Invitations To Play And Learn: Work Trays

One of the things that I have learned over time is that limits improve children’s interactions with the materials around them. Over the past several months I’ve been trying to include limits as natural guides in our learning spaces.

One way of doing this has been to simply reduce the number of materials available.

Another way has been the introduction of work trays into the little boys’ day.

I first ran across the concept of work trays on some Montessori blogs I was reading. I had some trays I had bought at the Dollar Store to use as play surfaces during a car trip so I thought I’d give the concept a try. At first I offered too many options with which to use the trays (pattern blocks, and puzzles, and dot markers, plus some other things) and the boys tended to flit from one thing to another without engaging for more than a few minutes. I also found that the noise of toys and blocks clicking on the metal trays was exceedingly annoying to the noise sensitive students in the room.

The noise problem was relatively easy to solve. I always have some felt around and dry mount glue (the kind that comes in a spray can) is perfect for bonding felt to metal! A quick spray and overnight dry gave me two trays that the little boys could use. Additionally, the felt gives a surface with enough texture that pattern blocks and other “slick” items are much easier to use.

When we moved the schoolroom up from the basement, I decided to limit the available materials even further and just rotate them monthly. Each little boy has one cubby for his books and his workbox (crayons, scissors, glue etc.) and one cubby for his work tray along with two baskets containing whatever we are working on this month. Bull uses all four baskets, and Jack uses his two mostly independently and occasionally uses Bull’s with some assistance.

Here’s the tray work for this month:


Making pictures out of precut shapes: Using this idea off of Pinterest?I cut out squares, triangles, rectangles and circles. ?Both boys enjoy this activity, I’ve spent a bit of time showing Jack what to do, but mostly let him make things on his work tray before gluing?them to a sheet of paper. I love how this activity helps them learn to look at things and break them into parts (an important pre- reading and pre-math skill) as well as work on fine motor, and hand-eye coordination skills.

Tot School Work Tray With Trucks

Preschool Work Tray With TrucksPattern Blocks:

These are a favorite of both boys. They often spend the whole time trying to fill up the tray using as many of a certain piece as they can.



Montessori style continent cards from Mama’s Learning Corner: I really love these and Bull is enjoying learning about different habitats and the animals that live in them. Of course we started with North America because of his current obsession with Canada and Polar Bears! In addition to doing the matching in the tray, we are also finding the places on the world map and keeping a notebook about the various animals and their habitats.

Jack enjoys this activity too and is actually quite good at matching the shape on the card to the shape on the map.

Montessori Continent Card Tray Work


Matching Continent Cards To The World Map


Brothers working together


Math combinations with the Cuisenaire Rods: Right now we are just learning which rods will add up to other rods as that goes along nicely with his math lessons (MEP Primary/Year One). This is a good activity for him to do when I need to take a few minutes with the other children.

The limitation of materials has really helped the boys to focus and engage with the materials and lessons. They are spending an average of twenty minutes on each activity and I am seeing progress in the complexity of the things they attempt. I’m looking forward to incorporating new activities each month and building on these Invitations To Play and Learn.



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