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I first came across tinker trays on Pinterest and I have been hooked on the idea ever since. They encompass everything I believe in; exploration, creativity, loose parts, nature and so much more!



Tinker trays can be filled with a multitude of different items; natural, found, scrap and man-made. You can theme them to fit in with a topic of interest or simply collect natural items from your outdoor area – whatever you fill your tinker tray with, the children will find lots of uses for the items. The tray itself can be as simple as a cutlery holder, egg box or cupcake tin, but I do have a fondness for the large wooden tray photographed below.

Why I love tinker trays

  1. Tinker tray items are open-ended. They allow children to be creative and to explore the items in a way that interests them. They might add bits to their artwork, create structures or even explore schemas through the items available.
  2. They are great for introducing loose parts. If you are looking at introducing loose parts freely within your continuous provision but are afraid of the mess or risks they pose, then opt for a tinker tray to begin with.
  3. They provide a wealth of sensory experiences; think about the different textures, scents and sounds that will be experienced through tinkering, especially with natural items.
  4. Children will explore mathematical concepts of shape, space and number as they explore how they can fill the tray with items.
  5. Children will be exposed to a wider breadth of language as they describe and discuss tinker tray items alongside an adult.
  6. Tinker trays are developmentally appropriate for all ages and stages of development as they have no pre-planned outcomes.

Tinker tray ideas

  1. Provide a tinker tray alongside mirrors – children can look at themselves whilst creating a loose parts self-portrait.
  2. Provide playdough – children can explore different marks that a variety of items create in the dough.
  3. Give each child a clay square and allow them to decorate it in their own individual way – display the tiles as a representation of each child.
  4. Get parents involved by asking them to take their child on a tinker tray hunt. The children can add the items they find to a communal tinker tray.

View our loose parts, tinker trays, sorting trays and natural resources over on our website

With thanks to Laura England – Little Miss Early Years – an early years teacher, enthusiast and blogger for this wonderful insight into tinker trays loose part play.

Natural materials and loose part play by Little Miss Early Years

Loose part play by Little Miss Early Years

Learning to play the natural way – the benefits of natural resources

The Little Learners Approach – showing children where to look but not what to see

Transient Art by ‘Stimulating Learning with Rachel’


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