Inside: this tropical Christmas sensory play activity includes a mini Santa hat tutorial, recommended books, and more.
Whether you’re teaching a Holidays Around the World unit, live somewhere where there is more sand than snow, or are just looking for some interesting December sensory play ideas, your preschoolers will love this activity.
You might even like to bring this back out for Christmas in July!
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Imagine playing on a beach at Christmas time – soft waves crashing, cool music playing, and the warm sun shining down. It’s a far cry from a snowy white Christmas!
…but you can still build a snowman!
Start with a Book
I would introduce this sensory tray with a read-aloud that gives kids some context. They may know about snowy snowmen, but the idea of a sand “snow”man is probably new.
Santa on a Surfboard by Laura Sharp – you can tell this book was written by a kindergarten teacher because it does a great job introducing Christmas in Australia to little learners. Add in Sarah Gledhill’s beautiful illustrations and you have a nice addition to your Christmas Around the World unit or your display of books about Santa Claus.
Snow Angel, Sand Angel by Lois-Ann Yamanaka is a longer story that takes readers to a snowy Hawaiian mountaintop and then down to the beach. A family builds both a real snowman and a sand snowman. The book is a bit long for many preschoolers, but I think it might be worth adapting it for them – either by reading it in multiple sessions or by condensing it on the fly.
You can also get creative and look at other sensory bins to get ideas for how to adapt this one to your needs and materials on hand.
What You Need for a Tropical Christmas Sensory Bin
It turns out that kinetic sand works fairly well for building little snowmen. Just add the right accessories.
- Mini Santa hat (simple tutorial below)
- Tiny sunglasses (easy instructions below)
- Small seashells
- Twigs for arms (optional)
- Shiny blue posterboard or alternative
- Blue or aqua fun foam
- Kinetic Sand
- Sensory bin
- Other optional bits: toy shark, toy palm tree, etc.
Cut out waves from the fun foam. Then use a scrap to make sunglasses. Cut out posterboard “water” to fit in the bottom of your sensory bin. Then get out all your snowman parts. If you don’t have the right size Santa hat you can follow my tutorial below to make a quick no-sew one.
Finally, add the kinetic sand, and make a sand snowman to inspire your kiddos.
The sand won’t hold together perfectly. It stays for a little bit, and then “melts”. But I think building another one is part of the fun.
How to Make the Snowman Parts
The Santa hat and sunglasses really make it look like a tropical snowman, so you’re going to want to find or make some.
How to Make a Mini Santa Hat
If you don’t have a toy-sized Santa hat lying around, no worries – you can make one in about 5 minutes!
You will need red and white felt, scissors, a white pompom, and a hot glue gun.
First, cut a semi-circle out of red felt. A 5-inch diameter is about the right size.
Next, fold the felt into thirds. Apply a strip of hot glue to the right edge as shown:
Then fold the left flap all the way across, let the glue harden, and trim off the excess felt.
Can you see the hat coming together now? Now cut out a narrow strip of white felt and hot glue that on.
Glue on a white pompom. Then, glue down the tip as shown.
How to Make Snowman Sunglasses
I went with just super simple sunglasses for this. They don’t stay on the snowman really well, but they only take about a minute to make.
I used a scrap of fun foam and folded it in half. Then I cut it as shown below:
Then I unfolded it and colored in the lenses with a black permanent marker.
Now you’re ready for play!
Additionally, if you want to add an early literacy version of this sensory bin, check out this sand snowman alphabet sensory bin over on ABC’s of Literacy.
If you’re looking for some more Santa-related ideas, this sweet handprint Santa craft might fit the bill.