Sensory play was one of the first few activities I carried out with my little one when I started our learning through play journey. He was just shy of 18 months old when I set up his first sensory play. At that time, I simply used the largest Tupperware container I can find at home.
And since then, I had been on the lookout for a better sensory play tray. IKEA Trofast storage box in white came close to what I had in mind. But it wasn’t until I stumbled upon the Kmart serving tray that I found my perfect play tray!
Kmart serving tray in white
Kmart serving tray in black
This circular serving tray is made from powder-coated iron sheet with wooden handles, and comes in black and white. It measures 45cm by 36cm in length and width, and 10.3cm in height. It’s only available in Australia’s Kmart stores, and try as I might, I could not find it anywhere in Singapore!
It wasn’t until a family trip to Melbourne in 2018 that I decided I just had to get my hands on this! We drove 40mins to the nearest Kmart from where we were then, my husband probably thought I was crazy, but I insisted we had to lug one home. We bought the black one and I’ve never regretted since. We used this as our play tray so often at home it was definitely worth the time, effort and money to get this!
I call it my perfect play tray. Why? It has really great dimensions - it’s big enough to contain sufficient amount of sensory base (water beads, colored rice etc) to provide some good sensory play; and yet small enough such that you won’t struggle to fill it up. It has a great height - it’s short enough so a toddler can easily reach in; and yet tall enough such that the sensory base would not spill out easily. It comes with wooden handles which makes it easy to carry around. And it comes in black which I absolutely loved, the colours of the sensory base truly pop against the black background!
So here are some of the ways we had used this beloved play tray at home.
The play tray is definitely great for some good ol’ sensory play! It’s truly my go-to tray whenever I need to set up sensory play for T. Here are some of my favourite set-ups!
Christmas Sensory Play
We used green and red colored rice as the sensory base in line with Christmas colours. Threw in some Christmas ornaments for good measure, and that’s a Christmas-y play tray for you!
Winter Sensory Play
We made fake snow for this sensory play set-up, and it was a huge hit with the little ones! Find out how to make these fake snow here!
Fake snow as the sensory base
Water Sensory Play
I usually don’t set up water play for T, because he does enough of those in the shower and in the water playgrounds! Instead, I prefer to use these colorful water beads for his ‘water play’!
Water beads usually come in packs of very tiny beads. Soak them in a tub of water for a few hours, and they would expand into these colorful water beads you see in the tray above. If you leave them out to dry across days, they would shrink back into tiny beads again. You can re-use them several times!
I love how the colours of the water beads truly popped against the black background!
Sand Sensory Play
We used kinetic sand here, I find it easier to clean up (vs normal sand) and it feels smoother and finer in the hands!
The beauty about sensory play is you don’t need complicated set-ups at all! Just choose a sensory base, throw in some accessories (here, we’re using our dinosaur counters), and your little one is good to go!
Small World Play
And who doesn’t like small world play set-ups! There are tons out there on Instagram and Pinterest, and they look amazzzinggg!!! They are essentially similar to sensory play, but with a more elaborate and intentional set up. Usually, I set up small world play with items which are already available around the house.
Small World Play - Pond
We used blue colored rice for this pond set up. Lazy to create blue colored rice? Just throw in water then! :)
Small World Play - Farm
This is my favourite small world play to set up, because it looks so cute and pretty! 5 mins into the play though, and everything is all messed up haha. Well, that’s little kids for you!
The sensory base used in the above set up are oats, green colored pasta and blue colored rice.
Small World Play - Insects
This was actually set up by T one day when he was carrying out a school project on flowers and leaves. He asked me for the black tray and he started arranging his flowers and leaves in it together with his small stash of insects.
I threw in some kinetic sand for him as well, just to provide a touch of good ol’ sensory play.
Sensory base used in the above is kinetic sand. You can also use black beans if you want less mess.
Small World Play - Construction Site
Who loves construction vehicles?! Well, my boy absolutely adores them! This small world play set up can keep him occupied for the longest time, especially after I had the idea of including some red beans in for his construction vehicles to scoop, pour and transport!
Sensory base used in the above are kinetic sand and red beans. Don’t like the mess made by sand? You can just use red beans, or better still, use a mixture of black and red beans!
Isn’t the set up above cute?! I love how he would use the vehicles to transport the red beans across to the sand area.
Small World Play - Roads
This is possibly T’s 2nd favourite set up since it involves cars! I threw this together for him on a day when I was heavily pregnant and too exhausted to do any strenuous activities with him. This set up kept him occupied long enough!
Yes, I know those peg dolls are disproportionately huge!
The sensory base used in the above are colored soya beans.
Small World Play - Culinary
Considering how the black tray was supposed to be a serving tray, how can we not set up culinary play with it! He loves pretend cooking, so he would always ask for this black tray whenever he wants to whip up a ‘big plate of pasta for mummy and daddy’ - yes in his own words.
The sensory base we used above are colored pasta and oats. These are his favourite ‘foods’ to cook with. But it can be anything really.
I love carrying out color sorting activities in the black tray because the colours really stand out against the black background!
Color Sorting with Colored Pasta
This is one of T’s favourite sensory base. And the pasta is pretty sizeable so it’s safer for younger toddlers as well!
Top view of our color sorting set up
We did color sorting by using a Nespresso capsule organizer. You can also use simple cups or bowls to carry out the color sorting.
Color Sorting with Colored Soya Beans
This activity truly tests fine motor skills and T’s patience as well. You can also introduce tongs/tweezers to your little one to use for picking up the soya beans.
Color sorting using test tubes
T got bored of the activity halfway through (well it is a lot of soya beans to sort through!) and started using the colored soya beans for pretend cooking instead!
Color Treasure Trays
These treasure trays are really great for younger toddlers when they are still getting to know colours. Fill the play tray with a sensory base of a certain color - in the example below, I’ve filled it with red beans. Then go on a mini treasure hunt around the house with your little one to fill the tray with red items! They can then use these for simple sensory play after.
This is a great activity to introduce colours to your little ones, and help them identify which items/objects around the house has the same color!
Fine Motor Skills
Most, if not all, sensory play set ups help to develop fine motor skills. Depending on the age of your little one and how developed his fine motor skills are, you can choose to provide bowls, cups, spoons, tongs/tweezers or chopsticks (in order of difficulty) for him to carry out scooping and pouring actions.
This set up is specifically targeted to develop fine motor skills. And it’s a hot favourite amongst younger toddlers!
That’s the IKEA Trofast white tray, we bought the cover separately and that small hole in the cover is perfect for this activity to hone fine motor skills. No such tray? Just simply cut a hole in any cardboard boxes you have lying around at home!
You can also replace the colored pom poms with water beads, beans or even pasta - whatever fits through the hole!
What else can I do with the play tray aside from sensory play?! So much more! Let me show you other ways to utilise the play tray.
Sight Words (or Alphabets)
Do you have alphabet blocks or alphabet stickers lying around at home? Throw them all into the play tray and add a sensory base just to make it more fun! Here, I’m using oats.
Hide the alphabets in the sensory base, and get your child to find them! It’s like a mini scavenger hunt, only in a play tray.
I provided some alphabet cards and got T to look for the alphabets to match the cards. You can also carry out sight words activities with this. Write simple words on a card (for eg “BOY”), and get your little one to look for the alphabets in the play tray to form the word.
One of the best things about getting the play tray in black (vs white) is being able to carry out salt writing!
Fill the black play tray with salt. Provide some alphabet or word cards and get your little one to write the alphabets in the salt. It’s fun and definitely more interesting than simply writing with a pen or pencil!
I’ve carried salt writing activities out several times with T, and it’s a really great way to insert some fun into learning how to write. We’ve used our fingers, brushes, cotton buds and ice cream sticks to do salt writing!
Numeracy and Counting
What else can you do with the play tray? Incorporate numeracy activities!
We carried this activity out in line with our Easter theme. But you can essentially replace the rabbit with any other animal, and the carrots with any other foods!
We laminated a small piece of white card and used a whiteboard marker to write different addition formulas on the card. Wipe it off easily, and write another formula on it!
Printed carrots in a tub of oats
This was such a cute and fun activity, we had this out for such a long time in our house - even way past Easter!
One to One Correspondence
Rote counting is one of the basic number concepts that children develop - counting numbers in sequential order. However, being able to recite the numbers from 1 to 10 or even 1 to 100 does not mean the child understand the true value of the numbers they are reciting.
So here’s where we need to introduce the concept of one to one correspondence. This means the child is taught that number 1 represents only one object, and number 2 represents two objects and so on.
All you need for the above set up are a few plastic cups labelled with numbers, a sensory base which can be easily counted (for eg beans, pasta etc, and not oats or rice) and a scoop/spoon!
We used our all time favourite colored soya beans here!
If one to one correspondence for 1 to 10 is too simple for your child, then carry out 11 to 20 and so on.
As Other Kinds of Boards
Do you know that this play tray can also act as a magnetic board and a chalkboard?
As A Magnetic Board
Yep that’s right, you can leave the tray standing upright and use it as a magnetic board too!
Here we simply used some of our number magnets to form addition formulas, provided some pom poms and got T to do some simple addition with those pom poms!
As A Chalkboard
And yes, it works as a chalkboard too because of its black background!
We used our alphabet magnets to create a simple ‘match the alphabets’ activity! Give your child a white chalk and get him to join up the uppercase alphabets with the lowercase alphabets.
This is just one of the many activities you can carry out with the black play tray as a chalkboard! Want to provide some unstructured free play for your child? Give him a box of colored chalks, and let him go wild on the black play tray!
And that’s 20 different ways to play with this amazing black play tray!
There are so many other ways to play with it, and so many other interesting ideas out there on how to create different sensory play and set up small world play in this play tray. You can follow #kmartplaytray on Instagram to take a look at the ideas out there!
Popsicles and Play has managed to get our hands on 30 of these black play trays! These play trays would be launched together with our sensory starter kits which we are putting together for you guys. There are only 30 of these kits available, so do keep a lookout on our social media for the launch of these amazing kits!
Do follow us on Facebook (Popsiclesandplay) and Instagram (@popsicles_play) for more play tray ideas as well as to get first dips on the sensory starter kits when we launch them!