Founder of @inspiremyplay, Early Years teacher for 11 years and mummy to three gorgeous girls. I'm passionate about about the benefits of play in early childhood.
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I often get asked for recommendations about what to buy to use with the PlayTRAY. The world of sensory and small world play can feel overwhelming! Where do I start? What are the must-have items? Do I really need to buy it all?
There are definitely some basic items that are useful to have (scoops and bowls for example) but beyond that my advice is always start with your child's interests! What fascinates them? What will excite them and draw them into play? And yes, some of these items you might already have at home, or something that will work as an adequate substitute. So don't feel you need to buy everything, not all at once at least!
By popular request I've put together a range of options for resources and supplies to go with the PlayTRAY based on different interests and themes. If you are giving the PlayTRAY as a gift, these ideas are a great way of filling the PlayTRAY to make something truly special to open!
Many of these setups are a hybrid of bought resources and natural items. Where possible I've included links to resources to make it easier for you to source things to go with the PlayTRAY but please be aware that Amazon don't always direct you to the exact product I've selected, so do just check prices against other listings if they seem unusually high!
As always do be aware of the age-appropriateness of the resources you choose. For example I wouldn't use the glass stones featured in some of these set ups until you are sure that your child won't put them in their mouth.
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Sensory Play Starter Kit
When it comes to sensory play there are definitely some tools that are invaluable! The set of resources pictured here will allow you to set up a range of activities. Bowls and scoops are a must for filling and pouring with dry materials like rainbow rice, oats and sand. These activities are the foundation of sensory play and I can guarantee you will get a huge amount of use out of them! The handy tools set by Learning Resources is another great investment for use with the PlayTRAY. Each tool is designed to work on developing children's fine motor skills and hand strength. We find these great to use with water play and for use with pom-poms and waterbeads. Another tool that is very useful is a set of liquid droppers. You can find them all via our Amazon store button below.
Construction play is so much fun and a brilliant way to gift the PlayTRAY to any vehicle enthusiast! An option for a quick and easy base is to buy some play sand or kinetic sand. If you have a bit more time why not try making our sand play dough or use pantry items such as black beans, dried chickpeas and pasta, which are great for transporting with little vehicles. You can even use cereal, which is a great option for our youngest PlayTRAYers who are still mouthing!
When it comes to vehicles there are two sets that I recommend. Le Van Toys make a gorgeous wooden set of vehicles that we love but we tend to save these for less messy set ups. If you are looking for versatility & value for money, CAT make a plastic set of vehicles that can be used for wet sensory play, like oobleck, and easily be cleaned afterwards. Both can be bought via the button link below.
We used kinetic sand for the base of this dinosaur tray but this one could also be set up with play dough or pantry items. If you're looking for greenery for small world play, a good place to start is a pet shop. Plastic plants for a fish tank or reptile terrariums work really well as vegetation!
These wooden slices and green boulders are something we use for a lot of different play scenarios. In fact, all of these items you will find useful to reuse!
This is one of our favourite themes! Water play is a great place to start with the PlayTRAY and these resources will enable them to build their own watery worlds! Although we collect a lot of shells at the beach ourselves I do recommend the pack of shells from Amazon to give you a great selection of different types.
We do love our Schleich animals but I also find this pack of assorted sea creatures invaluable! Because these are comparatively cheap I don't mind using them in all sorts of messy play scenarios like setting them in jelly or popping them in the freezer for some ice play!
Frozen themed PlayTRAY
This one is such a hit in our house! We've also made this Frozen play dough kit as a gift for a few friends and it always seems to go down well. I painted Elsa and Anna peg dolls for this, but if you prefer you could buy little frozen characters (there are lots of options on Amazon). Check out our Frozen play dough kit blog post for full details on how to put this together.
Birthday Cake Sensory Play
This is the perfect way to gift the PlayTRAY for a birthday and is one of my kids' all time favourite sensory play set-ups. This uses cloud dough for the base, which is a mixture of flour and oil. It's powdery, yet mouldable so it works well with cookie cutters and to make pretend cakes- you can poke in the candles and they will stand up! I added a little bit of vanilla essence to this to give it a gorgeous cakey smell. Adding candles is a must for this and if you can find some number ones too then it is a great opportunity to work on counting and number recognition.
You can find the instructions below to make cloud dough. If you'd like a slightly cleaner option than you could substitute the cloud dough for playdough, but still add the vanilla essence- it's a must!
These space figures from Safari are the perfect size for small world play! Use them with a base of black beans or make some moon cloud dough. Again, these can be substituted for black or grey play dough. I actually made these planets using air-dry clay but below I've suggested a set of planets that you can buy instead.
Arty Crafty PlayTRAY
Okay, so this isn't small world or sensory play as such but the PlayTRAY compartments are a brilliant size for holding craft items so I had to include it! This is also a really inexpensive way to fill the PlayTRAY. Take a trip to a supermarket or craft store to stock up on crafty items. Alternatively, you can find some of our favourite craft supplies linked below.
I hope that's given you plenty of inspiration for resources to use with PlayTRAY and how you can gift it in an exciting and original way! Do pin this article to refer to later and for more PlayTRAY ideas do follow us on Instagram at @inspiremyplay.
You can also find a selection of our favourite play recipes and PlayTRAY set ups in our PlayTRAY ebook.