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Five great ideas for using tuff trays

date October 6, 2022Tamsin Grimmer

What is a tuff tray?

A tuff tray, also known as a tuff spot or builder’s tray, is a large, durable, plastic builder’s mixing tray with a lip. They are typically octagonal in shape and there are a number of accessories which can be purchased to go alongside the tray e.g. stands of different heights, inserts with pictures, patterns or mirrors and covers. Tuff trays can be used with children of all ages and stages of development and the raised sides or lip makes them perfect for containing things, including liquids and messy materials.

The best way to use your tuff tray is to build on children’s interests and fascinations and then create provocations which invite the children to play, extending their thinking or providing an opportunity to further develop their play.

Here are five of Tamsin Grimmer’s ideas for using tuff trays which stemmed from the children’s interests…

1. Exploring ice

After a cold spell, the children were interested in how water freezes.  One child was very interested in the ice and how it felt cold and wet, so we enabled the children to explore ice by freezing small world toys inside a bucket. Then the children could use tools as well as their hands to chisel or melt the ice and free the toys.

tuff trays images by tamsin grimmer

2. Rescue the flies from the web

One child had a keen interest in Spiderman, so we created a provocation consisting of a mini-beast environment with natural resources and some large plastic flies. We covered the whole tray with a web made of garden twine and invited the children to rescue the flies using large tweezers. This was a great fine motor activity which also tapped into their current interests.

3. Target practice

During a really hot spell, the children wanted lots of water activities so we painted a tree design onto their tuff tray and lay it on its side. The children were invited to squirt water at the tree target using squirty bottles! It was a great way to cool down whilst practising both fine and gross motor skills.

Tamsin Grimmer tuff trays images with children4. Celebrating special occasions

The children had been finding out about flags and our capital city of London, so the tuff tray was used as a provocation to extend their thinking and learning. We dyed some rice using paint and arranged it in a Union Flag design, then added a red London bus and some small world people and cars to create a small world scene to play with. The children enjoyed moving the cars around and talking about London as they engaged with this provocation.

5. Magic potions

One child had a keen interest in sensory play and exploration and would often scoop and pour water and other materials into the sensory tray. We created a potions provocation and filled the tuff tray with different-sized containers, scoops, pipettes and measuring cups. We also added different materials such as water beads, cinnamon sticks, herbal tea bags, rice, shaving foam, and coloured water. The children loved exploring the materials and we observed children creating different magic spells, potions and concoctions which developed their imaginations too.

Tamsin’s final thoughts

Tuff trays are a versatile resource that can be used inside and outside and to top it all, they’re easy to clean!  At the end of the day, you can even involve children in the cleaning of their tuff trays and use this as a learning opportunity too!


tamsin grimmer kinderly collaborator

About Tamsin

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced consultant and trainer, the early years director of Linden Learning and a part-time lecturer at Bath Spa University. She is the author of four books in early years practice: Calling All Superheroes, School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning, Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour, and Developing a Loving Pedagogy.

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