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Our Top 4 Favourite Sensory Play Tray Bases + 13 Play Ideas For Using Them

We love sensory play! Here are some of our favourite bases that we use to make fun sensory play trays.

sensory play tray for kids with sand and Grapat bugs.
Sensory play is lots of fun for kids!

Sensory play trays are a favourite way to play in our house! They are not only lots of fun, but have high engagement levels too!

Sensory play has lots of benefits allowing children to:

  • Learn through play

  • Explore using different senses e.g. sight, touch, smell

  • Explore different ways to use materials

  • Think critically and creatively

  • Further develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination

  • Enjoy the calming effect + so much more

Sensory play trays have the added benefit of being able to be prepared ahead of time (dry bases) and put away to be used at another time. Simply adding in a new element is often enough to reignite a child's interest in playing with the same tray again.

*IMPORTANT - All play ideas shown here are for ages 3+ as they contain small parts which may be a choking hazard. All play ideas were actively supervised by an adult. Always actively supervise water play at all times.

Everyone will have their own personal preference for sensory tray bases. Some children enjoy dry bases, but not wet. Trying out a range of different sensory play bases will help you to see what works best for your child.

I have found that although we have many different options at home for using in sensory play trays, there are some that we keep coming back to again and again.

Here is a list of 4 of our favourite sensory play bases and some examples of how we use them in play. These are our most used sensory play bases for quick and easy play trays!

1. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are one of our favourite sensory play bases. They are fun to play with, great for scooping and pouring and make a lovely sound too! You can leave them uncoloured or colour them with food dye or paint.

Flower Themed Play Tray

Sensory play tray for kids with chickpeas and flowers.
Chickpeas and flowers sensory play tray

Chickpeas and Gems Sensory Play Tray

Plain chickpeas, some pretty gems and buttons make a fun invitation to play. Add in some jars and scoops to add to the fun!

Chickpeas and gems sensory play tray for kids
Lots of fun scooping and pouring with this sensory play tray

Coloured Chickpeas

We coloured our chickpeas with food colouring and a few splashes of water, drying them in the oven on low heat. Paint can work well too. Add in a few scoops and bowls for some fun! Once they are mixed you will have rainbow coloured chickpeas.

Coloured chickpeas sensory play tray for kids.
Coloured chickpeas are a fun sensory base too!

Rainbow Coloured Chickpeas Sensory Play

Coloured chickpea sensory play tray with scoops for kids
Rainbow chickpeas are a pretty sensory base

2. Water

Water is so much fun in a tray for play. You can use it uncoloured straight from the tap or with a few drops of food colouring. Tip : If it is a cold day - make the water warm! Cold water is perfect for a hot sunny day!

Simply add in some bowls, jugs, scoops and loose parts - think flowers, pom poms, gems, or figurines for some fun play!

Pom Pom Soup

Add in some pom poms and coloured water for a fun sensory tray making pom pom soup!

Pom pom soup sensory play tray for kids. Coloured water in a tray with pom poms and mini saucepans for an invitation to play.
Scooping the pom poms and water is lots of fun!

Pom Pom Soup in the Mud Kitchen Sink

Pom pom soup play idea for kids. Sensory play with coloured water and pom poms in the mud kitchen for kids.
Playing pom pom soup outside is fun too.

Water Tuff Tray and Flowers

Water play on a tuff tray outside for kids. Flowers, water and jug as a play activity outside for kids.
Water play outisde with flowers and kitchen utensils.

Flower Soup Sensory Play Tray

Flowers and water sensory play tray for kids.
Itmes from nature work well with water for sensory play.

3. Coloured Salt

Easily dye salt with a few drops of food colouring. Mix through the food colouring into the salt in a bowl. Tip it out to dry on a tray and then it's ready for play.

This sensory base is great for using with a paint brush for mark making, drawing or writing.


  • Use lighter colours for best results e.g. yellow, pink, orange. I have found that blue leaves stains on hands.

  • Only play if your child's hands are cut free, as salt will sting any cuts.

Other play ideas:

  • Use in a tray with a paintbrush

  • Use in a clear tray on a light panel/light table with a paint brush for drawing or writing

  • Use in a tray with a tea set

  • Set up in a tray with tricky words and a paint brush to work on writing the words.

Tea Party Salt Tray

Grab a tea set and let your child enjoy playing with the salt to make pretend tea! Simple and a great way to invite more play with a unused tea set.

Pink coloured salt in a sensory play tray for kids. Kids tea set and pink salt as a play activity for kids.
Coloured salt is a fun sensory play base!

Sensory play tray for kids using a pretend play wooden tea set and pink coloured salt. Sensory play activity for kids
Tea set sensory play tray

Invitation to Play - Salt Tray

A few bowls, scoops and a brush make fun invitation to play!

It doesn't need to be fancy. Simple works well too!

Kids play idea - sensory play tray with coloured salt
Coloured salt, bowls and scoops

4. Kinetic Sand, Magic Sand and Coloured Sand

Sand is another favourite sensory play base because it can be used in many different ways! You can buy coloured magic sand or kinetic sand or natural coloured looking sand too. There are lots of options.

Some of our coloured sand is magic sand from Kmart Australia. We now have it in pink, yellow and blue. It works well for lots of different sensory play.

We also have natural coloured kinetic sand which we bought from a local discount store. Lots of different places sell kinetic or magic sand. You can also search online for recipes to make your own.

Ice-Cream Shop Invitation to Play

Kids sensoy play idea - mgic sand from Kmart, and pretend ice-cream shop cones and cups.
Magic sand and ice-cream play

Sand and Diggers Play Tray

Sensory play tray for kids using green kinetic sand, mini diggers and trucks and Connetix magnetic tiles as roads.
Scoop, dig and drive!

Sand Tray - Dinosaur Fossil Dig

Sensory play sand tray for kids with kinetic sand, pretend clay dinosaur fossils and dinosaur figurines.
Dig and find the dinosaur fossils

Find the Bugs Kinetic Sand Tray

Kids sensory play tray with kinetic sand and Grapat bugs.
Hide and find the Grapat bugs in the sand.

Sand + Light Panel Play

Using a clear container on the light panel allows for sand to be used. This is a really fun way to make marks, draw or work on forming letters by using the sand and either your fingers or a paint brush to make lines.

In this picture below Miss then 6 enjoyed exploring drawing and making letters in the sand.

We used a fine pink sand from Officeworks in our tray. Normal beach sand/sandpit sand or salt would work too!

kids sensory play idea- sand tray on a light panel for drawing and practicing letter writing.
Sand on a light panel is a fun way to draw and write!


Free Printable Top 4 Sensory Play Base Idea List

Print for quick sensory play set up ideas or use the blank version to make your own. Also included blank versions to write your own ideas/alternate spelling versions.

Free printable sensory base and sensory play tray for kids

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Sensory play is such a fun way to play for kids of different ages!

Four of our most used sensory play bases are chickpeas, water, coloured salt and sand. We enjoy using these fun sensory bases in a range of ways.

What are you favourite sensory play bases? I wonder if any of these above are your favourite too?

I hope you found some inspiration today for creating some sensory play for your child!

Until next time, have fun learning in a playful way!

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Top 4 favourite bases for sensory play for kids +free printable play ideas list

Our top 4 favourite sensory play tray bases including chickpeas and gems.


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