This fun transport or city themed sand sensory play is easy to set up and so much fun to play with.
If you have a child who loves cars or trucks, or who enjoys small world play, or you just need a fun activity to engage your kids, this sand sensory play idea is perfect!
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Sometimes, living with a preschooler who is full of lots of emotions can be rough. Sometimes you just need a special activity to distract and engage them. This was one of those days!
My preschooler was in floods of tears when his Dad left without him. I knew he would have been bored silly driving around town with Dad, but he was just so upset. I needed a distraction, something to make him think staying at home with me was WAY better then going out with his Dad. I needed a special activity to really engage him.
So I grabbed a big, deep sided tray, braved the rain, and headed out to the sandpit. By the time I was back inside with a tray full of sand, the tears were gone and my preschool was interested.
“What are you doing Mum?”
“Oh something special…”
“Something special for me?”
This sand sensory play activity is easy to set up and the perfect distraction for a child who likes cars and trucks, or a child who loves imaginative small world play, or a child who needs the calming aspect of sensory play – or in my case all three!
It’s also a great open ended activity for a transport or city themed project with your class. Setting this up each day will allow your preschoolers or kindergarten students to explore lots of different ideas and concepts as they follow their interest in cars, vehicles, the city, or even your local neighborhood.
Benefits of Sensory Play with Sand
Sand is a great option for sensory play, whether it is outside in the sandpit, or inside in a big tub, or a tray like we used.
Exploring the sensory properties of sand, it’s texture, weight, how it smells, how it moves, and more is a fun, often calming, sensory experience for children. This simple sensory play is often the beginning of scientific investigation and thinking as kids innately explore concepts such as heavy and light, wet and dry, and experiment with building and mark making in the sand.
Sand play is great for practicing fine motor skills, strengthening small muscles and developing eye-hand coordination – all skills that are needed for writing.
Playing with sand, especially with a small world or imaginative play set up like this one, is a great opportunity to use and develop language and social skills if your child is playing with, or even along side another child. If you are at home with only one child, you can encourage these same skills by asking open questions and encouraging conversation about their play, and by joining in and modelling sharing, taking turns, and collaboration.
Small world sand play set ups such as this one are also an awesome way to encourage creativity and imagination. They can be a great space for story telling, role playing, and even for a child to ‘play out’ and work through any worries or issues they may be trying to understand.
How to Set Up Transport Sand Sensory Play
This transport themed sand sensory play activity is easy to set up and you can even involve the kids.
You could use a tuff tray/builders mixing tray (have a look at your local hardware store for one of these or check out this smaller option on Amazon), or an under bed storage box (these are great as they have a lid so you can easily pack it away and get it out again another day), a sensory table, or just a large serving tray like we used.
Next you’ll need some sand.
We are lucky to have a sandpit in our backyard, so even when its cold and wet I can dash outside and fill up a container with sand for some indoor sand play. If you don’t have a sandpit you can buy play sand from most hardware stores or online.
You’ll need about 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of sand to fill a tub or tray big enough for one child. That’s about 6kgs (13 pounds) of dray sand. For this sand tray set up you will probably use less than that as you only need a small layer of sand, but it’s always good to have a bit extra.
Tip: Add a little water to make your sand damp – this will make it easier to mould into shapes and a lot less messy!
Now that you have your container and your sand, you just need to choose some accessories.
For this transport/city themed sand play tray we used:
You could add anything you like to your sand tray set up. My kids added animals, glass gems, a wooden rainbow stacker, and other extra items as their play became more involved.
Get your kids involved with choosing what to add to the sand try and get them to help you collect items. My preschooler loved going outside in the rain to collect leaves to make ‘trees’, and sticks to make ‘fences’
You can simply add the sand to your container and pop the accessories on the table and let your kids do the rest, or you can set up a little invitation to play.
I decided to set up and invitation to play with cars on the sand tray. So I pressed a layer of damp sand firmly down into the tray, then using a block I pressed some ‘roads’ into the sand. I added a few road signs and a car or two and we were ready to play.
As my preschooler played, he added his gum leaf trees, some stones, a tunnel made from our rainbow stacker, some blocks, lots and lots of cars to make a busy city.
We left the sand try out all day and my preschooler came and went as he pleased. Later in the day he came back with our tub of animal figurines and added lots and lots and LOTS of animals, and even a penguin swimming in a pool!
And of course this kind of small world sensory play is not just for little kids!
We left the sand tray out so the bigger kids could also have a play after school.
If your kids love cars, trucks and all things transport themed, they might also like these ideas:
And you might also like to check out our city themed play dough printables in the shop.
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Love it!! Gorgeous boyo.
love it! he looks like he is having a ball :)
Deb G says
Seriously great idea, Kate! This is one of the many reasons I read your blog – you totally inspire me with ideas of what to do with my toddler. I’m so glad that M’s tears went away with this special sand tray!
Oh Deb you’ve made my day! Sometimes I wonder if anyone is really that interested in the sometimes crazy things I do to engage my kids. It’s so nice to hear that you don’t think I’m totally nuts!
Best Idea EVER!! Is it cheating if I make her do it outside on the patio lol??
So not cheating.. more like genius!
We are building a 3 metre wide verandah that runs the length of our new extension. The architect thinks we are nuts putting it where and how we have, but he doesn’t have children and I am hanging for the day when this kind of play is easily set up on the deck just outside my family room window!
Hi – have just discovered you and am now a keen subscriber. Looking forward to following you …one Ozzie mum to another. Am definitely going to try that Tuna Bake.I am sure the kids will love it with the chips on top.
Welcome to Picklebums! Thanks for dropping by and saying hi… hope your kids love the tuna bake as much as mine do!
Read your site for the first time tonight and I think it’s great. Looking forward to reading more.
You are an awesome mum! This is such a great idea!
Mandy Ferry says
I love this, you’re so creative!
What a fantastic idea. Hard to use our sandpit in wet weather, this is the perfect compromise. Thanks picklemum. :)
Collett @The FamilyFactor says
Your name pops up everywhere – so I finally decided to investigate. I love your blog!!
What a great idea today! I am going to try this tomorrow with my 3 year old!
Very cool M.. :)
That is way cool! Ok, I’m going to get us some sand and make it one of our next activities :)
Thanks for the idea Kate! Love your blog :)
Kate from An Amazing Child says
Kate I have to say you are one brave lady to head out in the cold…brrr..if it’s anything like Canberra :)
Love the sand tray but just where did you get those awesome street signs???? J would just go nuts for these.
Yep it is freezing here too… 1 degree here this morning! brrr!
The road signs came from Windmill Toys – my big boy got them for Christmas and they are great.
Kate from An Amazing Child says
Thanks Kate. And only $16.95! Bargain. I’ll be ordering some :)
Love this — no directions, just PLAY. :o) Bethe @balmeras
Jess Powell says
FABULOUS!!! I have my diploma of children’s services and even though I’m very inventive with my ideas on entertaining my son, sometimes we all need some inspiration! Thanks so much :)
This is such a lovely activity.
Beautiful story and inventive idea for a sensory kiddo. Thank you for sharing!