I featured this item in an Etsy treasury a while ago, and it is just so wonderful, I had to write about it here as well. This Sand Tray (pictured here), by Little Alouette, is a great way to engage your little ones in motor, prewriting and letter skills. Providing a fun tactile, sensory experience at the same time is just a bonus! I love how you can use this as an extension for the sandpaper letters, almost like bringing them to 3-D. Best described by Little Alouette, "The impermanence of the writing of the child in salt/sand gives freedom and a non-stressful sense of learning. One simple shake of the tray makes the surface smooth and ready for more practice. Children can redo without worry. The Little Alouette Sensory Tray is 8.5 x 8.5 x 2.5 and made from Birch Ply. Deep sides keep sand/salt inside." And the best part is that it is very reasonable at $16.00 plus shipping. The rest of their shop is fabulous, so stay around and fill up your wish lists- plenty of handmade, organic, eco friendly wooden toys to choose from (like this Gigi Teething Giraffe-how precious!).
Want to make a sand tray yourself? Solid vintage fruit crates, shoe boxes, a single wooden drawer or a plastic tub can substitute. Simply fill it with sand, and enjoy!
Some other great activities that can be added for a little diversity give a lot for your money as well. Need an activity to grab using something from around the house, like, now? Go grab a can of shaving cream, spray it onto your table and let them finger trace, draw, and erase to draw again until their little hearts are content. Be careful, it can be a little messy, but it cleans your table at the same time (bonus!), smells fresh and clean, and washes out of clothing. Just a little monitoring required to make sure they don't pretend it is whipped cream and decide to ingest it. The squeals of delight will last for at least 45 minutes. A simple wipe-down with a wet cloth afterward is all you need for cleanup.
Another variation is to put liquid paint (like poster paint) into ziploc baggies (I prefer the ones with the zipper so you know when they are closed), be sure they don't have too much air in them, and let the children draw with their finger on top of the closed bag. Just squish the bag to erase and start again. With supervision, this can also be a great color-mixing exercise. What happens when you mix blue paint and yellow paint in the baggie? The letters turn green! Don't have paint? Shaving cream or whipped cream and a little food coloring works great as well.