Overview: Tot trays are a Montessori inspired tray with an activity that focuses on fine motor skills, academic skills, or practical life skills.
I first came across Tot Trays when I visited 1+1+1=1 during my first encounter with Tot School. I automatically fell in love with the idea. However, Sicily (22 months) has different plans. I’m starting to notice that she doesn’t engage with the tot trays as much as I would like, but I still offer them during every theme.
I get asked all the time in our Facebook Group, “What are tot trays?” So I wanted to take some time today to explain what they are, how we use them, and the types of activities you can put on your tot trays.
What Are Tot Trays?
Tot trays are Montessori inspired activities that are presented on a tray. The activities are placed on a tray to give the child a work space and a place to focus. These trays are perfect for increasing concentration, coordination, and independence.
I love how customizable they can be. Every theme we do, I create at least 2 tot trays. Some times the activities are the same, but I customize them to relate to our theme.
You can also customize them to meet your toddler’s skill level. The Toddler Experience Curriculum that I created and use for my toddler, includes 4 tot trays for every theme. You can use any type of tray you can find for your tot trays. I use plastic serving trays I found at the dollar store and Wal-Mart.
What Types of Activities Can I Create Using a Tot Tray?
I love using tot trays for fine motor, practical life, and math activities. These are just some of the skills you can work on through a tot tray.
Fine Motor Skills
How to Use Tot Trays?
As I mentioned above, I create 2-4 tot trays for every theme, but I do not introduce them all to Sicily at once. During the first week of a new theme, I introduce one new tray a day. Sicily will observe me doing the activity then do it once herself. Then I place the tray on the shelf for her to choose to do on her own time.
She’s still a little young, so I’m still trying to gauge the effectiveness of the trays with Sicily. Every toddler is different, so the trays may not work for every toddler. I do suggest offering them consistently for about 6 months. This should give you a good idea if the trays are a good learning tool for your unique toddler.
What I’ve noticed with Sicily, is that if I sit with her or try to get her to do the activity she will get really silly. However, if I just introduce the tray, put it on the shelf, and leave it be, she will choose to do the tray on her own some times.
A Tot Tray Doesn’t Have to be a Tray
I’ve also seen her take a tray activity and turn it into another game, and the skill I wanted her to practice is still being learned. The video below is a good example of this. My initial plan was to have a color matching tot tray where she had to match color splashes.
I tried to show her how to do the activity, but when I handed her a color splash to match, she ran off with it. This is where the child-led theory comes into play.
Instead of getting frustrated, I turned it into a game that met her need at that time, which was running. She was also into putting everything to bed lately, so I used that too in our new game.
As she ran around the chairs, I cheered her on. As she got back to me, I told her that the color splash was tired and needed to go to sleep in the basket. To get her to match the colors, I told her that the one color couldn’t go to sleep by himself, so he needed his buddy.
She then found the match and placed them both in the basket. She LOVED it! We ended up playing this “tot tray” 4 times that day. The video is one of the last times we played it on the first day. She has asked to play the color run game every day since.