Montessori Sand Tray for Under $10

A DIY Sand Tray That’s Better Than the Store Bought Version

I recently purchased a Montessori sand tray for Huck to use during our literacy centers.  It definitely wasn’t an impulse buy, but I hadn’t spent time analyzing the logistics of how I planned to use the tray in our daily activities.

Huck was absolutely thrilled when I presented him with the tray and he immediately began writing his letters.  When we started to practice Huck’s sight words,  I discovered a problem.

At only 8 x 8 inches, the tray was nowhere near large enough for him to write three letters. Argh!  I had spent nearly $30 for a learning tool that was basically useless for my needs.

After prowling the aisles of my local craft store, I found a solution for under $10.


Budget-Friendly Supplies

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Basic wood tray.  (This can be found at almost any craft store, Target, or The tray I chose measured 10 x 12 inches and cost under $7.)
  • Mod Podge
  • Foam brush
  • Fun scrapbooking paper or wrapping paper remnants
  • Paint, stain or wood oil


I had planned to spray paint the tray to give it a fun, pop of color, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  When it comes to crafting, I’m the impatient sort and I didn’t feel like waiting 12 hours for my paint to dry.

I decided on Howard’s Feed-N-Wax to enhance the natural beauty of the wood and eliminate a long drying time.  (As a precaution, I taped the edges of the bottom of the tray. I wanted to make sure the oil didn’t soak into the wood and interfere with the Mod Podge in step 2.)  All I did was rub the Feed-N-Wax on the wood, allow it to penetrate for a few minutes, and wipe off the excess.

Make it Personal

Using a unique sheet of scrapbooking paper is a great way to personalize your child’s sand tray.  Huck’s favorite color is blue (unless camouflage is considered part of the rainbow) so I chose my paper accordingly.

First, I trimmed my scrapbook paper to the fit the bottom of the tray.


Tip: Use an old gift card to scrape off excess Mod Podge and leave a smooth finish.

Next, I used my sponge brush to apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the bottom of the tray and then placed the paper inside.

This is when I discovered that the tray wasn’t perfectly square.  Here’s a little secret: that’s the kind of little thing that drives me batty.

After checking to make sure the paper was completely flat, I applied a topcoat of Mod Podge.  For extra protection, I applied a second coat of Mod Podge after the first was dry.

Et Voila!

Huck’s New Montessori-Inspired Sand Tray


Tips From the Trenches

You probably know me well enough by now to know that I’ll never share a project without also sharing what I’d do differently.  So, here’s my “if I could turn back time and start this project over again…” tip list:

  • Use regular Mod Podge.  I used the outdoor kind because I thought it would give me better protection.  It was way too thick and left my surface somewhat uneven.
  • Let the Mod Podge dry completely.  (As in totally completely–if such a phrase could exist.)  If you rush the drying time, you’ll end up with tiny sand grains burrowing into the bottom of your tray and eventually, the paper will rip.  Trust me.


A router is on my holiday wishlist, so I’m hoping to have a DIY “tray with lid” tutorial to share with you soon.

I’d love to hear from you and see your projects as you complete them!





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