Do you ever wish you had creative, hands-on, intellectually-stimulating activities for your kids right at your fingertips??? If you are a resounding YES to this oft-asked question, then look no further than these Rainbow Sensory Trays. They are everything magical and wonderful in the world. AND they have limitless extended play opportunities! Be still, hearts and minds, this is happening.
Oh, yes, Rainbow Sensory Trays are the new hit in our house, and I cannot even with how much I also kind of love them. This whole endeavor started when I wanted to find creative ways for both girls to work on handwriting. Then I discovered The Imagination Tree, basically read everything Anna has ever written, and decided we needed Rainbow Sensory Writing Trays ourselves.
We started out by coloring rainbows on four sheets of 8×11 paper (2 sheets for each girl), and then Toodle took things up a notch with, “Mom, could we do something with this and shaving cream?” At that point, all bets were off. Spiriteds, I started dreaming up all the ways a person could go crazy with a sensory writing tray, and finally it dawned on me.
We need a sensory tray that can be adapted to countless sensory activities including, but not limited to, writing. Yet what would that look like?
A little something like this:
- Two shallow aluminum sheet cake pans (one per child)
- Four laminated 8×11 sheets of rainbow-drawn paper (two sheets per child)
- Two sheets of painted rainbows on Melissa & Doug finger paint paper, cut to size of tray (one rainbow-painted sheet per child)
Side note: Our laminator (yes, we have one, and I LOVE it like I love these Rainbow Sensory Trays) works best with 8×11 paper, hence our use of four sheets. If you have access to a laminator that can accommodate larger paper, then have at it!
Another Side Note: Why did we work with shallow aluminum pans that look like they came straight out of 1984? Because that’s what I found in our house, and although they aren’t older than probably seven, I think they don’t look a day over 35.
And thus Rainbow Sensory Trays were born. Spiriteds, you’ll never see us again because we are face first into this whole experience with no sign of letting up. Toodle walked by our set-up and murmured, “It’s so beautiful.” We might as well be admiring someone’s new engagement ring or the Amalfi Coast, what with how much we are carrying on.
I am zero percent better because I look over at the girls while they play and think these are the days of my life, which of course they are. But Toodle is in third grade, so she’s practically an adult now, and Twinkle heads to kindergarten next fall, so basically she’s ready to move out.
I mean, Spiriteds, we are practically empty-nesters. See how well I’m handling this whole the-days-are-long-but-the-years-are-short business? LIKE A PRO. Send help or prayers or wine. Now that I’m no longer in the baby phase of parenting, I’m seeing just how quickly time really does move.
Now, as for how we use our sensory trays, the possibilities are endless. The entire experience is open-ended. A few materials we use for sensory play include:
- Sugar, granulated or raw (raw is more expensive but is also coarser providing additional learning opportunities)
- Shaving cream, of course (we use our laminated rainbows for this activity)
- Rice, dyed if you’re in the mood to go extra
- Dried beans or chickpeas, see the aforementioned bullet point about going extra
The girls trace everything from individual letters, numbers, and symbols to names, shapes, and sight words. Changing up the materials we use also changes up the experience. The girls adapt to new textures and how to manipulate them. An example includes tracing in shaving cream versus tracing in salt.
But handwriting isn’t all we do with our Rainbow Sensory Trays. Nope, we’re still totally into loose parts play and use our Rainbow Sensory Trays in open-ended, child-directed play that also…you guessed it…benefits handwriting and fine motor skills development. For example, we like to add the following to our mix of fun:
- Beads, gems, and buttons
- Tongs and chip clips
- Empty plastic containers (think applesauce containers like the ones we used for Gluten-Free Play Doh)
- Wood craft sticks
- Plastic styluses (like the kind you get with color scratch projects) for the shaving cream
- Cookie cutters
- Paper clips
We work on everything from tracing and cookie “cuttering” to creating patterns (those paper clips come in mighty handy) and comparing objects. And do we ever mix and match our ingredients with our loose parts objects? You bet your shaving cream-covered buttons we DO!
And if you’re wondering WHY with the rainbow pattern, I confess it’s because that’s what caught my eye when I was on the prowl for cool activities. Not to mention, Toodle and Twinkle LOVE rainbows and are highly interested in bright colors and patterns. But let’s say your crew isn’t into rainbows. You might be wondering whether this would still work. I say yes. The main points to follow are:
- Create a pattern (rainbow or otherwise) that will cover the entire sheet of paper. This way, when your child plays with shaving cream or sugar or rice or whatever, he will experience little discoveries as he plays. The colors will pop through his creations, creating invigorating learning opportunities. Depending on his age, he might even begin to anticipate what he expects to find as he combs through the sugar, rice, salt, or shaving cream.
- Choose colors your child will like. For example, you could still create a rainbow pattern for your child, however not with regular ROYGBIV colors. Instead, you could have a rainbow pattern in cool colors, warm colors, primary colors, secondary colors, or any other combination that would excite her curiosity and interest.
This whole experience has gotten so out of hand, we are now making painted rainbow place mats because they are beautiful and we have no chill. But seriously, these trays are our new happy place. And if they are for you as well, comment below and let me know how you are using yours!