Tuff Tray themes and topics?

Tuff Trays are a great Early Years resource, a place to contain the mess!

Tuff trays or tuff spots, as they are sometimes know, were originally used by builders to mix cement.

Now they are a firm favourite in many Early childhood settings! But sadly overtime they seem to have become more elaborate and creative, following a specific theme, topic or title of a book.

Adults spending ages setting up the most artistic and creative of play opportunities! There are some true masterpieces out there and some very artistic adults. 

What if we said that Tuff trays don’t need to be so stunningly creative or to follow a theme or topic!  (Sorry all you creative educators, your talents are amazing but they need redirecting )

That at The Curiosity Approach® we ask you to consider WHY it’s being set up in the first place - let’s focus on what the child/ children are doing whist playing!  Do children have a containment schema ? Filling and emptying? Pouring from one cup to another?

Transformational schema ? Watching as things transform and change ?

Trajectory schema - the pouring of water?

Shouldn’t the tuff tray be MORE about the experience ( of DOING ) the URGE of the CHILD and the way THEY play? 

Are there curious to explore and investigate, seek out and discover? To hypothesis and experience cause and effect?
Instead of the FOCUS being on the DESIGN our OUR beautiful ADULT creations, tuff trays to FIT a theme, topic or book? Let’s pause and reflect, to lean into difficult conversations.

LOVE or dislike The Curiosity Approach® we continually offer the opportunity for self reflection in practice. To keep asking the questions WHY?

Let’s consider and ask ourselves 

Do you get disheartened if children don’t play in the tuff tray, in the way you had envisioned?  

Do you get sad and upset if it gets mixed up and destroyed within 2 seconds flat ?
Perhaps secretly miffed because you didn’t get time to show everyone your creation before the children ‘wrecked!’ It !

Did you spend more than 5 minutes setting up the Tuff Tray ?
Trays should only take a matter of minutes to offer resources which are open to how children to explore and investigate. 
Let’s remember
We are all at different stages in our Early years careers, our experiences and professional development.
Today we share with you OUR thoughts and contemplations. ( agree or disagree, that’s ok)

Most certainly these crafted Trays are set up with loving care and intent, but let’s mindfully consider is it perhaps saying more about our OWN desire to be creative, rather than that of the child ?
Our own love of being artistic. Should we be looking at LESS is MORE?
Consider, whose imagination is it anyway ? 
Stepping away from tuff trays full of food, cold jelly, beans, cooked spaghetti and boxes, upon boxes of cereal ?
Sensory play isn’t just messy play experiences planned in a tuff tray!

Do we need to challenge ourselves and our own practice? Do we need to pause and consider?
To also consider families struggling with food poverty? See statistics from Trussell Trust. 

“Between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK wide network distributed 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis, a 33% increase on the previous year. ( Trussell Trust )

980,000 of these went to children.


Change is ‘Tuff’ difficult and challenging. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and gets us thinking about the challenge of using food in our provisions?  The Cela. Org discusses the challenges we face when thinking about food play. How far do we take things?

Let’s face it at Curiosity Approach® settings we love play dough and gloop, both these are food ingredients.  How far do we take things? At The Curiosity Approach® we have and still use outdated rice, pulses and lentils. Asking supermarkets for products that have passed their sell by date.

Let’s also reflect, if we are stopping food play due to food shortages and world hunger, what about water play? Some children in the world do not have access to clean drinking water, are we going to therefore stop water play? The discussions and ethical considerations are endless and sometimes difficult to explore!

‘Aspects of ethics for food play decisions include being conscious of principles such as

  • Biodegradability
  • Reducing waste
  • Recycling potential
  • Sourcing of the product including fair work labour laws.

If we allow one ethical consideration to blind us to others, then we are only partially effective in meeting our professional responsibilities as educators.

These considerations are not ones to which there are single correct answers.

The ethical issues that surround our use of food items for non-eating purposes need to be resolved by each setting and the educators who work there. Critical reflection that takes into consideration all the ethical factors and finds the path that feels most right is the best way for any service to address this problem.’ 

Please read the full  article here.  https://www.cela.org.au/public...’t-play-with-your-food

It’s a mine field isn’t it? However this post is about firstly considering ‘ Beautifully crafted tuff trays and designed created by the Adult.

Let’s remember
We are all at different stages in our Early years careers, our experiences and professional development.
Today we share with you OUR thoughts and contemplations. (agree or disagree, that’s ok)
This blog ‘isn’t’ about dissing our creative fellow colleagues!

It’s about challenging thinking, reconsidering traditional practice and offering opportunity for respectful discussion within settings.
It’s about challenging our OWN practice too! To be constantly reflecting, learning, evolving and asking the questions WHY ?

Together we can do more!

* Safety notice image above contains button battery tea lights* We highly recommend removal of any such button battery items in Early Childhood provisions.* https://www.gov.uk/guidance/

Hope this blog got you thinking, talking and reflecting.? We have further blogs on Tuff trays and alternative options. See the link below https://www.thecuriosityapproa...