Invitation to Play Tray

Invitation To Play Tray

Invitation to play tray ideas for your preschooler.

Last year my daughter was struggling with the concept of colours having different names and memorising the names. Each week we celebrated a different colour in a play sensory tray.

Feel free to use these ideas and change the colours around. If you want to enhance language skills or higher order thinking try asking them questions about what your child is sensing or feeling. Draw out their vocabulary and model descriptive words by repeating them three times. For example: “scrunchy, scrunchy, scrunchy,” so your child can make sense of what they feel and put that word into meaning.

Pink Shredded Coconut

To make coloured shredded coconut: it’s simply pink food colouring and a dash of water in a plastic bag. Then pour the shredded coconut in with the coloured water. This play tray works for all olfactory (smell), touch and gustatory (taste) sense. I could leave her and not worry about my daughter eating it. I added pink items to scoop the coconut and some foam letters and number for subliminal learning.

Blue Spaghetti Sea

I wanted to use the water animals with swirling, cooked blue spaghetti. Simply cook the blue spaghetti using the packet instructions. Leave a little bit of water in the pot and add blue food colouring. Mix the food coloured water and spaghetti and leave it for about an hour. Once the spaghetti is cooled empty the blue water and place it in a container in the fridge to cool overnight. Use the spaghetti the next day. We were able to reuse the pasta for 3 days.

I never used this in my baby classes in case there was a child with unknown gluten allergies. My kids aren’t gluten intolerant, but keep this in mind when you’re trying this activity.

Green Dried Split Peas

This edible invitation to play tray idea takes seconds to empty from a $1.50 pack of dried split peas. I keep this activity stored in a container high away from mice. It’s one of the quickest dry sensory invitation to play tray ideas.

Purple Lavender Rice

In a plastic bag, place a couple of handfuls of rice and about a table spoon of purple paint. Shake the bag till all the rice is covered with purple paint. Then leave the rice to dry on paper towel overnight. In the morning, add lavender oil and mix it through and leave dry for at least an hour.

I store the purple rice for this activity and reuse later for months afterwards. If you use good quality oil the smell will last. It’s a great wind down activity for calming preschoolers.

We used the scissor scooper to support fine motor skills in hand muscles.

Red Dried Pasta

I added magnet puzzles pieces to be fished out with a magnet on a string in this activity. Dried pasta is another good stored activity for threading necklaces later so it’s a two activity for one $2 product. It gets reused again and again.

I add red pasta to a plastic bag with red paint. Shake the bag and empty the red pasta onto baking paper overnight.

Orange Dried Lentils

Like the dried split peas, this is another quick grab sensory idea. It’s also another play tray idea I store away from mice and keep for another rainy day activity. In this activity I used small metal rings, a magnet and my grandmothers old tupperware measuring cups. The metal rings need to be supervised. I don’t trust my toddler let alone my baby. I try and hide the metal rings underneath the lentils so my toddler has to rely on using the magnets more. It also makes the invitation to play tray last longer.

Yellow Vanilla Cloud Dough

There are many different recipes for cloud dough. I used the cheapest plain flour and vanilla body moisturiser. It’s up to you how much you want to make it doughy or powdery. So add more moisturiser if you like it harder and more like play dough.

This was the messiest of all the play tray activities. I used this one outside. It’s way too hard to get out of carpet or between floor boards – trust me!

This time I used a $1 tea strainer from kmart for building hand strength for prewriting skills. I also added sequin letters for subliminal letter recognition.

The key is using language during these activities. I will get it ready for my toddler and say a word that reminds me of how it feels and then walk away.

Some people are surprised that I do a lot of sensory mess. Of all the parenting things to be worried about, I get asked me why it doesn’t make me anxious? My kids are used to all the consumable resources that it’s not something they seek to destroy. Paints, pens and sensory items are within reach and I find they don’t messy the playroom with these kinds of resources. Once they get over the excitement of messy play and make a small mess my kids actively try not to make the same mess again. Kids will become desensitised to sensory play over time so they don’t crave these activities, which is why I’m not anxious about “learning mess.”

If you do get anxious about sensory mess, try picking it all up and starting again the next day. Try not to give up on sensory messy play. It might take a few weeks/months but it’s worth the learning opportunities – I promise you!

Written By Sarah Courtney


  • This is a fab blog! I’ve just written a similar one and want to show parents of early years children that this is not going to be a load of hassle. It’s so lovely to see you address the anxiety that other parent’s often feel. Learning through play is so important, it’s so fab to see your ideas!

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