So, you’ve bought a Tuff Tray, and now you’re looking for some fun, easy, sensory activity ideas for your toddler? This was me last year. I was so excited to get my Tuff Tray home, but then it started to become just another side table. I needed ideas. Both indoor tuff tray ideas and outdoor tuff tray ideas.
There are so many beautiful Tuff Tray set-ups out there on Pinterest and Instagram, and while I find myself liking and saving them, I never actually got around to setting them up at home. I mean, they often require things I don’t have to hand, or they take ages to get ready. Sound familiar?
The following 11 sensory play activities are mostly free and use items commonly found in our homes already.
I have included a mixture of indoor tuff tray ideas and outdoor ones. Most work for either.
They all take less than 10 minutes to prepare and will keep your toddler happy, busy, and learning through play for ages!
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If you haven’t yet bought your Tuff Tray, here’s a link to the one we bought from Amazon. (As seen in the photos in this post!)
Sensory Mud Farm Play
This is an easy one, that takes less than 5 minutes to set up, but delights my little ones!
There are various recipes, but the simplest is to mix cocoa powder, flour (or cornstarch) and water together until you get the consistency you want.
Then you can add in other textures, like oats, Bran flakes, Cheerio’s, or Weetabix to make it a bit more interesting if you want.
Add some farm animals from the kids toybox and you’re all set!
This is great small world play for your toddler. It’s ready in 5 minutes, easy and frugal, and you’re toddler is learning and developing through this fun sensory play.
If you’re looking for more Sensory Farm Play ideas then check out, Messy Farm Play on the Tuff Tray: Toddler Sensory Ideas.
Before you scroll past this one, thinking that water play is pretty basic. Pause a minute, as there are so many extra things you can do with water, to keep it new and interesting.
A tuff tray works great as a pouring station. You can set up lots of different jugs, cups and measuring spoons and your toddler can practice their pouring skills.
Using food colouring in the different jugs of water can make this more interesting and add a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) component to it, allowing your toddler to experiment with mixing colours.
This is especially great in the summer when you can do it outside and eliminate the mess! However, even in the house, it’s only water, so I find putting down a couple of bath mats around the table keeps the mess to a minimum. The edges of the tuff tray are so great for catching spills.
When my kids do this in the garden, in summer, they use baking trays and add in flowers, and grass and little twigs to make pretend food.
They also love using little medicine syringes to transfer water from one container to the next. A great way to practice those fine motor skills!
Snow Play in the Tuff Tray
This one is obviously super easy when it’s winter and you have snow outside. Playing outside in the snow if great, but if your little one is starting to get cold and wanting to come in, or you’ve been playing outside all morning and you have to get some housework done, but they just aren’t ready to finish playing, then this is the activity for them.
Simply get a few bucket-full’s of snow and pop it on your tuff tray. (You can buy artificial snow from Amazon if it’s not the right time of year for snow).
Add a bucket and spade to make snow sandcastles, or some spoons, bowls and cups, cupcake cases to play cooking/baking, or some trucks to play ice road truckers!
Ice Play in the Tuff Tray
If it’s summer, you can use ice as a great cool down activity. Freeze some lego figures, pom poms, animal figures or even flowers, in some ice and then give them some spoons, wooden hammers, and pipques with warm water, to try to melt the ice.
This is a great STEM activity too. You can also add a tub of water so they can test if the ice floats, and bigger pieces of ice can be used as little boats for their toys.
You can also add food colouring to the ice to make it more interesting. Coloured ice can be used to paint pictures with as well.
Pasta Play in the Tuff Tray
I have set up activities for both my own kids as toddlers, and for the children I childmind using different types of food, and pasta is a super easy one.
It could be that you use dry pasta shells, with some containers to transfer them from.
You could let them experiment with different types pasta. Snapping dry spaghetti can be a great sensory activity.
They can use cooking utensils, bowls, saucepans, and muffin trays to play cooking.
You can dye cooked spaghetti to make a more colourful sensory experience for your little one too.
*Close supervision required to ensure your child doesn’t put this in their mouth!
Easy Rice Play Ideas for the Tuff Tray
This is one I created for Valentine’s Day. I just love the feel of uncooked rice between my fingers. It’s so calming. This is one I enjoy playing with too!
As well as baking set ups like this one, diggers can be used to transport the rice if that is what your toddler is interested in. It can really be personalised to their interests.
You can dye rice to make it more colourful too.
*Close supervision required to ensure your child doesn’t put this in their mouth!
Almost every kid I know loves a bit of finger painting, and your Tuff Tray is the perfect place to do it.
The edges make it great for catching any spills and containing those paint-drenched sheets of paper!
You can also add other interesting items for your toddler to paint with, like pine cones, sticks, leaves, flowers, sponges, pipe-cleaners, pompoms, potato stamps, trucks and little cars. The possibilities are endless!
A Tuff Tray is a great place to help contain sand for some indoor (or outdoor fun!).
However, I am not a fan of the huge mess, or storing that much sand, so I use an alternative for inside.
My favourite alternative to beach sand is kinetic sand. I just love the stuff. My son buries his Octonaut toys in it, and my daughter likes rolling it into sausages to cut up, or making cupcakes or sandcastles.
It comes in different colours and you can get kinetic sand with scents to increase the sensory experience. One of our favourite Kinetic Sands is an Ice cream set up with scented kinetic sand from Amazon. My kids love playing with this one.
They also enjoy playing with this Red and Blue Kinetic Sand from Amazon, pictured above after they mixed it together. I love that it doesn’t just turn brown when they inevitably mix it! I find this set is great for more creative, imaginative, open-ended play!
Kinetic Sand is a great calming down activity for my kids and they still love it (at 4 + 7), just as much as they loved it as toddlers. It’s one of my go-to indoor tuff tray ideas, especially in winter.
Wooden Loose Parts
This is probably the quickest, easiest, and least messy of all my indoor toddler sensory tuff tray ideas!
The idea of loose parts play is really big in childcare settings just now. The benefits are enormous. Wooden toys are often recommended over plastic, so this activity is spot on for both!
If you’re interested in finding out more about loose parts and how it helps your toddler’s development, head to, Getting to Grips with Loose Parts Play and check out my article on Frugal Loose Parts Garden Play you can try right now.
Simply search for any wooden loose parts you can find and pop them of your tuff tray for an easy, sensory activity your toddler will love to explore.
Wooden curtain rings on a mug stand may look boring to you and I, but the toddler’s I care for as a childminder absolutely love this and play with it almost every day they’re here. It’s great for developing fine motor skills too!
This activity also helps your toddler recognise colours and shapes. I have used Wooden Blocks like these from Amazon for this.
Nature Tray : Forest
It’s always great to add a spot of nature into sensory play and this forest inspired cooking set up is a favourite with my kids, and those I childmind.
You’ve got the lovely natural smells, the different textures of the materials, and your little one is learning so much through it all.
There is also the opportunity to talk about the seasons, and growing, and conservation, if you want.
We have had great success with pine cones, sticks, flowers, leaves, some mud or soil and water (especially if it’s in the garden!)
Sometimes we use old pots and pans and integrate the natural elements with our mud kitchen. Other times, we take out our small animal toys, or people, and do some small world play as they explore the mini jungle on the tuff tray.
Nature Play : Beach
It’s not always feasible to go to the beach every time the kids want to, so I find this is a great substitute.
We keep a big bucket of sand to hand and another bucket full of things we have beach combed. We have shells, pebbles, drift-wood, bits of rope and dried seaweed.
There are so many games they can play with these things. It’s different each time. They bury the ‘treasure’ for each other to find, cook with the sand and other ‘ingredients’ with old pots, pans and muffin trays, build and decorate sandcastles, and they mix it with water and do little experiments.
This is a such a fun and easy, sensory tuff tray activity for toddlers in the summer especially, when they can make as much mess as they want in the garden!
Cereal Sensory Play
This is a great, taste-safe, sensory activity for toddlers and it is so easy to set up in your tuff tray.
There are so many different textures and smells to explore, and the cereal makes different noises when its scrunched in their hands, or rolled over by a tractor.
My little ones love playing farms with this, or I give them cups, bowls, spoons, and cupcake cases so they can bake! One little boy I looked after, went off and came back with a digger to add to the baking set up once, so it’s great when they can decide for themselves what they want to add to it. It then became a building site!
This is one of my favourite indoor tuff tray ideas for a rainy day. It’s so quick and easy!
The Best Easy Tuff Tray Ideas for Toddlers
All of these Sensory Tuff Tray activities for Toddlers are meant to keep them busy and happy while you get a couple of jobs done or sit down for a much needed cuppa!
However, with all of them, it is advised that you supervise them closely while they play, and be aware of any small parts that you provide that could be a choking hazard if put in their mouths.