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Everything you need to know about Tuff Trays

What are tuff trays for?

Tuff Trays are a (1 meter diameter) plastic tray that provides a contained space for children’s open ended play.  It is octagonal with space for 6 children to play together. There are different quality Tuff Trays on; the education range or the value range.  How you use it is up to your imagination.  Use sensory materials to explore touch and feel or messy play materials to squash and mix or create a small world set up, like a farm,  a garage or a beach. 


It’s a fantastic resource for parents or teachers to help children learn and explore. They provide so much potential for play opportunities. The size is just about ideal for sensory play, messy play,  arts and crafts, baking, construction, play dough, sand and water, crafting and so much more. We have a list of 50 ideas below.  It does take a little effort but with some imagination it will become your favourite item for play, not least because you can contain the mess!


What age are tuff trays for?

Tuff Trays can be used with young children from aged two to nine years old.  Choose materials that are age appropriate taking care not  to use materials that could be a hazzard for younger children.  Parents of toddlers often use edible resources like cereals, flour etc to create sensory play trays.  You may like to place your tray on the floor or a small table but adjustable stands are available that have three different heights, so they can grow with your child.


Are tuff tray activities or messy play suitable for babies or toddlers?

Tuff tray activities for babies or early years children can be tricky. The main thing is to make sure it’s safe, using age appropriate materials and that they are supervised at all times.


What are tuff trays made from?

Tuff Trays are made from recycled plastic, they store easily. You can carry them easily and they are extremely durable. The tuff tray stand is adjustable to 3 heights and is made from steel. Storing your tuff tray flat will keep it in perfect shape. Slide it under a sofa or somewhere that you can easily access it, that way you use it more.

 Do I need a tuff tray with legs and a cover?

Adding a stand does add an extra fun dimension to your tuff tray activities but it’s not necessary if you don’t want the expense.  A stand brings the tuff tray up to standing height for toddlers and with a blanket thrown over the top it makes a fantastic den! Stands are adjustable to 3 heights so it can allow your tuff tray to grow with your child. Covers are again optional but are reasonably priced. Click for options

 What tuff tray resources could I get?

You can now get all sorts of tuff tray accessories to amplify the fun when it comes to planning your tuff tray ideas.  But don't feel that you have to purchase accessories when all you need is a bit of imagination (and age appropriate items). There are natural materials are all around you in the garden, the kitchen or the toys you already have in the playroom. If you do want a little inspiration check out our Tuff Tray accessories section


What can I put in a tuff tray? Anything

Add in what every you have to hand, as long as its age appropriate. Just get imaginative. Here are a few of our ideas.


50 simple ideas for Tuff Trays

  • Water - endless fun here - check out Pinterest for super ideas. Beach scenes, dolls washing time, water fun with boats, fish, ice cubes. 
  • Food - weetabix for bales of hay, breakfast cereals with food colouring for different textures, cooking using the tray to keep the "fun" mess together. 
  • Sand or slime. You can create beach themes, or use the sand as simple playtime. Try modelling sand 
  • Mud - clay modelling, creating farms, mud pies (for outdoors). Get some hand tools for digging
  • Paint - Try our set of 6 Creall Paints, perfect for smudges, artistic pics or just mixing and playing. Simply put the paper in the tray and work away.
  • Chalk paint markers for drawing up roads and images - if you havent tried these, you should. They are amazing.
  • Toys - toy boats, jungle animals, construction vehicles
  • Small world play figures 
  • Animals
  • Outdoor items – grass, sticks, mud,leaves
  • jelly - 
  • ice cubes - with food colouring to create interesting colours
  • pebbles/stones/shells
  • reflective surfaces such as tuff tray mirrors where you can create exciting play ideas, again Pinterest is super for ideas
  • Building bricks and blocks such as lego or duplo bricks. 
  • Tuff tray mats, The tuff tray is an ideal way to explore all types of sensory activities sometimes mats, give you some inspiration
  • tuff tray rice ideas, messy play ideas  use food colouring to create different coloured rice. 
  • tuff tray zoo using animals or try our dinosaur world mat
  • going to the beach – sand, water, with our jumbo ocean fish
  • farm with farm animals and our farm mat. 
  • garage
  • Pretend play set ups…. Baby Doll Washing and Caring activity. Pinterest  is my go to for great ideas here. 
  • Tuff tray road map - or just use chalk markers to draw the markings. Absolute best product ever!
  • Paper - use white or coloured paper to do endless activities
  • Tuff tray outdoor ideas - messy play all the way
  • tuff tray jelly
  • cooking in a tuff tray… this is simply great fun. Get a simple recipe with lots of flour and mix and bake
  • painting – blow painting with straws, paint markers are brilliant to
  • sorting, painting ice.
  • messy play…sq – create your mud kitchen.. bring in leaves, twigs,
  • shapes
  • tuff tray jungle
  • seasonal tuff trays … valentines, Halloween, christmas
  • sorting… with tweezers and cups… coloured food. Water beads, sorting animals,
  • word play… fairy tales



When you run short on ideas think about

  • Seasonal tuff tray ideas – Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn
  • Holiday ideas – Christmas, Easter, Valentines, Halloween
  • Or just Use Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to search for inspiration

  The list is endless and the places to find super set ups are endless too. We have some wonderful instagram accounts that we follow @preschoolteacher, @lifewithtinyhumans, or just search #tufftrayideas


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