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If you’ve always wanted to delve into the world of sensory play with your young child, but aren’t quite sure where to begin, a sensory tinker tray is an excellent choice. Small, quick and easy, it’s a great introduction to the delights of tactile exploration and pretty much guaranteed to keep your little one busy long enough for you to enjoy a hot cuppa. Or at least, that’s the goal, right? Read on to find out how to make a sensory tinker tray for your child!
If you’re reading this thinking: hold up. What is a tinker tray?! I got you. A tinker tray is simply a tray (usually with separate compartments) filled with loose parts and found objects for a child to explore. The idea is that you prepare a tinker tray, present this to your child as an open invitation to play, and they explore the tray however they wish – simply by playing with the loose parts, building or creating something or using them to make art. There is no right or wrongs when it comes to tinker trays – they can be made up of any objects and played with in any way. Let them go wild!
… so that’s all well and good, but what are the benefits of tinker trays, I hear you cry? Wonder no more. Here are a few of the standout benefits of tinker trays:
When I say making a tinker tray is quick and easy, I really wasn’t lying! If you’re wondering how to make a tinker tray, you firstly need the tray itself! I find that using a tray with compartments built in works best (my favourite is this house tray as pictured – keep an eye out for deals as it’s often on sale, I bought it for only £3.99!). You can also get similar tinker trays on Etsy. If you don’t want to purchase something brand new, you could always use a few bowls, pots of tupperware or even just spread the items out on a large tuff tray or messy play mat.
Once you have your tray (or chosen crockery!), you want to fill each compartment with a different item for your child to tinker with. I try to include a main sensory base, for example rainbow rice, and think what would complement that well. You really can put absolutely anything in – see below for some ideas if you’re stuck!
Once your tinker tray is set up and ready to go, present this to your child. You could either leave it on a table or the floor for them to notice and discover by themselves, or you could let them know you’ve set up a tinker tray for them to play with.
A tinker tray can be played with however your child wishes to! The main tip I have, however, is try not to force your child to sit and play with it – let them come and go from it at their own pace as they wish. If they decide to dump all the contents out straight away – that’s okay too! Pop a blanket or messy play mat underneath to pre-empt this, so they can explore however they wish to.
If your child is struggling for ideas, you could offer them different utensils to encourage exploration of the tinker tray. Perhaps provide some spoons, scoops and cups. Alternatively, you could provide pens and paper – why not draw a simple scene like the beach, or a house and ask them to use the items in their tinker tray to finish the picture?
Children learn best by copying, so be sure to model the behaviours to encourage your child to explore the tinker tray. Explain what you’re doing, using sensory language, such as ‘This orange and red sensory rice feels so tickly in my fingers as I let it fall, it looks a little bit like rain!’. You can also ask open ended questions to encourage play, such as ‘I wonder what might happen if we mix the rice with the beans?’
Read Next: How to set up an Autumn sensory play!
Not sure what to put in a tinker tray? I’ve got you. If you’re REALLY stuck, then you can buy pre-filled tinker trays on Etsy – such as this Mermaid themed tinker tray or this nature themed tinker tray. Want to give it a go for yourself? Here are some ideas:
Want to create more of a ‘theme’ to your tinker tray, rather than random objects such as those above? Here are some themed tinker tray ideas!
There you have it! I hope this has inspired you to create a sensory tinker tray of your very own for your child! If you do, please tag me on Instagram @Jodetopia and let me know so I can see your creations!
Looking for more sensory inspiration for your children? Why not save this Autumn Sensory Play idea for Autumn, or here’s 15 different sensory rainbow rice activities! If you have a younger baby that’s a little bit too young for this style of sensory play, then why not opt for a toy such as the Lamaze Jacques the Peacock, which is sure to stimulate their senses and improve development – just with less choking hazards!