Tuff Tray Play Ideas



Imagine a whole world of play right at your fingertips. From splashing about in the ocean to… dinosaurs?! Using tray play, anything is possible to create and explore allowing children to really get their imagination ticking.

(Now, of course, any area can be transformed with the power of a child’s imagination, but keeping the majority of the mess in one space is a blessing!)


These activities are great for children of all ages in their learning and development, as there are so many types of play to cover, such as:

  • Sensory play (different textures/smells/tastes/sights)

  • Small world (animals/people/vehicles)

  • Construction (blocks/bricks)

  • Science experiments (mixing different liquids/colours)

And many more besides! Below are some brilliant tray play ideas to engage children’s interests and learning.


Construction site


This can be as simple as using blocks and bricks to construct towering buildings or cosy little homes (maybe the big, bad wolf blew down all the houses and you need to build a new one for the little pigs!).

But if you add in some extra elements it can expand the play and learning.


Before throwing out any old cardboard packaging, egg cartons, yoghurt pots or similar, ensure they're clean and safe and use them for building! It's a great way to get extra use out of them before recycling and it opens up more possibilities for building and problem-solving.


You can add your own “cement” by making soft playdough and using it to combine the pieces together, after all, we definitely don't want these houses to be blown down!


For an added messy play element (everyone's favourite kind!) use up any old cereal like cornflakes or Weetabix as these can be crushed and crunched to make gravel and soil around the construction site.



Potions class


All you’ll need is water, paint and some containers to make your own potions, but adding things such as pipettes and funnels adds to the experimental nature!


Have the primary colours set up and some empty bottles or cups ready for the mixing. Watch the colours pour, flow and mix together like magic as new colours are created.


Using tools such as spoons or pipettes is great for giving those fine motor skills some practice, as it encourages little hands to carefully choose and mix the ingredients without letting any spill!



Yarr, Pirates!


Sand, water and treasure! Bury lost treasure like coins/buttons/pebbles in the sand and have your pirates rescue the goods! Decorate the space accordingly, you can even make your own pirate hats and flag.


Use a mixture of dry and wet sand for different textures to explore around the edges of the tray, and add water in the middle for the ocean, complete with pirate ship and crewmates!


This is great imaginative play, but to make a bit of a challenge you can incorporate a colour-matching game for your treasure. Have some treasure chests (any box or container) with each one representing a colour; when the treasure is found, add it to the correct pile and see how many of each colour you can discover.



There are endless possibilities for activities to try and if you incorporate your child’s favourite stories or hobbies it will help get them involved in playing and learning. Have fun!



For even more fantastic ideas check out: https://www.learningandexploringthroughplay.com/2016/08/44-tuff-spot-play-ideas.html



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