5 Toddler Sensory Tray Activities & Why They’re So Important

It’s so exciting to be starting something new with the little guy! We’re definitely loving preschool homeschool and these wonderful Toddler Sensory Tray Activities. Today I’m sharing what we’ve done during the first week of our new zoo preschool monthly theme.  

collage of toddler activities with text: Our Tot School Days 5 Tray Play Ideas & Why They're So Important

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A huge thanks to Experience Early Learning (formerly Mother Goose Time) for providing us with their Experience Preschool curriculum for free in exchange for sharing our honest and authentic stories resulting from our personal experiences. It’s been such a huge blessing to us! As always, my opinions on awesome stuff for little kids are 100% my own.

Keep in mind that all preschoolers do things in their own time and on their own terms. What one is ready for, another might not be. Please use your best mama judgement when planning activities for your little kids. 

I thought it’d be fun to give you a peek into what we’ve been up to this week, a recap of sorts, at least as far as the “tray plays” go.

As a creative mama who loves all things Montessori-inspired, these are all kinds of awesome. They encourage fine motor, problem solving and creative thinking skills, which are so important for toddlers.

toddler sitting at a table playing with play dough and cookie cutters
Toddler Sensory Tray Activities

It’s crazy to me that even without giving him any sort of actual instructions, E seems to understand these. I can set one of the “tray plays” down in front of him and he just goes with it. I’ve actually been intentionally not showing him or telling him what to do, at least not right away.

I want to give him the opportunity to figure it out on his own because in all reality there’s no right or wrong. And of course I enjoy watching him explore the materials. It’s always exciting to see a toddler’s takes on things, even if it’s not exactly what you had in mind.

And the toddler sensory tray activities also just happen to be the ideas that hold his attention for longer than any others. As I was sitting and looking through pictures from our first week or so, the overwhelming majority of them were… Yep, you guessed it. The little guy and his daily “tray play.”

Here’s a look at the first few of these activities and my thoughts as a parent and educator.

Colorful Cages (Patterns and Sorting 18.2)

A is for Alligator

This activity was part of A is for Alligator and the skill was of course Patterns and Sorting. I changed things up some because I don’t always have the exact supplies on hand.

Even so, I was incredibly impressed with the little guy’s ability to sit down and figure it out and to successfully match each of the colors with minimal help from me. When I initially looked at this one, I thought it’d be more of a cooperative activity for us and less of an independent activity for him. 

container full of red, yellow, and blue zoo manipulatives and an empty tray with color labels for sorting
Feed the Bird (Logic 20.1)

Bird Activity for Toddlers

The skill listed for this activity was Logic. And while I totally see that, I noticed that this activity encourages fine motor skills too. Our Little Goose Teacher Guide recommends using tweezers to feed the worms to our baby bird.

We have a few sets of tweezers and it was really interesting to see E switch back and forth between each set. And when none of them were cooperating the way he had hoped, he decided to just use his fingers, which works too. This “tray play” was of course part of B is for Bird.

small, clear bottle decorated to look like a baby bird beside a clear dish of cut up straw pieces
Thirsty Camels (Fine Motor 5.1)

Camel Activity

Thirsty Camels was part of C is for Camel. Can you figure out what the point of this activity was just by looking at it? Little kids see things so differently than adults do and the little guy is no exception to that. As far as he was concerned, the eye dropper was the best part of this activity.

I’m good with that. You know, Fine Motor skills and all. This was actually a lot easier for him than the tweezers were, though. I’m not really sure why. My best guess would be because there was less precision involved.

tray full of oatmeal with four camel manipulatives beside a glass of water with an eye dropper
Dolphin Hoops (Patterns and Sorting 18.2)

Dolphin Games for Preschoolers

D is for Dolphin brought this awesome Patterns and Sorting activity. Our first toddler sensory tray involved color sorting and this one meant sorting shapes. I stamped each of the shape cutters into the Play-Doh bases and worked with E to sort the shape cutters with the matching impressions.

I think this would be an awesome activity to redo, but with the focus being on sorting colors. I’d be interested in seeing if that makes a difference for him. He definitely understands colors better than shapes, which tells me that we should work more with shapes in the very near future.

Trunk Tubes (Technology 29.1)

E is for Elephant

This was probably the little guy’s favorite activity of the week. And it was definitely a lot more open-ended than most of them. Unlike some of the other activities, this one meant exploring and making a mess. Could that have been why it was the favorite?

shape matching activity using cookie cutters and play dough

I know from experience that the little guy will almost always choose a sensory-type activity over anything else. Crafts are usually an epic fail right now, but all the small things for the win. Welcome to being a toddler! Lol…

two cardboard tubes beside a container of black beans with a spoon
Do you notice the similarities in these activities? Almost all of them involve some sort of pretend play… Mother Goose Time asks us to “feed the bird” or “help the camels drink,” which means that as a parent or educator, we need to “set the stage,” so to speak.

Sometimes, it’s easy to think that our toddlers aren’t listening to us. Maybe they’re not paying attention or they don’t understand. One thing I’m realizing is that couldn’t be further from the truth.

You know, I asked the little guy to show me where we live the other day and he walked over and pointed to the window where our world map is. Yep, he knows. He listens.

One way that we can set the stage for these types of activities and something that I’m definitely seeing throughout the Teacher Guides is using these activities to create teachable moments. Explaining that elephants have trunks and they use their trunks for breathing, for drinking, etc.

I love seeing toddler sensory tray activities that build on what we’re talking about each day. That’s how toddlers learn. They make connections between what we tell them and what they experience. 

Sometimes, E definitely surprises me. And I have to occasionally check myself and question how he learned something. That’s life with a toddler, I suppose. Lol…

If you’re interested in following along with what we’re up to each week, definitely sign up via email and/or follow The Keeper of the Memories on Facebook and Pinterest.

If you missed our “Tot School” space post a few weeks ago, you can check it out here.

Looking for more insight & inspiration? Here are the top 10 most popular posts from The Keeper of the Memories. You’re definitely not going to want to miss these!

Thanks so much for visiting. See ya next week!

More Preschool Zoo Crafts & Activities:

10 Quick & Easy Zoo Craft Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers
5 Tray Play Ideas + Why They’re So Important
A is for Alligator Activities
A is for Alligator Zoo Craft
B is for Bird Activities
B is for Bird Craft
C is for Camel Activities
C is for Camel Craft
D is for Dolphin Activities
D is for Dolphin Craft 
E is for Elephant Craft
The Process is Almost Always More Important Than The Product
F is for Fox Craft
G is for Gorilla Craft
J is for Jellyfish Craft
L is for Llama Craft
T is for Tiger Activities + Curriculum Design
U is for Urchin Craft

Experience Early Learning Early Childhood Education Verified Blogger badge with owl iconAs an Experience Early Learning Blog Ambassador, I receive the Experience Early Learning Preschool curriculum in exchange for my honest and authentic stories resulting from our personal experiences. As always, my opinions on awesome stuff for little kids are 100% my own. Keep in mind that all preschoolers do things in their own time and on their own terms. What one is ready for, another might not be. Please use your best mama judgement when planning activities for your little kids. #preschool #homeschool #mgtblogger

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