Make an Autumn themed sensory writing tray for mark making, letter formation and learning sight words! A fun fall themed literacy activity for preschoolers and school age kids to enjoy together.
If you read this blog often you will know that we have been working our way through the seasonal calendar by making a different themed sensory writing tray as the year progresses. We are nearly all the way through to winter again, where we started, and I see we have been making versions of these for over 3 years altogether now!
I absolutely adore these sensory writing trays because they offer many ways to learn which suits having kids who are at different ages and stages of development. They can be used with equal enjoyment by a pre-schooer and primary/ elementary school aged child, which is fabulous as it keeps the 3-7 year olds in my house happy! They are also so engaging and tactile, making them inviting to use rather than a boring chore, and that’s always how we want learning through play to feel.
To set up this Autumn themed sensory writing tray, I again used about 1/2 cup of fine salt as the base material. This time I didn’t colour it with gel food colours, but instead added a few teaspoons of yellow and dark orange powder paints instead, and simply stirred them through until they were fully combined. I love how the colours are slightly different across the tray, like various shades of Autumn!
You can find similar powder paints here. [Affiliate link.]
Into this I sprinkled half a teaspoon of ground allspice and stirred it through, which added a subtle but wonderfully aromatic scent!
We picked out some pine cones to add to the wooden tray (which is the base of a puzzle blocks game which we have long ago re-purposed.) The salt needs to be not too deep (less than 1cm is ideal) or else the impressions are harder to make and see when the child draws in it.
We collected a few of the first autumn leaves on our way back from school and I wrote some of the letters from Miss 3’s name onto them using a black Sharpie marker. I always believe in introducing the most meaningful and relevant letters to your child first, which are those contained in their own name, before moving onto the suggested phonics groupings of SATPIN etc. They are then excited and motivated to learn those letters because they have a special meaning to them, and that in turn aids name recognition and, later, name writing too.
We picked out a lovely stick to use as our mark making tool as it’s always fun to have a novel way of writing and making patterns! She then chose one letter leaf at a time to practise forming the letter shape in the sensory writing tray. Because the surface is large, the movement is big while writing and that is a really good way to begin trying to make formal letter shapes. It focuses the movement from the shoulder and elbow and makes it a gross motor action rather than a fiddly and awkward fine motor one, which isn’t appropriate for all pre-school age children.
For the older girls they picked out some high frequency words to write and also wrote down the answer to some mental maths number problems. They still love using these types of learning trays at ages 7 and 5 and also love to simply doodle in the salt and shake the tray to resettle it and start over. It’s quite therapeutic at the end of the school day and the sensory material fees lovely running through your fingers!
What they are learning as they play:
literacy: beginning to recognise and name some phonemes from their own names (and beyond), beginning to form letters with the correct sequence of movements, beginning to say the phoneme to match the grapheme and understanding that they go together, making marks and attracting meaning
physical: exploring using the senses, gross motor movements from the shoulder and elbow, fine motor movements, tactile explorations
See our entire range of SENSORY LEARNING TRAYS here. There are more coming up soon!
See our PLAYFUL LITERACY archives for loads more activities that make literacy learning fun and playful!
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Helen Simmons says
The color of the autumn, I really love your pictures, so warm!
Great idea. My daughter is of this age now and loves to write ‘her letter’, which is, ironically an S, so she will love doing this. Thanks. 🙂