Exploring Fall Sensory Trays

Sensory trays are a great way to teach students about the properties of nature items. Popular sensory trays include dried pasta, rice, and beans, but these can get old rather quickly.  Autumn has many different items that lend themselves well to sensory trays.  
 
Students can work on a wide variety of skills and concepts while using a sensory tray. Trays are an item that should always be in your science center, as their use can be easily adapted for different skill levels and materials are interchangeable. The trays can have all of the same items or a variety of items.  For example, you may want to make a tray of different pumpkins and a tray that has pumpkins, pinecones and Indian corn.
 
Be Creative! Trays are great to use because they are portable, a proper depth, offer good contrast, and are easily washable.  Yet there are other containers that work well for sensory “trays”.  A plastic pumpkin, a metal bucket, and an apple basket are all fall themed items.  

box of pinecones

Fall scents:

Students will smell a variety of scents in the fall, especially at Thanksgiving when families are baking.  Include these scents in your science center so that they are familiar to students once Thanksgiving arrives.  Cinnamon sticks and oranges with cloves smell great.
 
Another option is to scent small playdough balls with vanilla, cinnamon, sage, nutmeg, and cloves.  Put each ball in a sealed container on the tray so that the smells don’t mix or overwhelm the area.  
 
 

Skills: 

Fine Motor Development:

Students can improve their fine motor skills by exploring items. They can work on their pincer grasp, finger isolation, raking, grasping and releasing. 
 
pinecones and acorns

Pre-literacy skills:

Students that are learning to use a tactile literacy system or braille learners need to learn to use their hands and fingers.  This is especially true for students that read using whole or partial objects or textured cards.  Students can have fun playing and manipulating objects while desensitizing their fingers and hands.  
 

Language skills:

Teachers should use descriptive language when students are playing with the trays.  Students will learn the new vocabulary words.  They can also work on their receptive and expressive communication skills. 
 

Cognitive skills:

Students will work on locating items on the tray.  They will also develop and improve their tactual and/or visual object identification. Students can gather information about the items using all of their senses.  For example, they can learn the smell, texture, weight, taste of an orange.  
 

Concepts:

Math:

Students can work on big and little and small, medium, and large.  Provide a model for the students and then allow them to match their items to your example.  After several learning opportunities, students may be ready to categorize the items according to size.  Students can also work on sorting the items by shape, color or size. 
 

Prepositions:

The concept of “in, out, on, off, up, down, over and under” are all easy to teach when using sensory trays.  
 

Fall Sensory Trays:

Pumpkins

1. Small, medium and large size pumpkins.
2. Dry pumpkin seeds  
3. Pumpkin stems, and the tops of pumpkins
 

Gourds

1. Select a variety of gourds
2. Have at least two of each gourd

small medium large pinecone

Indian Corn

1. Small and large cobs of corn
2. Corn Husks
3. Dried corn -- This item isn’t recommended for students that put items in their mouth
 

Pinecones

1. Small and large
2. Various colors
3. Scented and unscented -- some students may be sensitive to the smell and have an adverse reaction to the scented pinecones
 

Leaves

1. Various colors, shapes and sizes
2. Use real leaves if possible
 
four red apples

Apples:

Place the apples in an apple basket.  I have used two baskets-- one with a green fabric liner and one with a red liner.  That made it easy for students to sort the apples by color.  
1. Red, yellow and green apples
2. Cut up apples
3. Apple products for tasting- apple pie and applesauce
4. Put apples in an apple basket
 

Oranges:

1. Navel and clementine oranges
2. Orange peels
3. Orange segments
 

Food Tray:

1. Candy Corn and candy pumpkins
2. Vanilla Marshmallows
 
This tray is a lot of fun.  Students can smell and taste the candy and marshmallows.  They can also work on soft and hard.  My students that aren’t able to eat still seem to enjoy playing in a bucket of candy corn.  The texture isn’t offensive and the candy has a sweet smell.

NGSS Standards

Cross-cutting Concepts: (These go across grade levels.)

1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.  
6. Structure and function. The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions 
 

K -2 LS1.A: Structure and Function

All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)]‎ 
 
sensory trays collage