The kids have been having a blast with it. 🙂
This is such a wonderful activity! I can almost smell the deliciousness through my computer screen! How fun! 🙂
Emma @Sciencesparks says
ooooh I bet that smells lovely 🙂 Found you from the pin it party x
I enjoy using cinnamon sticks on sandpaper, lavendar flowes and Epsom salt, and crushed dried mint leaves with salt and lavendar! Loved your ideas.
Mary Catherine says
Oh, those are wonderful ideas! Thanks for sharing them, Connie. Last year, we made gingerbread men ornaments using cinnamon and sandpaper. However, we didn’t use the sticks (just the ground version). I am going to have to change that up!
M Graham says
Oh, thank you so much for sharing your experience!! I was trying to figure out what I had on hand in the house in big enough quantities to use for multiple trays (hi, pandemic with three kids :/) and Epsom salts will be PERFECT! I am wanting to encourage proper letter formation in my elementary kids, and this will be so much more fun than just air writing. I have heard of salt trays before, but never bothered. Adding in the spices is a game changer for me. Littlest mister will enjoy too.
Mary Catherine says
So happy to hear that this helped!! Yes, we have loved the addition of the spices!
Sherri Hanisco says
I decided to add a sensory table to my pre-k 4 classroom this year. My paraprofessional told me last year that the custodians got mad in years past from having them so I shouldn’t use it. I decided that my students need it and yes, it may give them a little more to clean up, but there are ways around having a big mess on the floor also. Thank you for the great ideas that I can add to my sensory table. I have a big water table that hasn’t been used at all in the past few years. I am going to add little containers to the table and use the big one to catch some of the “mess” along with having a dust pan just for the table.
Mary Catherine says
Sherri, I am so happy to hear that! I think sensory play needs to be a part of almost every preschool day! Yes, it’s messy, but you already have some great ideas to deal with that. I also put something underneath the sensory table — a tarp or a mat made for sensory play. Your idea of using smaller containers inside a large one is also a great idea. I would LOVE it if you would keep me posted as to how sensory play goes in your class this year! 🙂
Love this idea, but I too was worried what the “cleaning” crew may think of this new teachers ideas 🙂 I love the tarp idea or the smaller tray in larger containment area. Can’t wait to try this!
Mary Catherine says
I’m so glad to hear that, Joleen! Be sure to let me know how it works when you try it out.