How to make your own writing tray

One of my favorite ways to encourage the children to practice writing their names is by setting out the writing tray which is also called a salt box or sand tray.

Making your own salt box or sand writing tray

To put together your own salt box or sand writing tray, keep the following in mind…

  1. Choose a shallow box or tray with a slick surface (or add a laminated card to the bottom). You want the bottom of the tray to be slick so the sand or salt easily slides out out of the way when the children write in it. An acrylic tray works nicely.
  2. Put a small amount of salt or sand inside the tray to lightly cover the surface of the tray. If you add too much salt or sand, then the sand or salt will keep flowing back into the writing space. Start with just a little sand or salt and add a little more as needed.
  3. Use contrasting colors. If your tray is white, for example, use a darker color sand. If your tray or box is brown, use a lighter color sand or use salt.

Using your salt box or sand tray

  1. Invite the children to use their fingertips to draw or write in the sand or salt.
  2. Print the children’s name on a card or chalkboard so they can look at it for printing their own name.
  3. When the children wish to erase their drawing or writing, encourage them to shake the tray.
  4. Then start all over again.

Keep the tray out for regular writing practice

A salt box or a sand tray is a wonderful addition to the classroom and you can keep it out so the children can continuously practice writing and drawing. Keep in mind that when you first set up this invitation to write, the children may want to explore the material in a variety of ways. This is another reason not to put too much sand or salt in your tray. I always tell my students that the sand tray is for writing and the sand table is for scooping and pouring. They get the idea pretty quickly.

The sand we used in this tray came from Hobby Lobby. There are all different colors there so we switch out the colors every so often just to keep the sand writing tray fresh and fun. We also keep the tray on our sign-in table for a little extra practice each morning as the children come into the classroom.

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By |2019-02-02T00:43:41+00:00February 9th, 2019|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Kate February 10, 2019 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah!
    I love this and want to be doing something similar in my class. My preschool is part of a charter school that has adopted Cursive First for our handwriting. We know that children will be learning cursive letter formation in Kindergarten, so we introduce their names in cursive in preschool. Since cursive writing follows a very particular form, I’ve been hesitant to just let my kiddos write their names in cursive simply by trying to copy a model. I’ve felt that they need to learn the correct flow of writing their names through direct adult instruction. Do you have any thoughts on this that could help me to allow my kiddos the freedom to explore with their names without sacrificing learning the correct flow of cursive formation?

    • Deborah Stewart February 16, 2019 at 8:45 pm - Reply

      My suggestion is to let them learn the flow when they get into the older grade. For now, allow the children to focus on building the eye-hand coordination, fine motor strength and skills, and the joy of writing just for joy.

  2. Modupe February 10, 2019 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Thank you Deborah for the creative ideal.
    Flour and some some baking flour could also be explored.

  3. Ginnie February 12, 2019 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I have loved your blog for many years. I have gained so many wonderful ideas in homeschooling my girls. Do you have any blog recommendations, books/resources for the second grade years and beyond?

    • Deborah Stewart February 16, 2019 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      I have seen some fabulous Instagram accounts for older grades. Have you looked there?

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