Create an ocean themed sensory writing tray as a fun way to learn how to write letters and sounds, children’s own names and even sight words too! A multi-sensory, kinaesthetic way to do literacy learning, with a fun seaside theme.
We adore making and using these themed, sensory writing trays as they’re so good at captivating the children’s interests and making them want to learn. Playful learning is the best way!
After our most recent dinosaur writing tray (that one was such ooey, gooey and fun) we put together a little ocean themed tray for a fresh, seaside theme! It has proved a big hit with the girls, and they’ve declared it their favourite one ever (even more fun than the fairy dust tray apparently.)
To make this tray you need a shallow tray, either like ours which was the base for a wooden puzzle set (Melissa and Doug packaging is often brilliant like this for doubling up as play containers afterwards) or a simple dip tray like the one we used in the sparkly snow activity.
Take about 1 cup of fine salt and mix it with a small amount of gel food colouring in a sealed zip loc bag, shaking it and mixing the colour through with your fingers (through the plastic) until it has completely covered it. Do not add any water. Then tip it out into the tray and it should dry very fast and be ready to use within an hour.
Next, we added a few Shells, Starfish and clear glass pebbles to turn it into a seaside theme, then liberally sprinkled white glitter over the whole thing!
As soon as it’s dry it is ready to use. There are a few different ways to play depending on your child’s stage of literacy development.
For the very youngest preschoolers I suggest simply using the sensory tray to make marks, letter-like shapes and patterns in. These early mark-making skills are crucial to later literacy development and shouldn’t be skipped. Let your child tell you what her marks mean to encourage her that print carries meaning.
Together you could draw patterns such as swirls, circles, zig-zags and vertical lines, all of which will form letter shapes later on. She can trace over these with her finger or using glass pebbles.
For older preschoolers or young school aged children, the tray is perfect for practising letter formation as it’s much easier to use your finger than to hold a pen or pencil. Go BIG and emphasise the correct way to form the letters so that they remember for later on.
You can then call out a letter sound and ask them to write it, or say “write the first sound in cat”, “the last sound in dad”, “the two sounds that make the digraph CH” etc.
For those who have already mastered their phonemes and digraphs, you could try moving on to sight words and high frequency words. Sight words are those common words which don’t follow the normal phonetic rules, and therefore need to be learnt by sight, such as “the.” High frequency words are those that are found most often in simple text which are great to learn by sight too.
I made a simple set of shell-shaped cards for writing the letters and words onto, for the girls to copy. We talked about going from left to right across the tray and after each word they shook the tray to clear it and start again.
Another way of learning the sight words is to use some shells with letters of the alphabet written on using permanent marker. You can see what else we did with our alphabet shells in our original post about them too.
So, one tray with many learning through play possibilities! They will also love to simply play with the shells and gems too, and draw pictures or make patterns in the dyed salt.
I will share the fun maths activities they had with this same tray in a post next week!
What they are learning as they play:
literacy: recognising graphemes, hearing and matching phonemes to graphemes, letter formation, making letter-like shapes, attributing meaning to marks, reading CVC words, reading and writing sight words
physical: sensory play, fine motor skills, finger control
See our whole collection of SENSORY WRITING TRAYS!
And all of our PLAYFUL LITERACY ideas too!
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