How to Make a Salt Tray for Exciting Alphabet Tracing Activities


It’s easy to make a DIY salt tray to help your kids work on letter formation. You can increase their excitement and sensory input by using letter tracing printables with these sensory writing tray ideas.

how to make an exciting salt tray

The letter tracing printables pictured in this article can be purchased in my store.

alphabet tracing cards

No Time to Read The Whole Article?

Here are the quick links to purchase the printable letter tracing practice cards today.

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience. There will be no additional cost to you if you purchase something from the link, but I receive a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of the links.

What is a salt tray or Sensory Writing Tray?

You may have never heard of a salt tray before, and that’s okay. A salt tray is a tray or shallow container with a layer of salt, sand, or other sensory materials in it. Kids can use their fingers to make letters, pre-writing strokes or lines, words, or drawings in the material.

Because the trays often contain materials other than salt, some people prefer to refer to the tool as a sensory writing tray. Sensory writing trays are used in classrooms to provide a positive opportunity for kids of all abilities to form letters, lines, words, or drawings.

What Are the Benefits of Salt Tray Writing?

You may be asking… What are salt tray writing benefits? or Why is writing in sand important?

The fact is that many young kids aren’t quite ready to write letters with a pencil or crayon. Their little hands haven’t developed enough yet. With a sensory writing tray, your kids can practice letter formation without using a writing utensil.

Salt trays are motivating and exciting for kids and they LOVE using a salt tray to practice forming letters.   Using a salt tray for writing letters provides a wonderful sensory experience and gives kids a low-stress opportunity to practice writing the letters of the alphabet.

How do You Make a sensory writing tray?

I’m going to show you how to easily put together a simple salt tray for your kids.  If you are feeling creative, I have also included LOTS of ideas to use salt trays for fun letter activities.

I added several links at the bottom of this post. Use the links and ideas to help you shop for props to add to your center. There will be no additional cost to you when you make a purchase from a link, but a small portion of your purchase will be used towards maintaining this website.

Select Your Sensory Tray

To start, you will need some type of tray to create your salt tray writing activity.  Don’t worry! Your tray doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive.  Here are some things that you can use.

salt tray for preschoolers

Add the Salt or Sensory Material

Now that you have a tray,  add a little bit of salt to just cover the bottom.  Don’t use too much.  You want to be able to see the bottom of the tray when you make a line in the material with your finger.

Don’t have salt? No problems! Here are some additional sensory materials that you can use for letter tracing practice.

  • Fine sand
  • cornmeal
  • baking soda
  • small seed beads
  • glitter
  • rice
  • tiny shells

I also have LOTS of creative ideas below.

Use Alphabet Tracing Cards for Reference

Provide alphabet cards for reference.  The finger tracing cards pictured in this post are available at my store, but you can also make your own.

How Do You Use a Salt Tray for Writing Letters?

Now that you have your salt tray all ready to go, it’s time to put it to use.

What Do You Use to Write?

I really love the idea of using a pointer finger for letter tracing so that kids get a better sensory experience. This gives them more sensory input for multi-sensory learning. However, kids can use a variety of tools to practice making letters.

Here are some additional tools that kids can use for writing in their sensory writing tray:

  • paintbrush
  • popsicle stick
  • twig
  • magic wand
  • silly Halloween vampire finger
  • finger puppet
  • unsharpened pencil
  • small dowel

How Do You Erase the Letters in a Sensory Writing Tray?

After forming the letter with their finger, kids can then shake the tray from side to side to erase it. This is a little tricky for them at first, so you should model this for them until they get the hang of it. Before you know it, they will be pros!

How Do You Make a Salt Tray More Interesting and Exciting?

This is the part that I LOVE. There are so many ways to make salt trays exciting and engaging. Here are some fun sensory writing tray ideas for you to try.

Use Cool Paper

It’s a good thing when the bottom of the tray and the salt contrast in color.  This makes the letter more visible when it is formed.  If you want to add extra contrast and interest, place different types of paper on the bottom of the tray.

You can use any plain colored paper or you can use some super fancy scrapbook paper.

Add fancy scrapbook paper to the bottom of the salt tray to add excitement

This shiny blue paper is fun.  Do you want to make a rainbow salt tray? Use rainbow scrapbook paper or strips of different colored paper in the bottom of your tray to make a DIY rainbow sensory writing tray.

salt tray example for preschoolers

You can also try textured paper.  Can you find the snakeskin paper in the pictures below?  Want to add a little bling?  Try some glitter paper. 

Add Fun Materials to the Salt

You can add fun things to your salt to make a salt tray even more exciting or to coordinate with your current theme or lesson plan. 

Get creative with mix-ins, but try to stick to small materials.  You don’t want to take the focus away from the important stuff – forming letters.

Add sequins to make a Christmas salt tray

If you browse through the aisles of your craft store, you are bound to find some really cool confetti or sequins.  You can add colors that reflect the season.

flower theme salt tray for preschoolers

Or…you can add shapes that coordinate with a theme.  I was amazed by how many different confetti and sequin shapes that I found at the craft store.

salt tray ideas - add black glitter to the salt

If you are brave, you can add glitter to the mix.  I know, I know….glitter gets EVERYWHERE.  But, I was really fascinated by how the glitter and the salt separated when I shook the tray.

How To Add More Sensory Experiences to your writing Tray

Pushing a finger through the gritty sand or salt provides a great sensory experience.  That sensory experience will help kids remember the shape of each letter they make. With a few additions, you can provide even more experiences for their senses.

Feel It – Add textured paper to the bottom of your salt tray.  In the picture above, we used snakeskin textured paper.  In the salt tray with the flower-shaped sequins, we used a bright pink glitter-covered paper.

Hear It: I found the cutest, tiniest little jingle bells at the craft store.  Mixing them in provided a little bit of sound.

Add small bells to a salt tray for more sensory input.

Smell It:  Pick up some inexpensive herbs from the dollar store and use them instead of salt in a tray.  Oregano or basil work really well.  You can also mix herbs and spices into your salt. 

Add inexpensive oregano to your sensory writing tray or salt tray so that kids can an additional sensory input.

Here are some additional additions that will make your salt tray smell great:

  • ginger
  • cinnamon
  • paprika
  • cumin or taco seasoning (this will be perfect when you have a taco shop dramatic play area set up)
  • snip fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, etc.

You can also make a scented salt tray by mixing in a drop or two of essential oils.

What Other Materials Can I Use in my Salt Tray?

In the example above, I suggested that you use herbs instead of salt in the tray.  There are soooo many additional materials that you can use to create a fun salt tray for your kids.

Let me give you some creative inspiration.

Use fake snow to make a winter theme salt tray

In the winter, try adding some snowflakes to a tray.

Make a Valentines Day or holiday salt tray by using sequins

Sequins are so much fun!  You can use any color of sequins and kids will love the sparkle.  I just returned from a trip to DC where I just had to see the ruby red slippers in the Smithsonian.  These red sequins totally remind me of those iconic shoes.

Add small jewels, gems, or sequins to a salt tray.

Here’s another way to add sparkle to a tray.  I used my bargain supply shopping techniques to score these gems at a super discount.  My advice….the smaller gems work best, so I picked out the large ones.  This makes me think of Valentine’s Day.

Salt tray idea:  Use small beads instead of salt in the tray

I was walking through the aisle of my craft store and spotted some tubes of seed beads in all kinds of beautiful colors.  They were on sale so I picked some up. 

The black beads are so cool because they provide some really great contrast.  The black beads on the yellow tray remind me of a road, a road sign, or a construction site.

Use colorful beads instead of salt to make a salt tray for preschoolers

But, the seed beads look very cool when they are multi-colored too.

Use small rocks or aquarium gravel in a salt tray for fun writing practice

Aquarium gravel works well too.  I found this blue gravel at the dollar store and think this salt tray would be a great addition to an ocean theme unit.  Check the aquarium supply aisle at your pet supply store and I bet you can find some really cool gravel.

Additional Sensory Writing Tray Ideas

Here are some additional materials that you can use in place of salt in your salt tray:

  • sand or colored sand
  • cornmeal
  • Ice cream or cupcake sprinkles
  • rice
  • lentils
  • organic potting mix (don’t use the stuff with fertilizer!)
  • melty beads
  • pea gravel
  • bird seed
  • corn

Hopefully, these ideas get your creative juices flowing. 

How to Make an Inexpensive DIY Salt Tray

I often get asked for advice on how to make inexpensive salt trays. Many teachers like to restrict the sharing of supplies, so they need to make MORE salt trays for their classes.

Here are some ideas that will help you make salt trays on the cheap.

I found some frisbees for $1 in the toy aisle of Walmart. They make a perfect writing tray.

Use a frisbee to make an inexpensive salt tray

In the dinnerware aisle of Walmart, I found these black flat-bottomed plastic plates. I think they were also $1. With a little bit of star glitter, they make a cool space-themed writing activity for your kids.

Use a flat bottomed plat and star glitter to make a space themed salt tray

I recently visited Michaels and found these small shadow boxes near their checkout area. Guess what? They were only $1.

I removed the hanger on the back, gave them a light sanding (no splinters wanted). I hot-glued a clothespin clip to hold a letter card, and they make a great mini-salt tray.

use a small shadow box to make an inexpensive salt tray for your kids.

Here are some additional ideas for inexpensive trays:

  • shoe box lids
  • lids from plastic containers
  • dollar store baking pans or pie pans
  • a cereal box, pizza box, etc with 1 side cut out
  • garage sale or thrift store treasures
  • clean foam meat trays
  • food prep containers or lids

Well, I hope this answered all your questions about how to make a DIY sensory writing tray, and how to use it for letter writing practice. I hope you have fun using salt trays to help your kids learn to write letters.

Purchase the Letter Tracing Cards Today

Interested in the alphabet tracing cards featured in this post?   You can also use them to create tactile letters.  I have two different sets of alphabet tracing printables in my store. Click below to check them out and buy them today.

alphabet tracing cards

Purchase The Letter Tracing Printables on TPT

Do you prefer to shop at Teachers Pay Teachers? You can also purchase the Alphabet Tracing Cards and Fine Motor Tracing Activity Cards in my TPT Store.

Find Sensory Writing Trays and Materials

You can probably get the best price for most of the materials described above in your craft store or dollar store.  I added several links below for items you can use to create your salt tray. There will be no additional cost to you when you make a purchase from a link, but a small portion of your purchase will be used towards maintaining this website…and for that, I thank you.