This week we invested in a 1m square cement mixing tray. What does this have to do with Early Years literacy? A quick peek at this Pinterest board will reveal all!
Named “Tuff Spot” or “Tuff Tray”, this type of activity is widely used. It is a space where messy mark-making can be contained and easily tidied away, as well as resources put out as an “invitation to play” for a specific story, nursery rhyme etc. I am hooked!
To kick off, we started with a book I bought in the local library book sale for 20p. Eric Carle’s The Bad Tempered Ladybird is a classic; there is so much to be explored in terms of emotions, behaviour, art, time, animals and nature… I could go on.
We didn’t buy anything else especially for this activity. We used a yellow ball as the sun, moving it around the tray as the time progresses throughout the story. The clocks we made from a stamp I had already, the animals were gathered from various boxes and bedrooms, we improvised for the ones we didn’t have (enter some painted pebbles for ladybirds, wasp, aphids and a Wookie as a skunk!)
Little loved gathering all of these objects and saw it as a great scavenger hunt, looking through the book to see what we needed to find next.
Once we had set it up together, it took a couple of readings through before he started to join in:
“All aphids mine! Haha!”
He also started to address the themes of the story himself: “You a naughty ladybird, you not share your dinner.”
The beauty of using the tray is that the activity can stay out for as long as you want it to, then be easily re-arranged, updated and tidied away, ready for the next one.
This is a great way to ‘unpack’ or explore a story; similar to “Story Sacks” or “Story bags”, but with greater flexibility. Little also loved getting completely involved, sitting in the middle of the tray and playing with the objects around him.
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