Tag: sensory tray

Small World Play – Aussie Outback

Small World Play – Aussie Outback

It’s no secret we are pretty big fans of small world play in our house. One look at my Instagram page and you’ll see a number of different “mini worlds”. They fuel mamas need for creativity and they meet the boys needs to play, make a mess and learn 🙂

Whether its styled more as a sensory tray set up, or a more structured mini world, I always try to tie in a little story or learning to it, and you would be surprised by how much knowledge kids absorb while “playing”. We have done a number of themes over the years including Pirates, The lifecycle of a frog, farmyard play with chocolate mud, swamp life, the Artic, and Dinosaur land .

Small world play allows children to act out scenarios (scenes from real life, stories they have heard and/or from their imagination) in a “mini world” created with small figures and objects from around the house. I’ve seen my kids start slowly first we learn about the “theme”, and then I stand back and give them space to play. Once they tucked into this Aussie Outback for example, they soon became “adventurers” and “zoo keepers”, they played for about an our and eventually the playdough “Uluru” rock was cut up and became “lion food”. They are the ideal platform for nurturing children’s imagination from a young age. This play provides them with an opportunity to explore new materials, act out scenarios from real life and gain an understanding of the world. Small world play is often used in play therapy as well by providing children with opportunities to re-enact certain experiences, you are helping then to reflect on feelings and events in life, in a safe “world”.

So how do you start?

Choose your theme – I often will base a theme on the time of year or an important event, or if I have recently bought a really cool figurine set 🙂 next decide on your base layer – whether its artificial grass, felt, rice, gloop or sand start by “laying the foundation”.

Select Accent Features – bits and bobs from around the house or garden that could tie into your theme.

Add your characters – lastly add in your “main act”, your characters or figurines. I then call in the kids and before I “let them loose” I explain what the “world” is, and all the different characters. I’ll often sit with them for about 5 minutes to describe or explain anything, and then its free reign 🙂

For the Aussie outback; I first made up some easy cloud dough and added in a bit of cinnamon to make it brown. I then coloured some sand with red food colouring and made up some orange playdough to form the Uluru (Ayers Rock). Some grass bits, leaves and rocks were found in the garden and I scattered around some brown lentils to add a little more interest.

It really is that simple! My youngest son has designed his own one to do next weekend, and its going to involve lots of slime and jello so have a look out on my stories on Sunday for a gloopy mess 🙂 Until then, happy playing !

Dino Dig Sensory Play

Dino Dig Sensory Play

A “Dino Dig” is something I have been dying to try with my boys. Making our own dino fossils has been top of my “wish list” but I just havent had the time or energy to do it. Recently though I paid a visit to our favourite “Plastic Land” (I feel like that’s a bit of a swear word these days), and when I saw a pack of plaster of paris I quickly grabbed it for my fossils.

I had to write an actual blog for this activity because initially, It was an epic fail. It was my first attempt at using Plaster of Paris, and clearly I hadn’t put much thought into it. I just mixed and poured, and well, it did require some pre planning.

There are a few things you should know if you use this method:

  1. You CANNOT pour Plaster of Paris down the drain, it will break your pipes (thankfully I didn’t), and it sets almost immediately. Which means you have to work very quickly, it also means, use something disposable when mixing it so you can do an easy clean up. That was mistake number 1 for me, I mixed it up in a baking bowl with a wooden spoon; and I then had to try dissolve all of it with Bicarbonate of Soda (which actually worked very well).
  2. Use moulds that you can break or peel away. I had found some playdough moulds at Toyzone that I thought would make the perfect dino fossils, except they didn’t 🙂 I couldn’t get the plaster of paris out of the mould and had to almost break my brand new playdough cutters.

So after I failed one night of trying with the plaster of paris, and getting utterly frustrated, I ended up making good old salt dough fossils the next day. They were super quick, easy, and the boys always love to play with salt dough so it certainly wasnt a waste of time. I just wasnt happy with how they looked in comparison to the “Pintrest” pretty fossils I had seen. I turned to good old You Tube and caught a video where they used plastic around the playdough which was then just cut off and thrown away.

Make your own dinosaur fossils (Plaster of Paris):


Plaster of Paris

Water for Mixing


Small Dinosaur Figurines

Paper Muffin Cups


Roll out your playdough and cut into shape with your muffin cup, placing your playdough at the bottom of each cup.

Insert and press down with the dino figurine to leave an imprint into your playdough (remove your figurine).

Mix up your Plaster of Paris (In a disposable cup), and pour into your cupcake/muffin cups on top of the playdough. You want it a bit thicker as if it’s too thin it will crack and break easily.

Once set, peel away your paper muffin cups/plastic, whatever you used. Peel away the playdough from underneath and Voila! Instant Dino Fossils! You will notice the playdough does get a little sticky when you peel it away, so I just took a slightly damp tooth-brush to brush away and clean up the playdough.

If you are really OCD and want a smoother fossil, you can sand down your fossils, but this mama does not have time for that!

Sensory Play

Once I had my fossils ready I pulled out some of my old moon sand/ cloud dough, which is just a combination of flour and oil, you can view my recipe here. If you have a sandpit even better! I “hid” the fossils under the sand and got some old paint brushes, a magnifying glass and some dino books for us to read. Once the boys had found the fossils, I whipped out the original figurines and we made a bit of a puzzle out of it, matching the figurine to the fossil, and then learning about that dinosaur! It was a great activity and really did keep them occupied for quite some time.

The best part is everything is saved and packed away for another day of play!

I would absolutely love to hear your feedback. Have you tried making your own fossils before? Let me know what you think of the two different methods and what you prefer. Happy playing!

Life Cycle Of A Frog – Squishy Sensory Bin Fun

Life Cycle Of A Frog – Squishy Sensory Bin Fun

My eldest got some tadpoles at school the other day, and the excitement was very very real! Everyday when I fetched him he would show me their progress and point out the ones that were growing. I had been waiting for the perfect moment to use my Toobs figurines from Kid-Ease, and this was it!

My youngest still is fully absorbed by sensory trays so I always try and combine them with a little learning for my 5 year old now as well. We picked out a froggie book and got to making our “pond” habitat.

Materials Used:


Jelly type substance – you could make some goop up from cornflour and water, but I used Sno Ball from Zimpli Kids and added some blue food colouring to it




Frog figurines or any other figurines found around a pond

I also used polystyrene cut into the shape of a lily pad because I didnt have any other suitable “lily pads”.

Explore the Life Cycle of a Frog

I always have to hold my kids back a bit before they dive right into a sensory tray. So I began by pointing out the various different stages of a frog and asked Aadam which order he thought they belonged in. As soon as he touched the sensory tray it was over and they both were too excited to play. We combined it by reading one of our favourite “frog themed” books, frog on a log. We also spoke about what other animals you would find around a pond like dragonflies, fish, butterflies and turtles. We also spoke about how the frogs lay eggs in groups and that they need to be in the water or they will dry up and not hatch We also discussed how the frog changes as it gets bigger and how it slowly loses its “tail”.

Its so much fun to learn when you get to play and explore as well!

I never know whether to turn our sensory trays into blogs or just post the pictures up on instagram. What do you prefer? Whichever way I hope you got some inspiration, and happy playing!

Halloween Sensory Bin

Halloween Sensory Bin

We always have fun making themed sensory bins. Its one of my favourite things to put together and often creates hours of fun for the boys. It’s often the simplest ideas and activities that are the biggest hit in our household.

Set up for this sensory bin was easy peasy:

I coloured some rice with a perfect pumpkin orange (you can click here to find out how)

I had some creepy crawlies lying around the house from last years sensory slime tray

Plastic Storage bin

Some cups/ containers/ plastic tongs to dig with

Turn it into an activity

Usually sensory bins are about open-ended play, exploration and curiosity. With some of the more simple ones I turn them into a task. To encourage fine motor skills, there is nothing better than scooping and pouring. I gave my youngest an empty cup to fill in and encouraged him to pick up the crawlies with the tongs and transfer them to the bowls and jars.

We used it as a scavenger hunt – I hid the bugs in the rice, and to encourage counting, told the boys they had to find : 5 spiders, 3 centipedes, 5 cockroaches (you get the picture.)


Have you ever made sensory tray’s with your children? Whats your favourite “theme” or base to use? Id love to hear your feedback.


Rainbow Rice For Sensory Play

Rainbow Rice For Sensory Play

I often get asked, “but what do you do with rainbow rice”; It may look pretty , but how does one incorporate it into “play”?

First, lets look at how to make it.

It is super easy and you can choose whether to use paint or food colouring. There are two ways to make it, I chose to use paint as my kids are a bit older and I know they won’t “eat” the rice. For younger kids, use the vinegar and food colouring method. I just find the paint makes a more vibrant colour.

1 cup of uncooked rice ( I used 2 for a larger batch)
Sealable bag / container
A blob of paint

Place your rice into the bag, with a good blob of paint and seal your bag. Rub the paint around until all specs of rice are coated (I got the kids to do this). Lay out to dry on a flat tray in a warm area for about 2 hours. You don’t want the paint transferring on your hands.

Vinegar Option
1 cup of rice
1/2 top vinegar
A good few drops of food colouring

Use the same method as above but you may need to dry overnight.

How do you play with it?

Now that you have made it, lets look at all the different things you can do with it, apart from admiring the pretty colours. The benefits of using rice in sensory play are second to none. From an OT point of view its great for kids that have low tactile input, the rice stimulates receptors on the skin so they can interpret sensory input more accurately. It’s the perfect medium for fine motor skill development. For those kids that avoid any tactile input completely (your kids that don’t like to walk barefoot or don’t like to get messy), because they can play in a controlled manner. Place it into a smaller container/ tray lets them control their experience more.

Here’s a couple of ways we use our rainbow rice to give you some idea’s:

Sensory Trays – any rice makes a fantastic base for sensory trays. It’s a bit like sand in that you can grab it, dig in it, scoop it etc. We use rice in a lot of our sensory fun. I have used it in themed sensory bins like our valentine one, or our outer space adventure.

Imagination Play – rice is perfect for “cooking”, making potions and baking. My boys like to stir it about in pots or “sprinkle” onto cupcakes.

Scavenger hunts – using the rice as a base for treasure hunts. Hide their favourite toys or treasures inside and make a checklist for the kids to dig through and find.

Scooping and Pouring activities – Great for fine motor skill development in little ones. Give them a try with the rice and some pouring jugs and let them scoop and pour away.

Letter recognition – add in an extra dimension by chucking in some magnets and a wand, magnetic letters are a great way to start letter recognition. Another exercise is to place the rice on a tray and get your child to “trace” the letters of the alphabet (from pictures), this is a great way to get them used to the shape of letters for recognition and to prepare them for writing.

“I-spy” Bottles – create personalized little “I-spy”bottles like this one over at lalymom.com , these are great for long car or plane journeys to keep little ones entertained.

Use it for art – ever tried sticking rice onto glue? It makes a fantastic piece of artwork for kids. Let them get creative with their glue sticks and create masterpieces with the rice.

Music Makers – If you have babies or young toddlers, you can also put the rainbow rice into bottle or plastic egg. The baby can then shake, shake, shake the bottle like a maracas.

I hope some of these idea’s helped you with some inspiration. The beauty of coloured rice is once you make it you can literally store it in an airtight container for life. We pull ours out quite often. Be careful though, rice does get everywhere. I always put done our messy play mat (a plastic sheet) and take it outside. Happy Playing !

Cloud Dough Sensory Tray

Cloud Dough Sensory Tray

Its been a while since I’ve posted a sensory craft and to be honest I’ve missed the time with my boys. They get so excited when mama pulls out the activity tray and want to help with everything.

At a recent Prima Toy Event on of my favourite toys that launched (stay tuned for a full list of my favourites), was the Treasure X box. A little box filled with adventure and you have to try and retrieve the “lost” bits and pieces by digging through the “soft brick” around it. It reminded me of the some of the sensory activities Id done with the boys around dino excavations and got me thinking it was time to do something new.

Cloud Dough is a perfect base for sensory trays. It’s both mouldable and crumbly at the same time. It has a silky soft consistency perfect for little hands. You can see my previous recipe here, but generally I take about 8 cups of flour to one cup oil (vegetable or baby), this time I added in a few drops of essential lavender oil to add in a calming scent. The mixture of flour and oil is mixed to the consistency of a wet beach sand. It’s the perfect exploratory material for toddlers to play with and is 100% taste safe! The boys are at a fun age where I can start making sensory trays a little more challenging. So with this one, inspired by Treasure X, I made it a pirate theme and hid bits of metallic treasure into the “sand”, they had to find the treasures with a magnetic wand. Add in a couple of scoops and forks and use little shells or containers to mould your shapes. To create a pirate theme i took “treasure” from around the house, glass pebbles and sparkly pom poms as “gems”, plastic beads, gold coins, old treasure chests and pirate figurines.

Most of the time was spent burying their own treasure chests in the sand, acting out with the pirates before creating sand castles and shapes with the easily mouldable cloud dough. After about 45 minutes of beach play we packed away our cloud dough into an airtight container to be played with another day. Cloud dough typically has quite a long shelf life if stored correctly.


Have fun with your little pirates and never be afraid to get a little messy xx

Edible Sensory Play – Chocolate mud

Edible Sensory Play – Chocolate mud

I’ve been dealing with a bit of “mommy guilt” the past two weeks, feeling like I hadn’t given the boys any fun activities to play or do, though I am an advocate of “let them be bored”.

My eldest is going through a HUGE “arts and crafts” spree and every morning wakes up asking to make some creative concoction. We haven’t done a sensory play activity In so long and I’ve been wanting to do “edible mud” for quite some time. This “Mud” is fantastic for younger kids, all ingredients are edible, in fact they taste quiet good!

It’s a great “taste-safe” play idea and even more effective when paired with a little themed book or song.

Having boys I was so tempted to chuck in some spaghetti worms, or sweet snakes, but decided to go with more interactive toys. We did two set ups, one “farm yard” and one “digger yard”.

All the recipes I found online for this include syrup and sugar, I have no idea why but if my intention was certainly not for my kids to find it “tasty”, so I omitted that.


I started off with about 1.5 cups of flour

1.5 cups of cornflour

1 cup cocoa

Water to mix.


I added and mixed as I went along, until I got a nice thick consistency. I wanted it to be a Newtonian fluid, that became solid as they played.

We kept a water station close by so they could wash their figurines straight after, and we also did this right before bath time 🙂

I am such an avid supporter of sensory play activities like this one as they learn about “clean and dirty”, they learnt about all the different farm animals and where they normally lived, textures and role play.

My youngest was so confused, he kept saying “Its yucky mud” but it smells like cake !

Happy playing!

Valentine Themed Sensory Bin

Valentine Themed Sensory Bin

There are so many wonderful ways to fill and to play with sensory trays and I love any excuse to find a theme to create one. If you follow my instagram and facebook pages you will see a lot more of my other ideas for sensory bins, we do slime, animal environments, snow, rainbow rice, anything I can really!

Sensory play has a lot to do with the nervous system and your child will react to how it feels, good or bad! They can be both calming and stimulating for a child as well as engaging and educational. Each item used in this valentine themed sensory bin is reusable and bought from our local china mall for under R100.

Items used include artificial rose petals, pink rainbow rice (homemade), pink polystyrene balls, plastic hearts, cardboard hearts, a variety of heart-shaped tins and containers for them to scoop and play.

I used a variety of different textures and shapes here and I knew I wanted to do a “dry” sensory bin this time. As I was creating it I knew that my boys would probably be too “old” for just a touch and explore one and realised that it was the perfect treasure hunt bin!

The challenge was on.

The boys had to dig in the bin, through all the petals and rice to find all 14 of the little plastic hearts, next came the foil ones and so on. My little Yusuf loved the feeling of the Polystyrene balls and watching how the static made them jump (Tip: have a hoover close by, second tip: the rice seemed to diffuse the static slightly so I would definitely do both).

Once we had finished the treasure hunt we moved onto a game of eye spy before Aadam decided he wanted to do arts and crafts with all of the hearts.

So a simple activity that took less than 15 minutes to set up created an afternoon of play!

What else would you add to your bin?

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