Ideas for creating a sensory play tray with loose parts

1 Jun 2020 | Early Years, Inspirational Activity Ideas

Although the idea of ‘loose parts’ has been in existence since it was first suggested by architect Simon Nicholson in the 1970s as a way to empower creativity, its integration into the early years sector is a fairly new (and exciting!) phenomenon. The term ‘loose parts play’ simply refers to the use of materials with no specific use, that can be moved, carried, combined, explored, and used to enhance or provoke play. They can be natural or synthetic, big or small and can include items such as: tins and jars, corks, wooden rings, tubes and guttering, crates, pieces of fabric, and natural materials like pinecones, shells etc.

The beauty of loose part play is that there is no right or wrong way to use the materials – they are open-ended, and the possibilities are endless! Through using loose parts in their play, children will learn to be creative, think critically, problem solve and work together as a team, as well as developing in all areas of the early years curriculum!


Sensory treasure play tray

Treasure trays or baskets are a perfect way to introduce loose parts play. Providing reflective materials will give little ones the opportunity to play with light and explore their own faces and expressions. Tins and metal spoons make the perfect musical instruments (and are great for sore gums), while sensory bottles provide a plethora of sensory feedback – allowing little ones to explore sound, texture, colour and movement.

To make your treasure play tray:

Place a Mirror Mat inside a shallow tray and select a few reflective objects to place into and around the tray, making sure you don’t overcrowd the space.

You could use:

Metal spoons

Metal bowls

Set of tins

Sensory balls

Experimenting bottles filled with shiny or reflective materials

Foil containers or tin foil.

Key language you might use:

  • Reflection, shiny, dull, mirror, sparkle, glitter, twinkle
  • Body parts: face, nose, eyes etc.
  • Sound, noise, listen, loud, quiet, gentle, soft, sharp, dull, crinkle, crunch, shake, tip, squeeze, bang, tap
  • See, feel, hear, touch

Looking for supplies? Check out our extensive range of loose parts

By Sophie Pickles from

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