Thursday, 14 November 2019

Gratnells Iconic Tray Challenge – Learning Rooms Play Activities

We have been busy setting up some tuff tray challenges on a smaller scale, using the iconic tray from Gratnells and taking inspiration from the Gratnells Learning Rooms project and What's in my Tray.

  Gratnells Tray Play activity ideas

***Ad: We were gifted the iconic Gratnells trays in order to put together these activities, and compensated for our time*** 
The smaller Gratnells Trays fit perfectly into our Ikea Kallax shelving unit within our open plan, child-led playroom environment – allowing for a colour co-ordinated ‘iconic school tray’ challenge activity, by choice. The trays can be easily removed in order to access each individual activity, and then placed on the floor, table top or on a larger tuff spot tray. Similarly, the larger Gratnells trays can be placed on top of a stool, cable reel or an old tyre to create a tuff tray table at child height.

I have put together four moveable, learning through play challenges using the smaller, rainbow coloured Gratnells trays, and a further challenge using two of the larger Gratnells trays which you can see below...


Gratnells Iconic Tray Challenge – Learning Rooms Play Activities


Gratnells tray activity ideas on ikea kallax shelves


One of the reasons I chose to work with Gratnells Learning Rooms, is because their beliefs about the environment being the ‘third teacher’ within a child’s learning journey very much mirror my own. As an Early Years Teacher, my focus and passion has been around creating exciting environments, challenges and open ended resources for children to access independently – but I feel very strongly that this element of play should not simply be restricted to the Early Years. Rather, I feel that a creative learning environment and the idea of Play Based Learning provision should continue into Key Stage 1 and beyond.


Ever since I started my series of ‘play shelves’ over in Instagram I have had various Primary School Teachers ask me whether this is something I think they could incorporate into their KS1 classrooms, because they love the idea, and they really want to offer a more creative, playful, free choice to their children – but don’t always have the space or indeed the furniture to offer these types of activities…



Well, this is where I think Learning Rooms may actually be able to help…I mean, what’s a classroom without some of these iconic trays?! Isn’t this just the epitome of being at school?? I think we can do better than just keeping a reading diary stored in them though…or bits of scrap paper… don’t you?




Smaller Tray 'Play Shelves' Activities



Gratnells tray play shelves activities





Superhero House Building Activity Tray Challenge


Superhero house building small tuff tray idea
Can you make a house for the superheroes? - This is a lovely little activity, suitable for almost all ages as it is differentiated by outcome. 

I've had an intricate tower house from Arthur (4), with a roof and a space for a door for the peg doll superhero people to get inside....and then I've had lots of brick wall balancing and attempts at counting from Charlotte (2). Storytelling, in the style of the three little pigs (3 little super heroes!) 

Of course, you can leave your child to play independently with this one - its a brilliant activity for working on the characteristics of learning, particularly 'active learning' by being involved and concentrating, and also 'creating and thinking critically' by choosing new ways to do things....and do allow them to add in new resources from your environment so that they can extend their ideas! If it is appropriate, then joining in with their play and using careful commentary or questioning can really help to increase learning. Have a look at my post on developing language through sensory play to find out when you should use comments instead of questions, and the type of language examples you could use.






Number and Calculations Activity Tray Challenge:

Numbers and calculating small tuff tray idea

A fun little way to display counting and number resources, encouraging self challenge through calculations as a stand alone activity, or, having the tray available as a scaffold to aid number work and calculations within another activity - freely available.

Having numbers displayed on the stones makes the learning a much more hands on, sensory experience and works really well for visual and kinaesthetic learners. The stones can be used to put the number sentence together and the numicon is then used as an aid to solving the problem in a fun and tactile way. 

(NB: You can find all of the resources mentioned, including the inserts, and the numicon, over on my Amazon Associate (affiliate) storefront here, where I have grouped resources by use.) 



Letter Matching and Word Making Activity Tray Challenge:



Letter matching and word making small gratnells tuff tray idea

  1. Can you match the lower case letters to their upper case partner?
  2. Can you make some words using the letters?
  3. Can you have a go at writing those words on the chalk board?


It is really common when children are learning to write, that they often mix lower and upper case letters...particularly if they are attending a school whose approach is to teach the letter names at the same time as the letter sounds. Often, it isn't much help just reminding a child to use lower case letters within writing, they need to know what this means!

This activity will help children to see the difference between lower and upper case letters, whilst learning how to match these up as being the same sound. 

Depending on the development stage of the child, they may then have a go at forming their own (or given) vc, cvc and ccvc words using the letter gems. This helps children who are not yet ready to scribe, to still be successful in phonics by making words that they can't yet necessarily write.

Those who are ready can have a go at forming the letters themselves, using either a chalk board or a whiteboard.

This activity can be further extended to include digraphs and trigraphs as the children advance through a phonics scheme. 

This activity is set up for phase 2 phonics. 


Loose Parts and Playdough Activity Tray Challenge:



Loose parts and playdough small gratnells tuff tray idea

This is another open ended activity which is differentiated by outcome and lends itself to lots of speech and language building for little ones. Loose parts are brilliant for provoking play and curiosity, encouraging exploration and helping with physical development. I found these pasta shapes in TK Maxx and thought they would work brilliantly for pattern making and shape cutting within a playdough activity, but equally, they lend themselves really well to other challenges such as threading, filling and pouring, counting, cooking and small world play. 

I included a small wooden board as a base for the playdough and left Charlotte to explore independently! She persevered and concentrated on this activity for a long period of time!


Playdough and loose parts small tuff tray idea

playdough and pasta small tuff tray idea



Larger Gratnells Tray Activity:


Still smaller than a regular tuff spot tray, but bigger than the traditional shallow trays used above, these Gratnells trays make a great alternative for messy play, or larger play activities within smaller spaces.

Sorting Land and Water Animals


Can you sort the animals into land animals and water animals?

animal sorting Gratnells tuff tray  activity idea


Land animals - house, jungle, tree or snow and ice:


Can you sort the land animals into those who live in houses, those who live in the jungle, those who live in trees and those who live in snowy and icy places?

animal sorting Gratnells tuff tray activity idea

Water animals - Sea or River?


Can you sort the water animals into those who live in the seas and those who live in the rivers?

water animals Gratnells tuff tray  activity idea

This activity kept the children busy for a long time! It looks and sounds simple, but it threw up lots of interesting questions such as "what animal is this?", "Why do some fish live in the sea and some in the river?", "What about animals that live in the trees and in the jungle?" and, "where should be put the horses??"

With this amount of questioning, this activity can develop and extend in so many different directions! Searching for answers within fact books, encyclopedias or online. Exploring certain species further...often a simple sorting activity lends itself to further learning because of how open ended and simple it can be. 


land and sea animals sorting Gratnells tuff tray  activity idea


For me, the only thing missing would be some lids to fit onto the trays so that certain activities can be kept, and also transported if you are taking activities from one setting or environment to another. I do believe that lids are available, although I can't comment on how effective they are for this purpose as I haven't tried them myself. 

Open plan shelving with gratnells tray activity ideas

Do you use Gratnells trays in your home or setting? I'd love to see them in action! Why not join my Facebook Group for EYFS Play activities and share your images and ideas? 

Don't forget to subscribe to my blog below to stay up to date with new content. 

Sarah x 


Pin Me:


Gratnells tray play shelves activity ideas



Would you like to subscribe to my posts?
 (please check your spam folder for confirmation to join link within an email):

Enter your email address:


Delivered by FeedBurner


6 comments:

  1. Love all these activity ideas. Great way if keeping little hands and minds busy!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is so brilliant, what great ideas! And I'm sure my kids would love keeping these tidy too 😀

    ReplyDelete
  3. There's are brilliant, they appeal to me more than a tuff tray because the size is easily storable! I love your ideas too xx

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love the idea of these trays. What a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is such a lovely idea to kid little ones busy x

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is such a great idea - I think my two would have loved it x

    ReplyDelete

Please make sure your email address link is valid or your blogger profile username is set to public otherwise your comment will show as a broken link