6 Weeks of Tuff Trays

Well, the six weeks' holiday are upon us! For some it's a time of dread and for some a time of joy and not having to do the school run every day. But for everyone it is a time where you have to think of more activities to do.

On our last Play Plus of the year someone inspired me to write this blog post as they realised that tuff trays are something that you can do at home and not just only at children's centres and nurseries. So, I have compiled 6 tuff trays that would be easy to recreate at home – that's one a week for the holidays and one less activity to think about.

Firstly I am aware that not everyone has a tuff tray at home or even has the space for one, so to begin with here are some other alternatives (which are actually very cost effective – something we all like to hear!) 

I've used all of these alternatives and they work really well. 

1. Wilko's Plant Pot Saucer

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The links is for the 48cm saucer, which is 10cm smaller than a tuff tray, and they also do them in different sizes. They are in the gardening department if you go into store and the smallest one starts at 80p. You can do everything you would in a tuff tray and these are easily stored. For Play Plus I have bought ones in different sizes and use them in tuff trays or just to have a selection of bricks out. They are great for creating invitations to play. 

2. Trofast Drawer

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This is another good one, especially with a £1.50 price point. The benefit of this one is that it is deep so potentially meaning less mess. It is great for sand or porridge oats and the only down side is the deeper sides could be a tip hazard if lent on. The other benefit of these are that they come in different colours. 

3. Roasting Tin 

I managed to find a roasting tin in the pound shop: I haven't found one for a while as they tend to only stock them around Christmas time. These are again great in terms of price and are a lovely colour if you add water. If you are not completely precious, you can wash at the end of the day and use it to cook your dinner in too!

4. Tuff Tray

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And if you want the real thing, you can get it without a stand for about £15. I use a stand at Play Plus and that does work really well, but I have used them at home for years just on the floor. The other trays I have suggested work well on the kitchen table and if, unlike me, you have a garden then this tray is great outside; if not, I just use to roll my rug up and place on the laminate flooring or the kitchen floor.

You can also use a kitchen tray or grill pan, but I really like having a separate tray for play and cooking! 

So you have chosen your play receptacle... now for the ideas! You can either do one a week and leave it out for the children to keep coming back to or just get it out for the day. 

Week 1: Ice Cubes

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It can be so hot outside so this is a fun way to cool down. Freeze as many ice cubes as you can and then, when frozen, tip into your tray and add pots, tweezers and pipettes. You can add warm water or different coloured water too. Its great fun trying to pick up the ice and moving it from pot to pot. My little one use to act out the opening scene of Frozen! There are a lot of blogs that mention using salt to melt the ice and I've heard that this can cause burns so I wouldn't suggest this. Also supervision is needed especially if bashing the cubes. 

Extending the play 

- Fill up balloons with water and stuff a small dinosaur inside. Freeze overnight and in the morning you have dinosaur eggs: can you excavate the dinosaur? 

- Put a LEGO man in each section of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze for a few hours. Can you rescue the men?

- Freeze some flowers, either in sections in an ice cube tray or in a bowl full of water; it takes a while to freeze.

- I filled takeaway containers full of water and then put lots of yellow LEGO pieces in one, blue pieces in another and red in another; this was great for talking about colours. 

Week 2: Construction Zone

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This was a definite hit in our house and again was so easy. This was simply the construction toys, with added weetabix. I used the value ones from Aldi and then it meant that my little one had something to saw, something to bash and also something for screwing screws into. 

Extending the play 

- You can also add a bowl of shaving foam and some sort of plastic fish slice and you have cement to make a wall out of your bricks. 

Week 3: Wash the Baby


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Again a really simple idea, but because it involves water – kids love it! I was worried about this one because of the water element; but if you only use a bit in the bottom, then actually it's fine. And you can have a conversation with your little one about being careful with the water (if you are bothered - you also might have to have the conversation a few times!). 

I added some soap and some sponges and it was perfect for washing babies. 

Extending the play

- You could have a mother area where you feed the babies with pots and spoons and porridge oats. 

- Have a car wash tray and add cars and vehicles 

- Make an animal wash tray; using plastic animals and a toothbrush you can give the animals a wash. You can even make the animals dirty first by rolling them in angel delight!!

Week 4: Spider Web

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This was a great tray we had in our last week of Play Plus, to use with our book of the week 'Dear Zoo'. Again really simple and you may even have the things laying around the house. You just need masking tape, pom poms, kitchen tongs and some pots. 

Place some pom poms in the tray and then make a spider web out of the masking tape. The challenge is to rescue the pom poms without getting them stuck on the tape. This is great for fine motor skills. 

Extending the play

- Rescue bigger items like LEGO/Duplo people as it becomes tricker to miss the tape.

- To include a colour-matching focus, have pompoms in the tray that match a corresponding pot and they have to place it in the right coloured pot. 

- Put a number in the pot and they have to put the right number of pompoms in the pot. 

Week 5: Farm Play

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I guess this only works if you already have a farm, but there are things you can do without having to go out and buy lots of things. This works with any type of animals and if you don't have the barns etc, you can cut up cardboard boxes and stick them to the base and they are just was good. My stick hut was from a pet shop, which is a good place to go if you want to buy some bits you don't want to pay out a fortune. 

If you have a tractor or digger, that's great too. I have used cornflakes and sheddies on this tray but Weetabix makes great fences and popcorn kernels make great corn. Add in some scoops and pots and vehicles and the children can have fun looking after the farm.

Week 6: Art 

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This one was loved even by my non-crafting little one. I used chalk paper, but you really don't have to as you can paint directly onto the tray or use a chalk pen/chalk and  add any picture you want. We did this when it was snowing outside, so maybe you could draw a picture of a palm tree?

To the tray I added glue, cotton buds, cotton wool pads, paint and chalk and let him design his own picture. This was my outline and he added his take on Frosty the Snowman. You can just even add paper or lining paper to the tray and let them decide what to draw the possibilities are endless. This was supervised, but I felt very confident that the mess was sort of contained: I didn't let him walk around the house with a paint brush though!

One more just for fun

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This one is just whatever you have in your house really: pipe cleaners, colanders, pompoms, kitchen tongs, pots and scoops. It would be nice to add a muffin tin if you have one too. The pipe cleaners are great for pushing through the holes in the colander and  pompoms are great for squeezing and transferring to pots. In fact I could write a whole post on just pompoms, but not today. 

I hope these have given you some ideas and I hope you have a good summer holiday.


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  • Lydia Lings