Which Tray for Sensory Play?

Recently I had a chat with a lady about what types of containers were best for Sensory Play.  The short answer is any and all!

Of course, first thoughts went to the Tuff Tray – originally designed as a builders mixing tray for cement etc, it has been commandeered by Early Years for the past decade or so as the must have item in your setting!

So much so that an entire industry and indeed sub-culture has sprung up around them to include;

  • Large selection of colours – I’m pretty sure they were not originally marketed for the construction industry in lime green or fuchsia!
  • Social Media
  • Education

Available in a range of colours from black to Red, and my person favourite – white – affiliate link WHITE Tuff Tray

I love the white tray as it enhances the sensory experiences and therefore the value of the play and learning potential.

It offers a perfect stimulating visual high contrast to chosen sensory resources such as dark, monotone or block and makes look colours more vibrant (check out the stunning rainbow above), neon and glow in the dark (against a black light also look incredible.  Check out more pictures below

They are hard wearing and easy to clean and maintain (essential in any child’s resource)

Fairly inexpensive – so much so, they have now migrated from early years settings into the home. They cost approximately £13 – £20 without a stand.

They can be used with a stand (which although are relatively expensive, are incredibly versatile due to adjustable height) Tuff Tray Stand

My personal preference is without a stand – on the floor (on a messy mat (pop over to the Shop to check out the selection of Messy Mats), outdoors, or on a table top – although due to the size, they are wider than most household tables.  The trays usually fit pretty well on top of preschool/ nursery furniture.

The stands are great when on the lowest setting at barely several inches off the ground, elevated enough for the children to play on their knees comfortably and still reach the centre.

Children will want to climb into the tray – which is fine, but also another reason why the stand may not be necessary (or safe!). When playing, children often become so engrossed they literally immerse themselves in the resources – hence ending up in the middle of the tray.  It will happen – accept it and plan for it safely

  1. supervised play space.
  2. On the ground for babies and crawlers to access resources – this also makes it much more accessible for children who are wheelchair users.
  3. low to the ground for children at cruising stage where they can engage with resources as they balance and crawl comfortably
  4. higher off the ground

Social media has contributed to their growth in popularity – pinterest perfect images popping up everywhere to entice and inspire us (here my Pinterest Page here

  • Multiple Facebook groups entirely dedicated to ideas of how to use them (I may be a member of one, or, several!) this is my favourite
  • Incredibly versatile – great for play with water, sand, dried sensory materials such as rice, pasta, cloud dough, also messy play including jelly, paint, foam.

In all honesty, very often my own tray set ups are not that ‘picture perfect’ for lots of reasons – but more about that another time!

My dear friend Sally Wright over at The Ark Groups has published a fabulous book all about Tuff Trays for lots of inspiration and ideas !

So for your viewing pleasure – here are a few of my tuff tray set ups – the good, the bad and the ugly, and they all hit the spot in terms of child engagement, satisfaction and enjoyment x



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