Tot Trays, Simplified

I adore Tot Trays. If you have never set them up for your children, they may seem like a lot of work from the outside. They could be, but they can also be incredibly simple. You can usually find a mix of super low-prep and moderate-prep trays on my shelf at any given time. Here are the two main reasons I love having Tot Trays as part of our schooling.

They encourage independent learning.

I typically introduce each tray to my children by sitting with them to complete it until I can tell that they understand. Typically after one or two demonstrations, I don’t use the trays in a scheduled teaching time. From them on, they are available at my children’s level to take off the shelf and interact with on their own. Sometimes they ask me to to work with them and other times my two preschoolers work together with each other. I do not push them to explore any one tray. However, our homeschool shelf which holds all of our trays is in the living room where we spend most of our day. Throughout the day I frequently see them each go over to the shelf and pull something off to explore.

They require one-time prep for lots of repeat learning experiences.

Have you ever spent forever preparing a preschool activity to have your child reluctantly half-complete it and then toss it to the side? A few experiences like that is enough to make you want to stop home educating all together. I love Tot Trays because what my child might have zero interest in on Monday, they may love by Friday. Usually, I rotate our trays out every weekend, but some stick around longer if they are getting a lot of use.

There are endless amounts of ideas online for setting up tot trays. I use light-weight trays, baskets, and small bowls. Sometimes, even a cookie sheet. Whatever you have that your child can pick up and carry. We have an open shelf in our living room that my husband built specifically for this purpose, but any shelf at your child’s level will do. When preparing to set mine up I look for a few key things. I want them to be realistic in prep time, not require constant supervision (not messy or dangerous), and the activity should reach the perfect balance of my child’s abilities and a challenge. My shelf usually has at least one sensory tray such as beans with small bowls and Helping Hands tools. I also always have a tray with our current letter’s 3-part cards, which I offer as a free printable. The rest of the trays are usually activities to practice counting, matching, and fine motor skills. Sometimes they correlate with a book we are reading or a theme we are studying.

Here are some examples of recent trays I have set up:

Supplies used:

Cookie tray | Mini broom & dustpan | Little bowls | Black beans

Supplies used:

Tweezers | Pom-poms | Trays | Construction paper

Supplies used:

Basket | Preschool scissors | Construction paper

Supplies used:

Tray | Small bowls | Sticks | Toilet paper roll | About Birds

Supplies used:

Tray | Construction paper | Single hole punch

Supplies used:

Basket | Small bowls | Illustrated 3-part cards | Real Life 3-part cards

My favorite Tot Tray Supplies not pictured: