I started tot trays with Koko over 5 years ago when we started homeschooling. He was a tender 27 month old that wanted to get into the homeschooling fun when Noo was in grade 1. Our trays have evolved over the last 5.5 years into what it is today.
In the beginning I found putting the tot trays together challenging. I didn’t know what was supposed to go in them and felt like I wasn’t doing it properly. It took me a while (a year or two) to realise that at such a young age, learning is all about exploration, not sitting and working for set, rigid, hours during the day. After I had relaxed and starting “going with the flow”, so to speak, school time became a lot more enjoyable for the both the tots (Koko and Fifi at that stage) and I. Now that Pixie is a totschooler, I’m much more relaxed and enjoying this phase of learning.
When putting tot trays together, make them activity specific. Here is a great list of activities from Fumbling Through Parenthood:
Squeezing (a sponge, playdough, etc.)
Practical Life skills (folding, sweeping, etc.)
Threading Beads (onto sticks, string, pipecleaners, etc.)
Threading Sticks (straws, or spaghetti into small spaces)
Stacking & Balancing Objects
1 to 1 Correspondence
Other activities to work those hand muscles (clothespins, hole punches, etc.)
Below are some tot tray ideas I’ve collected over the years. You don’t need to purchase expensive toys/resources for them. Making the equipment they will use during the day is almost more fun for you both.
Tot Tray Ideas for Tot School from 1+1+1=1. The Original Totschooler!!!!
“Soon after the creation of Tot School, came the concept of Tot Trays. A simple twist on an old idea with Montessori based roots. A contained work space for tots, to inspire early learning fun. A way for mom to stay organized in her thinking and provide opportunities for early development in fun ways.” ~ Carisa from 1+1+1=1
Shadow Match Learning Mat from My HomeMade Montessori
“I put this learning mat together by tracing around each prop and then the child finds the prop to the shadow match and places it on top. A fun way to teach object placement.” ~ Lisa from My Homemade Montessori
Homemade Toy: Pushing Puff Balls from Fun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers
“It was really easy to make, just cut small holes in the lid of an old butter container. J’s goal is to stuff the puff balls inside the container via the holes. The holes are just smaller than puff balls, requiring J to work a little harder to get all the balls inside. It’s a fine motor activity that I pull out once every couple weeks and J is always very intrigued.” ~ Fun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers
I’ve made this activity for Pixie. To say she loves it is an understatement.
Magnetic foam shape picture from Rockabye Butterfly
“We got these magnetic foam shapes. I made this shape sheet design with markers and then laminated it. Put it on a metal pan and she can match the magnet shapes to make the picture!” ~ Butterfly’s Mommy from Rockabye Butterfly
Simple Play: Pipe Cleaner Game from Dose of Happy
“Porter is 15 months and has enjoyed this game for a little while now. It’s perfect when I need him focused and quiet for a little bit— think church or waiting in the doctor’s office.” ~ Deb from Dose of Happiness
Sticker Matching Activity & Game for Preschoolers from Feels Like Home
“The idea is that the kits are very open-ended to inspire creativity in children and fun parent-child time. My kids have asked to play with these materials almost every day since they arrived a month ago. The designs are cute and inviting, and they are almost all include stickers.” ~ Tara from Feels Like Home
Textured Photo Book for Baby from Teach Me Mommy
“I made a textured photo book from CD cases. Babies love familiar faces, and they love to touch different textures, so they will probably love this book too. The fact that it is made from plastic CD cases, makes it slobber proof too and the photos are protected by sticky paper. The different textured materials will just have to take the punch” ~ Nadia from Teach Me Mommy
Tweezing and Dropper trays from Learn~Play~Imagine
“I set up these trays to give him something educational and fun to do while JZ works. I would give him toys only, but he requests work. Like most younger siblings he is eager to keep up and be just like his big brother.” ~ Allison from Learn~Play~Imagine
Bunny Tails Color Matching from Twodaloo
” I stuck to bunnies to our new magnetic chalkboard wall (post coming soon) with tape and let the twins match away. They like to match the tails and name all the colors and then have the “Scary Fairy” (a.k.a. my hand) swoop down and mix up the tails again” ~ Stephanie from Twodaloo
DIY zipper board for kids from Laughing Kids Learn
“Key learning points achieved with this zipper board are –
Fine motor skills
Discussing length of zips etc” ~ Kate from Laughing Kids Learn
I just love this activity. Its on the top of my “to-do” list!
Shape matching game from Diapers to Diplomas
“I had some leftover velcro and a cardboard box too, so I went to work with my cookie cutters and made this little game for the boys.” ~ Diapers to Diplomas
Paint Chip Pom Pom Match from Childcareland Blog
“Here is a fine motor development activity that uses paint chip samples. I brought my bag of pom poms into the store with me and matched them up to the paint samples.” ~ Shelley from Childcareland Blog
Pipe Cleaner Color Sort from Kitchen Floor Crafts
“I was inspired to use pipe cleaners and spice containers together from a toddler activity post over at Teaching Mama” ~ Kate from Kitchen Floor Crafts
Strengthen Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills & Creativity from Delightful Mom
“This easy-to-create learning activity is great for teaching your toddler color sorting, enhancing their fine motor skills and expanding creativity” ~ Danielle from Delightful Mom
Magnetic Pipe Cleaner Discovery Bottle from Chasing Cheerios
“The girls love moving the pipe cleaner pieces around using their magic magnetic wand!” ~ Melissa from Chasing Cheerios
The tot (and preschool) trays have become a passion for me. My children have all benefited greatly from the freedom they are afforded to work independently during the day while I am busy with one of their siblings.
All workbox posts on Monsters Ed
All Tot Tray posts on Monsters Ed
Sue Patrick’s Workbox System
Workboxes on 1+1+1=1. This is where I got our inspiration back in the day for Noo.
Preschool Work Trays
Tot Tray Ideas for Tot School from 1+1+1=1