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Sensory Tuff Trays



We are very happy to have the lovely Sally Wright joining us again today! We find her work very inspiring so be prepared to see some amazing ideas that you will be itching to try out for yourself! Fun for kids at its finest!


Hi, I am Sally Wright, an Early Years Teacher from Cheshire, UK.  I run my own home based child care business with my husband and friend, both of whom are registered Early Years practitioners. Together we also lead an Early Years Play Group and a Parent and Toddler Group.
I wanted to share with you some of our ‘tuff  tray’ experiences…..


Often the idea for our sensory play comes from something we have either seen online on one of the many sites we follow, through the children’s interests and recent experiences or through a topic/theme we are following.


One thing I have learnt in the time we have been including a sensory tuff tray experience into our sessions is that they very rarely go as you envisage in your head. The key is not to have ANY expectations from the activity and therefore anything which is achieved is a bonus. Allow the children to take their play experience in their own hands - this is where the learning really happens.

I like to set up the trays to look inviting to draw the children in to explore and investigate. I always like to take a ‘before’ picture to remind me of how I expected this activity would unfold in comparison to how it actually happened…..


Here are a couple of our recent trays which could be considered epic ‘fails’ which were in fact amazing, just in a different way than anticipated:


Make your own Play Dough Station:

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 399.JPGC:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 400.JPG


The idea behind this tray was to expand on the children’s love of our ‘Play Dough Station’, a firm staple in our setting. The activity would be an exploration of the senses as well a scientific experiment where measures and combining skills are explored resulting with an end product which the children could take on to the next stages at the play dough table…..

We used:
  • Pre-mixed Bread mixture( recommended to us by a fellow practitioner and a big success!) Using the ready-made mixture gave the dough elasticity and it makes the process of dough making so much simpler.
  • Water in liquid soap dispenser (the soap dispenser are a great tool for co-ordination skills as we have to ‘hold and pump’, strengthening hand muscles and an important self-care skill needed for independent hand washing!)

The outcome was:

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 438.JPG C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 458.JPG
C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 418.JPGC:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 468.JPG
Messy, but amazing all the same!


The room smelt amazing! Hardly any dough was made at all (the above picture was pre-made by the staff). But the activity was brilliant. Lots of children were engaged and they all had their own ideas and ways of approaching the task. They watched a demonstration and then proceeded to do nothing like what they had been shown! Perfect.
This tuff tray prompted a ‘bread’ theme whereby we talked about where it comes from and how it is made. We read ‘The Little Red Hen’ and of course we had to taste some freshly baked bread, although one which had been nowhere near our tuff  tray! All in all, a fabulous activity.


Snow and Colour Tuff Tray:


C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 780.JPGC:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 790.JPG


The ‘idea’ behind this activity was to explore the ‘melting process’ along with colour mixing. It was snowy outside so it was nice for the children to really investigate the snow on a much smaller scale (as opposed to running around in it, throwing snowballs and making snowmen!). We wanted to compare the difference between the solid blocks of ice and the snow and the effects our colourful potions would have on each material. This was the first time we had used these spray bottles in the setting and we knew that this in itself would be a physical challenge to some children. We simply unscrewed the lids for the children who had not yet developed the strength or co-ordination to use the sprays.

Here we used:
  • Blocks of ice (frozen in old yoghurt pots)
  • Snow from outside!
  • Spray bottles with a mixture of paint, salt and warm water. Although next time we would maybe use food colouring instead of paint as the bottles clogged towards the end. Also, make sure the salt is completely dissolved.

The Outcome was:

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 818.JPGC:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 833.JPG

Well, not as we planned….
Okay, the spray bottles were  like ‘power hoses’ and after being shot at a number of times with coloured paint we decided to take the activity outdoors! Which was then amazing! Upon reflection, a simple twist of the nozzle may have resolved the blasting paint problem and I am sure we could have explored further indoors…..we will know for next time! 

Whilst we were outside ‘shooting paint around’, the potion added in the tuff  tray had started to take effect and the children explored using their hands and any tools they could find. The activity did not go as ‘planned’ but it was still fabulous all the same.

The moral of this tale is, there is not right or wrong, good or bad, successful or unsuccessful tuff tray! They are all just brilliant. Using the tuff tray for sensory play along with, problem solving, early mathematics, scientific exploration, process art, physical development, independence and empowerment of children’s ideas and creativity along with many, many more attributes can only be a good thing. They don’t always have to be complicated or beautifully presented or even have a rationale as the children will often determine their worth.  


Here are some of our more recent tuff tray ideas for your inspiration:

We Are Going on a Bear hunt
C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2014-11-08 Summer & Autumn 2014\Summer & Autumn 2014 1718.JPG
Number and Shape recognition
C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2014-12-08 OCT-NOV 2014\OCT-NOV 2014 109.JPG
Mark Making in Sand and Glitter
C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-01-17 DEC-JAN2015\DEC-JAN2015 1044.JPG


Weighing and measuring cereal

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 486.JPG


Colour sorting using feathers


C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2015-02-02 JAN 2015\JAN 2015 895.JPG


Nature Box

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2014-11-08 Summer & Autumn 2014\Summer & Autumn 2014 872.JPG

At the Beach

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2014-11-08 Summer & Autumn 2014\Summer & Autumn 2014 722.JPG


Shaving Foam and autumn colours (paint)

C:\Users\Sally\Pictures\2014-11-08 Summer & Autumn 2014\Summer & Autumn 2014 311.JPG


If you would like to follow our progress please come and like our page at:


See you soon, Sally xx



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