My Dinky Little Dot has only recently been sturdy enough to sit unaided for a period of time, so until now I’ve not really planned and set up any play tray activities as such for her, we’ve just had a variety of toys out, playing on the floor or her sitting up leaning against me – perfectly fine of course! Don’t feel like you have to have a set structure of play for your little one every day of the week, and a different play activity between every nap. Your time with your baby is meant to be enjoyable – any play will be of benefit to them and help to develop their skills. Unstructured play can be just as fun. We quite often sit with nursery rhymes playing through our smart speaker in the background and when she hears one she recognises, she’ll re-focus her attention to the music and start her little wiggle (very cute!).
Play trays (also known as tuff trays) are great for keeping activities contained and the opportunities are endless. You can design a tray to focus on developing one skill, or several – depending on what you set out on the tray for your little one to play with. Here are my current top 5 ideas that I recommend trying!
This play tray is tried and tested in our house, as I set it up for National Play Day at the start of August. It’s really simple to do, but complex enough to keep little ones interested for a good while with the different elements.
I loved it as it incorporated some elements that Margot was already familiar with (the sensory organza scarves, coloured ribbons and her rubber ducks) but also some new things too, like the activity links.
Whilst she is only 10 months old, I still talked about the colours with her – she is starting to learn body parts already (she can show you her and your nose) – they really are little sponges! When she picked up the rubber ducks, we sang ‘Five Little Ducks’. We also sang rainbow songs, which she has heard at our Baby Sensory classes before.
Disclaimer: This is not a good play tray if you think you might be OCD about the colours staying together the whole time!!
Another tried and tested play tray. Water play is so versatile and really easy to set up! I needed a quick set up option and knew I had some citrus fruit slices in the freezer and a few water friendly citrus coloured toys…ta-da! It doesn’t look as pleasing to the eye, granted, but Margot is a real water baby and the added elements of fruit in the water added to her fun (and maybe mine, when she tried to eat them!)
I didn’t get as involved with this one, as I wanted to see how she played and what fruit she went for first – lemon, obviously! The fruit kept sinking, which I could see was confusing her, as her toys were floating…really interesting to watch!
Other water play tray themes to try; ocean animals, one colour theme, water beads (for older babies who aren’t likely to try and eat them).
Disclaimer: If you think your little one may be a splasher, definitely buy a PVC table cloth to put under your tray! I got mine from Dunlem in the sale and it’s huge so perfect for any messy play activites in the future too!
We haven’t tried this play tray yet, although it is on my list for the next week or so – when I remember to add the bits to my shopping list!! Margot is at the stage where everything goes in her mouth – as you might have noticed from the above photos! It doesn’t matter what it is, she taste tests it. Whilst I don’t want her to think it’s ok to put everything in her mouth, I don’t want her to miss out on aspects of messy play, so edible alternatives it is for now – when she’s older and can understand ‘No’ better, we’ll face the taste testing everything!
Edible sand can be made from a variety of foods – oats, cheerios, crackers – anything that is ‘sand coloured’ blitzed down in a blender!
Once you’ve got your sand the opportunities are endless, use your creativity! Beach…construction site…volcano…biscuit cutters to make shapes…mini sandcastles using water and stacking cups…desert animals…go wild!
Remember, it doesn’t have to be over complex for your little one to enjoy it. It won’t look anything like how it started by the time they are finished! Enjoy having fun and creating memories.
Another really easy play tray to set up, and mostly made up with household items! Foil blankets are great from a really young age as the light reflections really captivate little eyes and help strengthen their eye muscles, then as they get older they love the noise!
I set our one up here with a foil blanket base then scattered other items around the tray. They included a scourer, whisk, keys, mirror, bells, ribbon and sticky parcel bows. Oh and some teaspoons…how could I forget the noisy spoons?!
Again, we taste tested most things on this play tray, other than the keys – so don’t leave little ones unattended when you’ve got lots of small loose parts. I know it generally goes without saying, but you never know…
The foil blanket is exactly the same as what athletes use – you can get them really cheap online and they will keep your little one entertained for good chunks of time – and they are very durable!
We haven’t given this play tray a go yet, but for those who don’t mind a little mess…spaghetti! Cooked and coloured with food colouring, you can introduce new textures, practice colour mixing/sorting, develop fine motor skills, cutting, scooping…so many skills for various ages and stages of your baby.
To colour your spaghetti:
1. Cook it.
2. Divide your spaghetti into ziplock bags and add a few drops of food colour and a splash of water. You’ll need one bag per colour!
3. Zip the bags up and mix the spaghetti with the colouring. Squash, squeeze, throw(!) anything to get that colour evenly spread.
4. Rinse the spaghetti under the tap in a collander and you’re good to go!
Don’t forget to do step 4, otherwise your baby will be covered in food dye!
Hopefully this has given you some play tray/tuff tray ideas to get you started! I have also built up a pinterest board with tuff tray ideas to try, and the ideas we have tried. You can follow that board here.
If you try any of these, I’d love to know how you got on, what you created and what your little ones enjoyed the most!
If your baby loves a messy play session, have you considered a paint splash photography session? They are incredibly good fun and produce amazing photographs for your home. Find out more!!