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Tuff Trays - Top 10 Messy Play Ideas

Tuff trays are perfect for messy play and sensory activities. Babblebrooke Day Nursery share their top 10 ideas with us in this blog. What are your favourite tuff tray messy play activities?

Posted on Tuesday 20th April 2021

Tuff trays messy play ideas

We asked the team at our Babblebrooke nursery in Loughborough to tell us their top 10 messy play tuff tray ideas, here is what they said:

1. Potion mixing

Adding into your tuff trays a variety of bottles, pans, jugs, perfume bottles, spoons, whisks, flowers, food colouring, food essence, leaves, mud…you name it!

Tuff Tray potion mixing with colourful potion bottles

Potion mixing

2. Babies’ beach tuff trays

Add a little sand and water in the tuff tray for babies to feel like they are at the beach- keep the tuff tray low level on the floor so they can crawl in and out as they please.

Tuff tray babies' beach sensory set up with sand

Babies’ beach

3. Exploring artists

Our preschool children love to learn about the work of different artists, we use our tuff trays to set up examples of the art so children can recreate them.

Tuff tray art

Exploring artists

4. Ice sculptures

We freeze various items in blocks of water and allow our child to investigate what’s in the ice using a range of tools. We used tweezers and magnifying glasses. To add a new element we added tea light candles into the ice blocks and it started a whole discussion about melting!


Tuff tray ice sculptures

Ice sculptures

5. Cooking tuff trays

We provide a variety of ingredients and allow the children to create their own ‘meals’,  for example making playdough and then allowing them to add different toppings. Provide children with rolling pins and other mark-making accessories for them to manipulate the playdough.

Tuff tray playdough

Let’s cook!

6. Good old fashioned playdough

We add different enhancements to our play dough such as stories and then link the playdough around that story such as Owl Babies- our children then used the dough to make the owl’s eggs.

7. Lentils

These are great for exploring – whether they are being used to mix a potion or filling and emptying between containers. Depending on the interest, you can add a variety of tools or equipment to support the play. Here we used the Rose Gold Measuring Spoons and role play pots and pans.

Tuff tray messy play with lentils

Exploring with lentils

8. Tuff trays bug hunt

Our children love a good bug hunt, so we often set up tuff tray invitations to encourage their curiosities around this. Our children love searching through sticky mud to find different insects… it’s also a bonus when they find a real worm or spider!

Tuff tray bug hunt

Bug hunt

9. Small world tuff tray

We use our tuff trays to enhance our small world play– for example creating a jungle using real fern plants, bark and slimy water to create a swamp for the crocodiles.

Tuff tray small world play with jungle animals

Small world play

10. Making tracks

Our children like exploring marks – we use a variety of vehicles such as diggers, cars, trains etc. to make marks. This can be changed and adapted using a variety of materials from paint to mud to cornflour. Tuff trays are perfect for this kind of active messy play for a group of children to gather around.

Tuff Tray messy play making tracks with mud, sand and vehicles

Making tracks


We hope everyone enjoyed reading about the fun messy activities we use in our tuff trays!

Thank you to Babblebrooke Day Nursery in Loughborough for sharing your ideas.


Visit our tuff trays page to find a wide selection of trays and accessories:

TTS Tuff Trays and Accessories

Wooden Active World Stand

Outdoor Wooden Frame for Active World Tuff Trays

Active World Cream Stand with FREE Black Tray