Montessori Trays

One of the most visually distinctive and considered facets of Montessori is the tray. When setting up multiple activities for the child to choose from, multiple trays are needed, but obviously they don’t always come cheap… unless you shop at Daiso or comparable dollar stores 😂 

How -not- to set up. Note the trays are too cramped and hard to take out one by one

Not ideal arrangement, however I do love the trays, from left to right: Daiso, closing down sale, mother’s kitchen and peace tray from Balinese market. This was our farm-themed unit: tray details here. 

This is better. Trays are set up with enough space in between for a child’s hand to take and put back a tray without knocking into other trays

And this was our Care of Self unit: tray details here.

Of course, randomly chucking stuff on a tray doesn’t make it Montessori, contrary to what my husband thinks (read his male perspective on Montessori trays here), but the tray goes beyond just aesthetics- it delineates the child’s work space (similar to using placemats at mealtimes), and makes it easy for the child to transport the work from shelf to table and back. And if Montessori activities develop concentration through isolation and repetition of skills, then trays help to further isolate the activity and focus. Here are some of our favourites.

1. Wooden craft boxes

This Daiso wood box is filled with styrofoam covered with felt adhesive, for a farm to table activity. (I saw these planter boxes selling on Etsy for 30USD but this DIY cost $6??)

And the narrow one is useful for storing stationery for writing activities, or craft materials. We are using it to hold strips of tissue paper for a jellyfish craft, which I may or may not have coordinated her shirt with.

One box can be put into the other. I think this would be great for language activities, as the narrow one can hold three-part cards and the wider part can hold language objects.

Holding cut bits during a sheet music cutting activity during our music unit works, too.

2. Deep fry dish
A Daiso bestseller for steamboat, but it is the perfect size and depth for sensory activities, such as this invitation to make bubble tea using water beads to represent tapioca pearls! Ideally, a tray would have handles for easy carrying. This doesn’t, but it does have a brim which can be grabbed.

We love to use it for water-related activities, such as bathing the baby, an activity the kids kept coming back to. Surprisingly, little spillage on the work table, as the tray contained it all. We also included a towel (not pictured) so she could wipe up all the water and wring it back into the baby bathtub for further use.

And this science-related one, using detergent and food colouring in milk for marbling.

3. Faux wood tray

I haven’t found any trays large enough to accommodate A3 drawing block, but this one from Daiso is smaller than A4, and works for small pieces of art.

Wooden coasters, paint and brushes came in a kit courtesy of Learnthru’Play on Facebook)

This is my 2yo’s attempt at watercolor painting. We used the wet on wet technique, meaning we sprayed the paper before painting, to facilitate the spreading and flowing of paint, so the tray really helps contain paint and water spills while being shallow enough so as not to disrupt the child’s hand movements.

4. IKEA Smula tray

This 1GBP tray from Ikea would be perfect for art, it has a nice brim and would fit an A3 sized paper. I looked for ages in IKEA Singapore for this but for some reason it eluded me. I found it at IKEA London and so was very happy about that. Also a great size for their snack and water station (pictured here in our new home).

This wasn’t a Montessori activity. This was my husband storing all the loose metal bits when assembling IKEA furniture

5. Ikea Klack tray

For a season, I was getting the most questions about where I got this tray. I was using it for almost all activities before I diversified, ahem I mean spent money, into variously-sized trays.

It is really versatile due to its size and neutral colors (we try to minimise patterns or prints as that would distract from the activity on the tray). This was a transportation-themed activity incorporating Dylan’s collection of toy vehicles, so we needed a roomy tray to hold it all. The downside though is that it’s so huge that it cannot be carried by a small toddler with a small armspan, so it might be better suited for when you are setting out just one activity directly on the tray.

6. Divided tray

Want a tray that doubles as containers too? Divided trays are perfect for transferring or simple sorting work. Here is a wooden plate from a Japanese dollar store, used for sorting teabags in our hotel in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

7. Small wood trays 

I’m really excited by my last good find at Daiso, so much so I brought them with me to London, two trays in the craft section, very small and with handles!

And this one too. The circular tray too is from Daiso, it is inspired by traditional rice winnowers, but it is lightweight. (In case you’re wondering, these are sneak previews of a Japan-themed unit that I haven’t gotten around to publishing yet🙈)

8. Currency tray

It goes without saying that trays are also useful for preparing the environment. We have a currency tray from Daiso padded with nonslip rubber. This unsung hero is typically used in taxis or restaurants to pass the change to the server or back to the customer, but the grippy rubber helps cups stay put instead of sloshing around in a spill, while the tray itself contains spillage. In action at our snack station (see a slightly different snack setup here):

Ending off with some shots of the aisles of trays at Daiso PS, Singapore! Look for

  • Plain, simple so as not to distract from the activity 
  • Has handles or at least a brim to facilitate easy carrying
  • Don’t limit yourself! Refrigerator trays are another good alternative (not Montessori-related but one hardworking fridge tray currently holds my husband’s coins and loose ends in our bedroom), as are baskets or weaves from your culture, your mother’s hand me down tray, or furniture warehouse sales.

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