Art Activities · Learning Activities · Sensory Play

Salt Tray Painting

If you know anything about me my favorite, last minute, activities are EASY to set up. Here is one of my favorite sensory, learning AND creative activity. I love this activity because it can be as fun or educational as you want it to be. Looking for a simple 20 minute playtime? This is your answer. Looking for a new way to practice your preschoolers lower case letters? Here you go!

What you will need:

  • Salt (corn starch, old baby cereal, sand even flower)
  • Tray ( I use a cookie tray with short sides, but if you have a messy kid use a cake pan)
  • A few utensils (paint brush, popsicle sticks, backside of a pencil)
  • Table cloth (Or an old sheet if you will do this activity on the floor)
  • OPTIONAL Flash cards or a white board for you to write down what your child will be working on (think letters, numbers, shapes, sight words, simple math skills)

Set up:

  • Take your salt (or salt substitute) and dump some into your tray. Go for less than you think you will need at first. Remember, you need the salt to be pushed aside with a finger or paint brush. If you put too much in the salt will just fall back into place. I use between a 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup for my cookie trays.
  • Place the tray on a table cloth. If you are doing the activity on the floor place the tray on an old sheet. (Then at the end of the activity you can just pick up the table cloth and shake it out or dump what spilt back into the salt container)
    • Why would you do this on the floor? If I only had a toddler I would place the sheet on the floor and place the tray smack dab in the middle. My toddler loved to pile up the salt and it tends to fall off the tray. When she was at the table the falling salt often ended up on her lap…and eventually the floor. So I would just skip the falling-on-the-lap step and just go right to the floor. Then all you do is pick up the sheet at the end of the activity and shake it out on your back porch. No sweeping necessary.
  • You can introduce your child to the activity at this point. Or you can place a few writing utensils next to the tray. This activity is great for fingers or paint brushes, so just do what works best for you little one.


Here is our little set up. The girls stayed at this activity a little over 20 minutes! It was so fun! Very quickly they were using their paint brushes in different ways. This always happens. I plan an activity with an idea of how it will go and then I sit my children down and away it goes! This is not a bad turn of events. I just remind myself they are experimenting and that is learning too!

The paint brushes were a big hit for painting too! If you have a toddler use this time to encourage good grip on their paint brush. After I snapped this picture I helped my 2 year old switch her grip to the pincher grip, more appropriate for writing.

After  10 minutes I told my littles they could use their fingers! That opened up a whole new world. (NOTE this does get a bit messier, but it is such great sensory play I don’t mind). I thought that fingers made for better picture creating. The girls were making waterfalls and clouds and trees.


Finally I introduced some sight words for my 5 year old. This extended what she thought of as play time, and what I thought of as school work! We would sound out or try to recall our sight words. Then she would trace them into her salt.


This is a go to activity at our house because it is simple, easy and medium mess. It also encourages pre-writing AND writing skills, small motor muscle strengthening, creativity, self-control and sensory experimentation.


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