March 22, 2019

5 Play Tray Ideas | Toddler Learning Activities

For a quite a while now I have been putting together independent play trays for Lily to help her encourage her to explore and develop various skills through play. They have been a huge hit so far and I don’t know what I did before them to be quite honest because 70% of her playing consists of these trays. I find them so helpful with not only home education (although she is still so tiny we don’t do anything “official” yet) but also to keep her occupied throughout the day. I find they grab her attention so much more than her toy box and I’m seriously considering really cutting back on her available toys and do a sort of rotation because I’m sure this would get her playing with everything. Anyway, I digress, in this post we are going to look at Lily’s current play trays because they are always a hit on Instastories so I thought I’d share them somewhere easier to navigate!

Lily’s current play trays:

A Colour of His Own Themed Play Tray

What’s in it:

A Colour of His Own by Leo Lionni
Silk scarves
Clear plastic cut out of Chameleon

Great for:

Colour recognition
Early reading skills

I saw this idea on Instagram so I can’t take credit for this idea as it was in fact found on Still Playing School I believe although I have not lost the bloody screenshot of the lady I got the idea from but a quick search on Pinterest leads me there so I’m hoping that’s where I saw it! Lily loves colours and board books so I had been looking for a fun colour themed board book for ages and finally came across this one and bought it within 3 minutes of seeing it online, haha. The story is lovely and Lily loves it, especially that it is a small board book, she finds these so much easier to carry around and read herself so I’m pleased about that.

I made the chameleon plastic cut out of a sheet of plastic I bought off eBay but you could use a laminating pouch, cellophane or anything cuttable and clear!

The idea with this activity is that the see through chameleon cut out can be held over pretty much anything to give him a new colour! Lily loves this little guy and I’m sure he’s going to go missing out of this tray and into her bed probably, haha.

Duck Pond Sensory Play Tray

What’s in it:

Blue silk scarf
Grimms River Pebbles
Natural stick block
Lanka Kade Natural Ducklings
Crochet duck pond

Great for:

Sensory exploration

This is more of a sensory tray than anything; lots of different materials and lots of different textures for little hands to explore. I like to try and include as much natural materials as possible for nature inspired trays where possibel just to make things more realistic but also because I find natural materials have much better texture. For example, the rock is heavier than the other items, it has grooves and differnt colours with smooth and rough textures as well as a notciable temperature dfference to the other bits and pieces. It’s also a bit different to the Grimms Pebbles but will happily stack just as well with them all.

Lily loves ducks so this one is a huge hit, she loves the silk scarves too, we have a whole bunch of colours which are great for these sort of thing, the blue one is particularly good for water because the movement and reflections mimic water as best you can without everything getting soaked, haha.

Nap Time Play Tray

What’s in it:

A selection of crochet granny squares
Small wooden and felted animals/people

Great for:

Fine motor skills

This play tray has been going strong for a good couple of months now, we actually haven’t changed this one at all over that period of time because she loves it so much. I made these little crochet granny square “blankets” for her little toys back in January for her 3rd birthday. If you’re not into 80 year old lady crafts then fabric scraps, felt or even tissues would work too!

We have a few little toys in there which I rotate a little bit but at the moment we have two Holztiger dalmations, a little Hape wooden doll and a felted cat that my Mum made for Lily. This tray is pretty simple, I did try and keep the colours of the granny squares quite toned down so lots of natural shades with so pink thrown in of course.

I’ve included lots of different textures like pom poms, flowers, dots and different types of yarn with different stitches. Lily loves getting the little toys out and tucking them in with the little blankets.

Colour Sorting Peg Play Tray

What’s in it:

Card colour sheet
Pegs with matching colours

Great for:

Colour recognition
Problem solving
Fine motor skills

I actually wrote a little DIY on this one last week…Or was it this week…Either way I have a DIY post on how to make this colour sorting play tray activity if you fancy having a look at that too! Lily is pretty knowledgable with her colours already but I thought I’d add in some different ones into the mix so instead of your regular red, blue, green, pink, etc I have included slightly trickier colours like light brown, navy, mint green etc to expand her colour palette a bit.

The idea with this one if you haven’t already read my DIY post, is that they match the colour on the peg up with the colour on the card and peg them on their matching ones. This is a great activity to help get those colour names down as well as work on things like fine motor skills and problem solving. It’s also super easy to make!

Letter Recognition Play Tray

What’s in it:

Alphabet book
Wooden lowercase letters (eBay)
Letter outlines on card

Great for:

Letter recognition
Problem solving

Lily loves puzzles and matching things up and this little activity took literally 2 minutes to set up. All I did was draw round some of the letters we are working on at the moment onto a pice of scrap cardboard and that’s it done! For younger children first learning their letters and things it is so important to start with lower case letters first using phonics rather than letter names. This helps them a great deal when they come to learning to read and sounding out words. Teaching the letter names first can end up confusing kids a lot when it comes to reception.

Anyway, I have got side tracked again, haha. The idea of this is pretty simple as with most of these trays! The book Lily obviously can’t read herself yet so I will read that to her if she wants me to or sometimes she will just have a look herself and get used to the different letter formations and even match some of the wooden letters up to the ones in the book as well as the outlines on the card. This activity is great for early letter recognition, you can help sound them out and help the child start to place sounds with the letters too!

Maybe I should start doing these regularly because we do change these up every week or so, let me know if you’d be interested in seeing more of these kind of posts!

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