Why would early childhood educators want to use Tuff Trays to invite playful learning opportunities within their program?
Personally, I like to use tuff trays and also smaller trays because it means I can prep everything before children arrive, throw them all into the tub or tray and leave somewhere I can grab quickly and head outside (or setup ahead of time) without a lot of juggling and bringing things in and out which takes up valuable time.
They provide easy access for babies and toddlers if you set them up on a low table, floor or grass and if you only want older children to access the invitation or materials you can easily place them up higher. They are also a fantastic way to define spaces for different areas of play and you can add dry or wet materials, natural or man made, or just leave out for the children to use as a blank canvas for their own play and imagination either indoors or outdoors!
Another handy thing about using tuff trays to setup and invite play is that you don’t have to clean up straight away – you can easily remove the paint, water and other messy or sensory materials and equipment that you would rather be out of reach of little fingers when finished with the activity by putting the tray up high, over the fence or in a different room...or pour into a tub and pop a lid on for play another day.
If you don't have the time to clean up the space or pack up everything straight away... but don't want children to have access any longer, trays make it easy to move things out of reach quickly - even larger tuff trays are quickly pulled or dragged out of the main play area, just come back to cleanup or setup for another day's play when you have more time or at the end of the day.
So with those tips in mind and my philosophy of keeping play simple for both children and educators, I thought I would share a few examples of the different ways early childhood educators around the world are using their tuff trays to invite playful learning experiences.
There is a lot of photo inspiration for you to scroll through here but please keep in mind that the idea is not to try and recreate the activities shared exactly but to take some ideas and new energy away with you to modify and share with the children in your care.
Most of these activities work very well for babies through to school age with a little modification of the materials used - and are suitable to be used within a multi-age group environment like Family Day Care. Tweak them to suit your own resources, setting and ages but above all keep it simple and keep it playful – complicated does not mean more opportunities for learning in the early years!
Keep scrolling for your Tuff Tray inspiration!
Learning and Exploring Through Play used her Tuff Tray to set up a simple measuring and weighing invitation to play and investigate using dry cereal.
Empowered Educator Facebook Group member Amanda shared this Tuff Tray idea using colored shaving cream.
Happy Learners made a seaside themed tuff tray - some water and toy boats and you're good to go!
Lottie Makes made an impressive Pirate themed invitation to play to stimulate the imagination and invite creative play.
Empowered Ed member Lynda added cooked pasta to her tuff tray along with bowls, tongs and scissors to challenge fine motor muscles.
Adventures of Play used their Tuff Tray to make dinosaur footprints with paint. This is a great way to keep painting in one area (as much as possible anyway!).
This ice painting idea would be perfect for the warmer weather (though not too hot - we don't want the ice to melt before we can paint it!). This idea was found on Instagram by EYFSBadgerClass
Empowered Ed member Jackie used her Tuff Tray to make an indoor sandpit. Love the different textures of sand, wooden bowls and smooth stones for children to explore.
The Imagination Tree made a reflective surface and shiny things tuff spot invitation to play. So many ways you could modify the materials and experience to suite different age groups!
Rachael from my Facebook Group shared her idea - fishing! She used blue sand, magnetic fishes and added magnets to the bottom of the sticks. What a great idea!
Now this one definitely takes a lot more time to organise obviously, but you have to admire the Dear Zoo theme that Pondering Parenthood has set up here. It would be great as a prompt to learn more about zoo animals and habits or as a way to explore different colours and textures. Add a basket of books so children can do their own fact finding while playing!
Empowered Ed member Elizabeth added water to this collection of sensory items to create a beautifully scented water play experience.
Mona added coloured rice, scoops and containers to invite playful colour mixing, pouring and measuring. Tip into a sealed tub at the end of the play and reuse over and over again!
Rock My Classroom uses the Tuff Tray in a different way, adding some guttering for children to slide water & water beads down. I wonder what else the children might invent or rearrange using those materials? A fun way to explore simple scientific concepts!
Empowered Ed member Kaylene shows us that simple soapy water never stops being fun! The shallow tray also makes it easy to whisk up some bubbles too!
RawChildhood setup a variety of different sized and shaped containers and mixing utensils then added jelly for some sensory, messy play and exploration!
Another great Tuff Tray idea from EYFSBadgerClass on Instagram. You could use whatever items you have on hand in your environment - I often use gumnuts and banksia seed pods for these types of fine motor and sorting activities.
Abigail from my Empowered Ed Facebook Group shared this interesting tuff tray idea - roads, cars and water. A fun way to open conversations about weather and recent floods too!
Adventures and Play shows us that by thinking out of the box you can create a whole new sensory experience. This underfoot sensory Tuff Tray is such a great idea and the perfect size for little feet!
This ball pit play idea from Teach Investigate Play is a nice way to give the babies a turn to investigate using their senses within the enclosed space of a tuff tray.
Where can you buy a Tuff Tray in Australia?
I get asked this a lot in my Facebook Group and they do seem harder to find here in Australia than in other countries at the time of writing this post. However, I have managed to locate some places for you to try though.
If you know of any others please add to the comments section below to share with other educators!
- Educational Experience sell colored Tuff Spot Trays HERE.
- Modern Teaching Aides sell Tuff Trays on a stand HERE
- Some people are also using the clam shell sandpits that you can get from places like Kmart or Bunnings.
You can often find some interesting large trays or similar at the markets and in the op shops so don't forget to check there to. I'm quite proud of my tray collection - not fancy but so useful as a resource - especially when using them with toddlers!
Lots of ideas for using tubs and smaller trays in this collection for you to explore - what will you try first?
If you enjoyed this post why not Pin it to Pinterest so you can refer back to the ideas quickly when needed.
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.