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Make a sensory tray from nature! Discover nature with your toddler or preschooler with a Montessori-inspired nature sensory tray.


In spite of the hurricane brewing off the coast, our backyard shimmered, buzzed, and just begged to be explored. The balmy breeze seemed to sweep us along in a spirit of adventure.

So off we went, my little guy with his trucks and bulldozers in hand. My goal for this outing was to 1. Collect a sample of all the unique plants in our backyard nature walk, 2. Let my son explore the various textures and materials, and 3. bask in the sunshine!

I’ll be honest, at first my son was reluctant to join in. He was in the process of digging a pretty impressive hole in the dirt. It’s man’s work, y’all. It took all of my persuasive powers to drag him away from his job. So, I started collecting a few items and invited him over to take a peek at the treasures in our nature tray. (That tray, by the way, hails from Tanzania, Africa, thanks to a gift from my sister. Just take a peek at that gorgeous wood!)

Once I had piqued his interest, I encouraged my little man to go explore on his own. I’m a big fan of standing back and letting kids feel independent when they’re outdoors. Outdoor play is so important for raising happy, confident kids. There’s no need to shadow them step for step. Let them be brave!

Little man found a few interesting leaves and mushrooms and added them to our collection. I think his favorites were the feather-like “sword” and those little yellow nuts that happen to be perfect for teasing mama with.

I also played a little impromptu scavenger hunt game. I showed him a specific plant (like the easily distinguishable yellow nuts) and asked him to go find a match. He had a lot of fun with this!

Montessori Nature Sensory Tray |

We also worked in some vocabulary building skills. We identified opposites with our nature sensory tray: hard and soft, smooth and rough, and long and short. Naming colors, counting the objects, sorting by shape and size, even making patterns are great ideas, too. These are easy ways to use your sensory tray to boost early learning. Geez, we should take our classroom outside more often!

Need more Montessori inspiration? Check out my essentials for creating a Montessori play space.

My friend Bernadette took a different spin on this nature activity. She has the cutest little girl, and they recently went on a nature walk of their own. Read all about their girly take on nature trays over at her (ridiculously cute) blog Mom + Carrot.

I think the key to using nature trays is embracing simplicity. Enjoy the process. Don’t rush it. Let the natural objects that you find speak for themselves. Cultivate an appreciation for nature in your child. There is beauty in simplicity!

Here’s our complete nature sensory tray collection. We managed to leave the bulldozers and trucks out of it 🙂 Beautiful, isn’t it?

Montessori Nature Sensory Tray |

Is your own backyard buzzing with an invitation to play?

Go forth, and explore!

Did you enjoy this post? Be sure to read Bernadette’s post about creating a Fall sensory tray with her daughter. Her little girl had a blast discovering the subtle changes of Fall in California. It’s so cute to see the different perspective from a toddler girl. Plus, Bernadette shares a must-have list of items to pack on your nature walk. (Because getting a toddler out the door is never easy, right?) Read her post on Mom + Carrot!

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