Winter sensory tray {playful learning}

winter sensory tray

I set this winter sensory tray up for Rosalie on the first of December, with the intention of bringing it out as and when we had a lull throughout the month. She was thrilled to see something new and different in her tray and spent a good hour exploring and playing with it, and she returned to it periodically throughout the day.

winter sensory tray

Here’s what I used to put together this winter sensory:

Tray (actually a cat litter tray, but it’s the perfect size and depth! Brand new of course, we don’t have a cat.)

Basic white rice (Sainsbury’s)

Silver pipe cleaners (wrapped around a stick to make spirals)

Blue and clear glass nuggets (I always buy mine on eBay as you can get different colours in small quantities)

Clear heart gems (liberated from a wedding!)

Snowflake sequins (two sizes)

Cotton wool balls (Sainsbury’s)

A selection of scoops, spoons and dishes (already in the house)

winter sensory tray

I simply added all the elements to the tray and left it out on Rosalie’s play table for her to find and explore. She did ask me to play with her, but I encouraged her to have an explore on her own first.

Ways to play

The idea of these sensory tray setups is that they are an invitation to explore in any way your toddler wants, the play is open-ended and imaginative. But this is how Rosalie used hers:

At first Rosalie explored each element, seeing what it was, feeling it and talking to me about it (or asking me what it was if she didn’t know).

Then she moved on to using the spoons and scoops to transfer the rice into the little dishes I had set out.

She then began to sort things into groups – one dish of blue nuggets, one of clear, a dish of large snowflake sequins and a dish of small ones. She added some of her own stacking cups to use when she ran out of dishes. 

winter sensory tray

As she returned to the tray throughout the day her imagination began to kick in and she got some of her play kitchen pans and plates and pretended she was cooking and serving up food. She called the pipe cleaner spirals ‘spring onions’ which I thought was brilliant! I also caught her with a pile of cotton balls trying to build a snowman.

Hopefully as I get this out again over the course of the month she’ll find new ways to play with it.

Playful learning

Sensory exploration – different textures provide a wonderful sensory experience for toddlers, from the soft cotton wool balls to the smooth glass nuggets, the fuzzy pipe cleaners and the shiny sequins. Not to mention the wonderful feeling of having rice running through your fingers.

Fine motor – transferring sensory elements requires dexterity, and scooping and tipping rice especially uses those small hand and finger muscles and helps with hand-eye coordination.

Imaginative play – a sensory tray is an invitation for imaginative play because there is no expectation of how it is supposed to work. The freedom allows your toddler to use their imagination to figure out what to do, and come up with new ways to play. As I mentioned above, Rosalie enjoyed exploring the elements individually but also used them as pretend food, and to build a snowman.

winter sensory tray

Rosalie – 35 months


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