How to Make Tot Trays

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Tot School is learning through play

We focus on a letter of the week and do fun activities based on that letter.  I set six “Tot Trays” up for my son to play with and learn as the week progresses.

Lately, I have been feeling overwhelmed by the Tot Tray Switch when we change our letter of the week — which is about every two weeks. I keep finding so many fantastic ideas from so many amazing mama bloggers that I want to do them all. I went along with it for a while, to try to bust out massive creativeness every couple weeks, but it was too much.  I want to keep things simple and consistent and have now found a nice balance for making my son’s tot trays.

I have this set up in the kitchen, with six trays from Oriental Trading.  Promoting the four Montessori principles: Language, Mathematics, Sensory, and Practical Life.



Just this past week, I decided to only put out one tray at a time.  I still put them all together at the beginning of my letter switch, but have only given him one on his shelf at a time.  This has really helped with keeping my son’s interest.  We play it together for two days and I leave it out on our shelf for him to play independently for a day or two.  Then we will move on to the next one that I have made (I keep them up on top of another bookcase).

It is important to follow your child’s lead for learning!  


Looks empty!  Some children would thrive with all six trays, keeping them orderly and setting them back up after playing with one.  But my son needed less in front of him.  He came over to a single tray — in three days — more times than when he had all six trays on the shelf to choose from.  This was a Montessori lesson for me!  Children thrive with less choice and they will be creative and engage themselves with less! 

Whether you choose to set out one or six trays is completely up to you and your child’s needs!

Consistent and simple

My son loves the trays that I set out for him, so I want to continue with them, but I needed a simple solution for all the potential creative madness.  So I created this simple list of ideas, which if further explained below:

  1. Numbers
  2. Lacing
  3. Magnets
  4. Colors
  5. Shapes
  6. Letter review
  7. **Along with optional Practical Life Tot Tray ideas

Our first three tot trays look like this:

We are working with 1plus1plus1equals1‘s Tot School ABCs, that brings some consistency each week.



 The other three trays can vary — here are some ideas:
  • Color tray (whether it is a color review or a color of the week tray).  I have set out a color sensory bowl (to play hide and seek with a cloth on top) or put out crayons and little pictures to practice early coloring skills.


  • Shape tray (again, this would work for either a review or a shape of the week tray)
  • Letter review all the uppercase letters we have officially worked with so far.  For this, I pick a laminated set of letters from Homeschool Creations, 1plus1plus1equals1, Confessions of a Homeschooler, or Making Learning Fun. And….
  • put in simple envelopes with a cute mailbox


  • drive on them with matchbox cars
  • throw a ball or beanbag at a letter that you call out
  • play musical letters: turn on music and dance around the cards turned upside down, pick one up when the music stops and yell the letter out, when all the letters are done, you win (they don’t really win anything, but they love this!)
  • make these letter discs and slot them into an old plastic container


Or try some Practical Life trays:

  • Transfer beans or poms with tongs

  • Sort buttons or other small objects with a spoon or tongs
  • Give some clothes with zippers or velcro to work with
  • Fold some clothes or towels
  • Practice “spicing” or pouring water (or colored water) from glass to glass


  • Wash a toy (a little toy cat, for example) with a washcloth or sponge
  • Cut strips of paper with a spring scissors (check out Delightful Learning last week)
  • I love all the ideas I find at Counting Coconuts
tot trays
tot trays for preschool

I hope this has given you some fun, creative, and simpler ideas to enjoy your time with your little one!  Tot School need only be learning though organized play!  The most important part of learning is that you are present with your child during your set Tot School Time.  For me, defining what we do helps me stay sane and be a better teacher (and mom!)

Amy writes at Wildflower Ramblings, a homeschooling and healthy living blog she started when she became a mother.  Amy obtained her Masters in Elementary Education from the University of Michigan and is a former Kindergarten teacher.  She lives with her husband and three children.  You can find Amy on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.  

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