If you’re the parent of a toddler or young child, no doubt you’ll have come across ‘tuff trays’ at various sensory classes and playgroups. These tough plastic trays are perfect for containing different materials making them a great choice for messy and sensory play; there are millions of ways you can set them up to provide different learning opportunities for little ones right from your home or garden. You can set up activities that provide open-ended play and imagination while enabling your child to work on skills from memory and concentration to scooping and pouring, fine motor grip, and more in a fun way. If you’re thinking of purchasing a tuff tray, or have recently bought one and are looking for ideas, here are five really simple ways to set one up using things you probably already have at home.
Use things like dried rice, lentils, and crushed cereal to create different ‘habitats’ for dinosaur toys. Things like big cabbage leaves make fantastic greenery to hide things under, or you could bring in some pebbles and sticks from the garden. Just be aware of the sizes of rocks you’re using and the age of your child to avoid them being choking hazards- for young toddlers use big, smooth rocks. From imaginative creative play and naming dinosaurs for older children to hiding and finding the toys and the sensory experience of touching the different materials for younger children, this one is great for a range of ages.
Dirt truck fun
If you’re feeling brave, a dirt truck-themed tuff tray makes for excellent messy play fun. The ‘mud’ can be made from baby rice cereal mixed with cocoa powder- this makes a fantastic non-toxic ‘mud’ which is safe if your child decides to try and eat any! Add some dirt trucks, cranes, or digger-type toys, and you could also add some play sand too, for scooping and pouring. This one is likely to be best enjoyed outside, that way you can clean it all down with the hose once you’re done!
Chunky wooden building blocks are already fantastic for open-ended play (and chances are your child has lots of them!) but by using a tuff tray, you can incorporate them into a wider concept. Pour your wooden building blocks in the middle, and have your child sort them by colour or shape; you can find free printable worksheets for these kinds of things, and have your child tick off or circle different shapes or colours as they see them. For older children, print off pictures of simple to more complex structures, and have them copy the picture using the blocks provided. This can help with coordination and fine motor development as well as shape and colour recognition, balance and much more.