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EYFS tuff tray ideas for toddlers

13 min of reading
15 September 2023
EYFS tuff tray ideas for toddlers

It can be easy to become stuck with new, exciting tuff tray ideas. Whether you fit in with an EYFS learning theme or want a quick 5-minute set-up tuff tray, researching fresh and interesting tuff tray ideas toddlers love can often get pushed down the busy to-do list. We share a huge collection of EYFS tuff tray ideas, from dinosaurs and pirates to early reading and Maths tuff tray activities.

What you will find in this article:

    What is a tuff tray in EYFS?

    Tuff tray activities are often open-ended and child-led learning opportunities that are designed to be enjoyed. A tuff tray is a large, plastic working area for toddlers and children; it has a solid lip to prevent overspill. It allows children to be creative, develop social skills and engage in sensory activities whilst keeping the small pieces or messy resources in one place.

    Tuff tray activities can be used to promote inclusive play across your nursery. The activities can vary from introducing toddlers to new sensory experiences to helping children to apply their learned knowledge (like Phonics).

    Why are tuff trays useful?

    Not only do they try to contain some messy play activities in one place, but they help to structure the play without losing the balance between child-led and adult-led play. A simple tuff tray idea can spark interest in new areas or build important social skills with others.

    Toddlers often lack motivation to sit down and develop their fine motor skills, like a pincer grip. Running around and jumping off things is so much more appealing than focusing on holding a pen or writing; we get it! Tuff tray ideas for toddlers can build the motivation needed to develop their fine motor skills through engaging and fun tuff tray activities.

    Lining to your EYFS curriculum, tuff trays can extend learning. This learning could be an early reading book you are focusing on as a group or developing methods to support PSED EYFS growth.

    Nursery practitioners have their work cut out for them trying to keep up with toddlers for the day, avoiding adding complex planning and researching of tuff tray ideas onto their already demanding day. Share articles with great tuff tray ideas for toddlers with your EYFS staff; save them time, engage your children and boost their learning development.

    EYFS tuff tray ideas for toddlers.

    Thinking of new ideas for your tuff trays can be tricky; you don’t have endless spare hours researching and saving lots of ideas. We have collated a huge number of EYFS tuff trays for toddlers. Saving you time, giving inspiration and making your nursery room extra enjoyable for the children.

    Dinosaur EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Dinosaur EYFS tuff tray ideas are always a hit, toddlers love using their imagination to create dinosaur-related games in the nursery. We share some of our favourite ideas to try:

    A dinosaur ice excavation tuff tray activity can be easily created using a number of simple items. Use your plastic dinosaur toys you may already have in the nursery, with some dyed rice. We suggest you dye the rice blue for the water and use natural rice for the island. Add some real or artificial plants for foraging. And you have a simple dinosaur island.

    To discover dinosaurs, we have to excavate. Why not combine excavation and sensory play with frozen dinosaur eggs? Your children will need some mini dinosaur toys frozen in a water balloon overnight. Give them some excavating equipment (small wooden chisels or wooden spoons), and let them get to work. Even better, when they have melted and released the dinosaurs, there is water for them to continue the fun!

    Dinosaur EYFS tuff tray ideas

    Pirate EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Pirates in Pyjamas is a firm favourite for engaging the children in early reading; linking your tuff tray area to pirates is an easy way to extend the pirate fun with self-directed play activities.

    A simple off-cut of floorboard lino makes the perfect pirate ship decking, with sand, treasures and maps to help the children find plunder. You may even want to create a map of the nursery room; X marks the spot for some hidden treasure.

    Learning to sail the seven seas takes some practice. Help the children to develop scientific thinking by allowing them to test their own pirate ships. A pool noodle cut into bands can be the perfect starter-pirate ship. Encourage them to decorate their own flags and fill the tuff tray with water. Ahoy, me hearties.

    Pirate EYFS tuff tray ideas

    Phonics EYF tuff tray ideas.

    Making phonics fun with games and activities can help boost children’s motivation for learning their phonemes and graphemes. There are lots of creative ways you can incorporate phonics when thinking of tuff tray ideas.

    We love this idea of drawing words in chalk pens with the cut-up letters ready to unscramble and make the word (with supporting image). This idea has endless possibilities and can challenge phonics knowledge, alphabet recognition or even names.

    Phonics EYF tuff tray ideas

    Reading EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Who doesn’t love, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’? Get creative and make each section of the story on your EYFS tuff tray. Coloured sand or dyed rice is perfect for the mixture of land, water and forest in the story. You can retell the story using small characters while the children act the sequences out.

    A personal favourite of ours at the moment, Scott Stuarts’s book, My Shadow is Purple is a perfect PSHE-focused story for children to learn about inclusion and gender in an age-appropriate way. The book covers all different shadow colours, from pink, blue, purple, orange and brown. Create a multi-coloured tuff tray with coloured sand, beads, rice or pieces of material.

    Maths EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Early Maths activities are a great way to begin the problem-solving and curious approach to scientific thinking. Maths-themed EYFS tuff trays can help to question the rules behind numbers and place value whilst being fun and engaging.

    A simple number line can be a quick 5-minute tuff tray activity to set up but it can be so flexible in how you use it with the children. Draw the number line and give the children Maths manipulative (dried pasta pieces, Numicon, Unifix cubes, beads or buttons). Encourage the children to group the manipulatives into equal numbers or sort them into similar colours and sizes.

    For this next Maths EYFS tuff tray idea, you will need a piece of sugar paper (or tuff tray insert), a thick marker pen and some Unifix cubes. Draw the shape of the octopus onto the paper, you can leave spaces for the cubes to sit or draw in the guidance markers yourself. The children can make each octopus tentacle a different colour, experiment with patterns or count the number of cubes used on each tentacle.

    Maths EYFS tuff tray ideas

    PSHE EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Recognising and celebrating physical differences within people is a valuable lesson to be taught in EYFS. We share some PSHE tuff tray ideas.

    In your tuff tray, have a number of different faces ready, one for each child. Ensure you have a wide representation of colour for the skin tones chosen. The children will create a face of their choosing, allowing them access to different hair types, glasses, eye colours, and smiles.

    Oral hygiene can be an area that children dislike to be involved with; brushing teeth can be a real chore for parents at home too. Make brushing teeth fun by laminating some teeth (don’t forget to show different types of teeth, not all teeth are straight, some have braces etc.). Using a wipeable pen, draw some dark spots on the teeth; the dirt needs cleaning. Armed with a toothbrush, the children will scrub the teeth to remove the bad spots, keeping their laminated mouth clean and healthy.

    Messy play EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Messy play activities are perfect for introducing children to new sensory experiences, plus they love getting grubby! Using tuff trays for messy play can save your carpet and help to contain the messy play without limiting the play potential.

    Potions and perfumes can be created from almost anything… leaves, flowers, mud, food colouring, fruit juice, you name it. Provide the children with several containers or jugs and encourage them to create their own perfume or potion. Extend their language development by prompting questions about what the potion does, how it is reversible and how it is created.

    Messy play EYFS tuff tray ideas

    Messy play that develops art and creativity can be open-ended, where children can run wild with ideas. If you’d like a more structured, messy play activity, try creating a template of a waffle ice cream cone in the tuff tray from sugar paper. The ice cream section can be created by dipping balls of cotton wool into paint and dabbing them onto the page. Make an ice cream cone to rival any you’ll find in a freezer.

    Little Learners

    Cleaning the plastic vehicles the children play with regularly is good hygiene practice. What if we told you this can be a tuff tray idea for toddlers to play with too? Have several stations for washing the cars (a water station, foam or soap station and finally a drying station). Or, have the whole tuff tray as a soaping station and ‘park’ the cars in the sun on a warm day to dry.

    Sensory EYFS tuff tray ideas.

    Sensory tuff trays are a favourite in every nursery room; like messy play, sensory activities for toddlers allow them to experience new sensations whilst having lots of fun. Some sensory tuff tray activities can be edible, especially if your nursery room has teething children (where everything ends up in their mouths anyway).

    Some edible tuff tray ideas can include yoghurt, fruits, water and lemons, jelly or couscous. You may even want to apply some of the earlier ideas to make them edible, like encasing the mini dinosaurs (take care of the small parts and toys) in jelly rather than ice.

    Placing pouring containers and jugs of water can create endless sensory fun; something so simple as playing in water can offer great sensory feedback for children. You may even want to consider including a solar-powered water feature in the water.

    Sensory EYFS tuff tray ideas

    The soft feeling of chalk against your fingertips can be calming for some children. The use of ‘heavy work’ like grating or using a hammer on the chalk can help provide children with some tactile sensory feedback. Supervising the children with practical resources like graters and hammers, encouraging managed risk-taking discussions with the children.

    The Curiosity Approach

    Simple tuff tray ideas.

    Recycle some old cardboard and create a castle for a simple tuff tray idea. Add in some people, animals and even a dragon, and you have a rescue mission on your hands away from the dragon!

    Simple tuff tray ideas

    Old office phones from workplaces or local councils can provide endless chatter, social development and role-play. Contact your local council or your parents via your Parent App to ask for donations of office-style telephones. Ring, ring.

    EYFS construction tuff tray ideas.

    Finally, we come to the EYFS construction tuff tray ideas. Use different cereals and rice to transport the construction materials (cereal) from one place to another. Diggers and construction vehicles are best suited for this task. Children can develop team skills to create hills, channels and even roads around the tuff tray.

    EYFS construction tuff tray ideas
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