These Rainbow Sensory Trays are an invigorating, stimulating, and creative way to engage in hands-on learning and open-ended play! Gather loose parts, tweezers, salt, shaving cream, and buttons, and you’re ready to go! Hours of fun await!
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. 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.
When we first started, our younger born walked right up to the Rainbow Sensory Trays and murmured, “It’s so beautiful.” Ever since then, we’ve been over the moon about anything rainbow + sensory.
If you’re ready for all things rainbow and color and delight, then read on!
How do you make a rainbow sensory tray?
First, we colored rainbows on four sheets of 8×11 paper (2 sheets for each girl). Then our firstborn asked, “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 rainbow sensory 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.
Rainbow Sensory Tray ideas
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
- Dyed pasta
- Cloud Dough
- Buttons and gems
- Tweezers, tongs, and chip clips
The girls trace everything from individual letters, numbers, and symbols to names, shapes, and sight words. When you change out the materials, you also shake 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.
Extended learning ideas
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!
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!
Additional color options
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, the girls LOVE rainbows and are highly interested in bright colors and patterns. But let’s say your crew isn’t into rainbows or you’ve already done a lot of rainbow-related activities. You might be wondering whether this would still work with a different color scheme. I say yes. To customize your color scheme:
- 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. An extended learning opportunity might include talking about the colors you used and how those colors are created.
More sensory bin ideas!
Now that you have a rainbow sensory tray, you might be wondering what else you can do! And I’ve got colorful ideas for you!
Spiriteds, may your day be full of color! Stay wild and know how glad I am you’re here. ❤️
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