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How to set up an engaging tuff tray in 4 steps

How to set up an engaging tuff tray in 4 steps

With this easy 4-step guide to set up an engaging tuff tray, I want you to feel comfortable, confident and empowered when setting up activities for your kids. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to do it more often. Play is fun but knowing how to play is a skill that needs to be practiced, so the more they play, the better they will be at it!


  • Problem solving (what do I want to create and how do I do it? Do I need anything else?)
  • Communication (explaining what they do, using sounds during play, etc.)
  • Creativity (create from their own ideas, with no instructions).
  • Confidence (I want to do something, and I am capable)
  • Self-esteem (I feel proud, I show others what I have created, I have my own ideas)
  • Critical thinking (they will come up with their own ideas, if there is something they don’t need, they will remove it themselves, that’s why LESS IS MORE, too much can be overwhelming).


  • FIGURES: animals, superheroes, cars, teddies, dolls… anything that’s interesting for your child in this particular moment.
  • BLOCKS: magneteic tiles, lego, train tracks, wooden blocks, etc. Anything they can build with, stack and create.
  • SENSORY ITEMS: have them around the table or in a bowl for them to use. You can use rice, grass, rocks, lentils, pasta shapes, bark, flowers, pinecones, sprinkle of flour, etc.
  • FINE MOTOR TOOLS: spoon, scoop, pegs, tweezers, tongs… (optional for extra fine motor work).


  • Don’t create anything just add the items on the tray.
  • No instructions are needed for the child. Don’t tell them what to do.
  • There is no right or wrong way to do it. Allow time and space for the child to explore.
  • This type of play requires practice in order to achieve independent play. It is an investment in your child’s skills.
  • The more they play, the more capable they will be to create their own activities as they get older, as well as to solve their own problems and develop imagination, confidence and resilience.


I would like to encourage you to follow these simple steps and see what happens. Show curiosity when presenting it to your child (you can say something like “oh wow what’s all this! I wonder what we could do with it”. Step back and give them time. If they don’t engage, show your own interest saying things like “I wonder if we could build a really tall tower with these blocks”, do you think this teddy is hungry? Maybe there is something here he could eat”.

Playing independently is not something children learn in one day or one week, it takes time. Think of it as an investment: the more activities you create during the first years, the easier it will be for them to express their own ideas and develop skills.


  • It is easier for the adult to set up, and that means we will be willing to set up activities more often. Learning to play needs consistency.
  • It is less overwhelming for the child. If there are too many items they won’t even know where to start, plus there won’t be a lot of free space for them to mix, combine and play.
  • It is more engaging as it is easier for them to visualize connections between the different items.
  • There is plenty of space for the child to create, not just to make a mess.
  • Less items means quicker clean-up, so we can quickly tidy up togethe
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