Tot Tray Ideas for Tot School

Tot Trays for Tot School

It was many years ago that “Tot School” was given it’s official name, and now I see the name floating around everywhere {which is great!}!  My oldest son holds the honor of naming this glorious time in a young child’s life, after babyhood but before Pre School. In our home Tot School lasts from about age 1-4. You can see how Tot School was named here!

Tot School early learning through play

 

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.

Tot Trays for Tot School

 

I no longer have tots {sniff, sniff} but still have the passion for teaching tots at home. I have been working on a secret Pinterest board behind the scenes to get all of our Tot Tray ideas pinned and labeled with ages on one board. I finally finished and opened up the board to be public so you can all scroll through and gather ideas quickly! This board is only for Tot Tray ideas from my own blog. I share other ideas from other blogs on my general Tot School Ideas board.

I love that the concept of Tot School and Tot Trays stretches far and wide today, it’s exciting to see! I am so encouraged to see so many families exploring and learning with their tots at home.  It is such a beautiful time in a child’s life, full of an eagerness to absorb and take in new ideas.  It truly is my favorite, I miss it already in my kids!

Find the Tot Tray Ideas Pinterest Board here!


On a personal note {stemming from an email I received recently}  ~ sometimes reading online about concepts like Tot School, Tot Trays and many others make some moms feelA photo on a blog is a split second in time with NO sound less-than.  At times, reading about how one mom does things in a certain area can make another mom feel unworthy and bad about herself.  Trust me, I know.  I may have the Tot School thing figured out, but there are plenty of blogs I read that can sometimes help me slip into poor-me mode. I remind myself that we all have different gifts and passions. I never want my enthusiasm for early childhood stuff to come across as though I am a better mom.  I assure you, I have plenty of things I am NOT good at, like cooking Moms are All Differentfor example.  I pray my blog, my ideas, and my life encourage and inspire you.  If it ever makes you feel less-than or as if you don’t measure up, please remind yourself that you have your own unique talents and strengths. God has gifted us all differently. I am totally real, just like you; I just blog and have a crazy passion for creating early learning experiences for my kids, and taking pictures of the journey {which I then share with you}. Always remember there is MUCH that you don’t see, a photo on a blog is a split second in time, with no sound. I do my best to be a realistic {much of my realism is shared via Instagram} as possible but as we all know, that will never be achieved through photographs, or even video clips.  You’d have to be a fly on my wall to see that our life is just as crazy as yours, probably crazier.

Oh Where Are the Trays?

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I have gotten several emails lately from readers looking for the trays I have and recommend on my Tot Trays page.  I searched and searched Oriental Trading and sadly could not find them. These trays often go out of stock. Search “plastic trays” on the Oriental Trading website to see if they are in stock!

In the meantime, I thought it might be good to start a discussion to share alternatives. I know several of you {me included} are in planning mode and ordering supplies to prepare for a new year. I just got a new OT catalog and immediately began hunting and this seems to be the best alternative…

imageEasy Clean Flat Trays MK-62/110 $19.99 for 6

 

I also found trays at Discount School Supply.

Brawny Tough Plastic Art Trays, Item # ARTRAY $16.99/5 trays

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They also have these, which are definitely smaller but may be perfect for some of you.

Colorations Mini Art Trays, Item # MTRAY $21.95/12 trays

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If any of you use something different for Tot Trays, please feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts or suggestions.  If you have a post on your blog showing them in action, that would be helpful and I invite you to link to it.

Many people have also asked where I got the bins pictured in this post.  Unfortunately those were from the $1 section at Target a few years back, so they aren’t available either!

Tot School ~ Pumpkins & Dinos!

~Krash is currently 41.5 months old~
** links to all toys and books are at the bottom of the post

Learning Toys/Trays

Krash loved his Play Doh tray! I put a pumpkin and a cross cookie cutter on it, along with some orange and yellow play doh. This kept him busy for a long time! We had fun making different shapes for the Jack O Lantern’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Here he is sorting by shapes. I gave him 4 different shapes (from a Dollar Tree bucket of foam shapes), along with 4 little craft cups that each had a shape drawn inside (I drew them with a Sharpie). He did well with this as it was his first time sorting by shapes and not color!
Here he has a Styrofoam circle (AC Moore), 4 pick-up-sticks, some colored bracelets and mini tongs (from Target…in a bug kit we got). I had him transfer the colored bracelets to the matching stick.

Nothing quite as fun as cutting the Play Doh dude’s hair, huh?
Pac Man taught K how to play Hyper Dash (this is a great game if you don’t have it…good for Christmas!)

A bit of Connect 4 with Daddy…

The boys LOVE when our seasonal Little People toys come out. A favorite is the Mayflower!

He had tons of fun playing with his bristle blocks and peg set…


Theme…Dinosaurs!

Krash was a dino for Halloween!

I surprised Krash with a new Melissa and Doug Dino puzzle. He loves his other set like this so I splurged on Amazon for him!

We all worked together to color some sheet from Pac Man’s dino lapbook

We were inspired by Our Crafts n Things to make special dinosaurs…



Life School…

We got a special package from a great blogging friend, Julie, who is also a missionary in Hungary! K is in love with the pencil she sent to him!

We went to the pumpkin patch!!!!
He was such a big by running around and playing all by himself!

He even fed chickens!
We don’t have leaves in the inner city, so this was a BIG treat…


Mommy’s Favorites…

First this was my favorite…
then I thought it might be this one…
but finally decided on this one!!!

Tot Tray Ideas from Target…

I managed to make it to Target the other day (which was HUGE for me because I am really struggling with pain as my pregnancy comes to an end-I rarely leave the house). I was excited to see the 1$ section restocked with cute items :). Here are a few I set up for Tot Trays, K worked on them today and really liked them.

The first is a mini George sticker book, great for concentration and fine motor skills :). This little blank book came with 4 rolls of stickers. Today I just put on of the rolls on the tray, he really enjoyed working with it and seeing his friend George!Next is a puffy (bath style) Nemo book, that just has color words in it. I added the colored pom poms for him to find as we read the book together. They also had this book with a Cars theme, which I am going to find the cars we have for him to match up with the book while reading.I also got a few more things, but these are the only ones we’ve used so far. Just thought I would share in case anyone is heading out for a weekend Target trip!!!!

Behind the Scenes ~ Tot Trays

I know most of you probably read my Tot School post from this past Sunday, but if you didn’t read it first, then you’ll know what I am talking about ~ Tot Trays :). Now, I will answer any questions I could think of that readers might ask :) and if I don’t answer yours, put it below in the comments and I will!

First, WHY Trays?

  • Let me begin by saying that I am in NO way saying that my beliefs are right, they are just MY beliefs. I share openly about what I believe when it comes to educating young children, and yes I do have a college degree, but that in no way makes me any smarter than others out there. I just share what I believe!
  • The TRAY itself: I believe the tray itself provides a sense of space for a young child. When all items are contained on a tray (or a mat, or something similar), it is easier for the child to visualize all involved with the activity and also how to CLEAN it up! Cleaning up is a huge part of this method for me.
  • The ACTIVITIES: I believe in providing simple, yet engaging activities that sometimes expose a skill and sometimes are just fun! I love the discussion times these trays provide. I love the concentration required. I love that Krash is developing perseverance, focus, and determination to accomplish tasks. I love the vocabulary alone that stems from the tray activities, it really is endless. I love that I can change up the activities easily without a ton of work each evening. I love that most of the items on the trays aren’t *toys* so they are refreshing for Krash and engaging.
  • The ENVIRONMENT: Trays provide a more neat and orderly environment for a tot, it is easy to see where the activities are, what is involved, how to clean up, and where to put the tray back. These types of activities also (usually) stimulate a quieter environment as many of the activities require much focus from the tot! In a world of LOUD chaos (at least with MY tot), I enjoy the difference in these types of activities.
  • WHEN: Krash only uses these trays during SCHOOL time. They are not toys, they are not free-play items. My idea behind this is to keep them special and engaging. When a child sees them over and over again, anytime, they become just like the rest of his toys. Sometimes this is hard to manage but that is the goal. We have only recently gone back to this method and he will get used to it more and more as we go on.

Tell me about your shopping spree you spoke of in your Tot School post…

Here’s where I went, with items linked up if I could find them online. Many of these items were pictured in my Tot School post (or will be soon :) )

AC Moore:

  • round paint tray
  • pom poms (bought 3 bags, of the colors we didn’t have already)
  • Valentines Day items for our seasonal collection (2-$1 tins, 1-1$ plastic heart jar, heart cookie cutters)
  • pipe cleaners (we just happened to be almost out!)
  • Cookie cutters-with a spring/Easter theme

Dollar Tree:

  • heart sticks
  • heart shaped ice cube tray
  • skinny long colored spoon assortment
  • cookie cutters assortment
  • foam beads in a box
  • pack of 4 colored clips

Ikea: (I am SO sorry for those of you who don’t live near an Ikea, that have the best stuff for trays!)

~edited to add… the trays themselves are from Oriental TradingI wrote a post sharing alternatives here.

I did not spend a ton of money, and many of these items will be used over and over again. These were just some things I wanted to get at this point, to go along with what we already had. And yes, I do have an educational supply shopping addiction (so my husband says).

How do you organize ALL OF THE STUFF?

  • I decided this FIRST, as I knew if I just brought home a bunch of stuff and mixed it in with the rest of our supplies, I would become overwhelmed with the whole idea and give up. So, when I went shopping, that was my very first priority and I knew I was not coming home until I had the solution! Here it is…The drawers are long, which is really nice for things like pipe cleaners, spoons, etc. Below is a photo of our bottle top collection…
  • I got a closet shoe hanging thing, that has drawer/box things to go inside. I didn’t have any floor space to put a new shelf or drawers or anything so when I saw this-the light bulb went off! We hang ours inside of our guest room/office “closet” area.
  • I made labels for all of the drawers and now that I am home, I plan to get one more red thing and set of boxes, just to not run out of storage-it’s worth it to me. I hung the labels on with key ring things I got at an educational supply store.
  • I also added a set of plastic drawers that I already had, knowing I would need larger spaces for some things. The main idea for this is the items I am collecting from the house (plastic bottles-my favorite is our coffee creamer bottles with the label torn off, TP tubes, PT tubes, and other bigger items we are now saving).
  • I am using a couple of the shelves in the *closet* to store some of the bigger items also, I still need to work on this area.
  • I am not entirely done with the space as I write this, but it will continue to be a work in progress, as all things storage and school related are!

How do you organize your IDEAS in your head when it comes to planning for these types of activities?

I think in the way of tray-themes, then change up within those. Here’s my *theme list* so far:

  • Transferring
  • Pouring
  • Beading
  • Spooning
  • Pasta Fun
  • Sorting
  • Counting
  • Matching
  • Small Spaces
  • Cutting
  • Gluing
  • Stickers
  • Simple Art/Crafts
  • Fine Motor-Muscle Skills

By keeping to these themes, I can wrap my brain around it easier and come up with simple ways to make it fun! I can also list out new ideas under a category-or add a new category!

Speaking of NEW IDEAS, I always find tons of ideas while blog-surfing but have a hard time implementing them (or remembering them), how do you manage this?

  • I struggled with this also, and finally made myself a sheet to keep next to my computer. I will give you the link for it at the end of this post. I jot down the name of the idea, and where I found it. THEN I add it to a folder in my Internet bookmarks so I can come back to it when I am ready to see it again.
  • If it is something I plan to make right away, I will just jot down my materials list and put in our current school plans!
  • I plan to come up with an even better way to sort new ideas as we get going, but this is my start!

What ages would you recommend these activities for?

  • I must tell you I am not a big age-range-suggester. WHY? Because I firmly believe that every child is unique and different and you must take the time to truly know your own child. I always post Krash’s age in my Tot School posts to give readers an idea, but kids are different!
  • I recommend starting simple, with the easiest of ideas and just see how your tot does! If an activity is frustrating for your tot (or you), then put it on the “later on” list!
  • Many of the tray activities are even enjoyed by my oldest son (age 6 1/2), that’s the cool thing about trays-they are simple but fun.

WAIT, THERE”S MORE!!!!

I made a new webpage all about Tot Trays! There’s ideas already there and I have tried to go into as much detail as possible to help you out if you’re looking to add this type of learning to your home. I plan to continually update this page, with ideas, photos, etc. so be sure to bookmark it if you are interested! On this page you will find:

  • The link to the New Ideas sheet
  • Items to Collect sheet, and Shopping Ideas (stores, lists, etc.)
  • Each *tray theme* outlined (with photos if I have them already)
  • More info about storage
  • My Labels (either for you to use exactly or to gather ideas to make your own)

As I said above, if you have any other questions about Tot Trays, please leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them there. I will also add more to the webpage itself as I get new photos and ideas!