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What is a Tinker Tray?

A Tinker Tray contains a selection of items that can be used as part of open ended loose part play. They provide a child with interesting objects and pieces they can ‘tinker’ with. The possibilities for play are as limitless as their imaginations.

How do we play with a Tinker Tray?

There is no right or wrong way to play with a Tinker Tray. Children can use the parts in a multitude of different ways dependant upon how it has captured their interest or imaginations. The joy of a tray is that it can be reused for so many different activities and it’s parts can be combined with other materials to enhance their use too; play dough for example, or a sand tray, water dish or a reflective mirrored surface.

What will children learn from a Tinker Tray?

  • Creativity
  • Independence, choosing how to play
  • Decision Making, choosing materials
  • Gives access to different media and materials

Here are some of my favourite ideas for Tinker Tray play:

  • Add to play dough
  • Create a Mandala
  • Make some transient art
  • Use to make a self portrait
  • Make a collage
  • Add to a sand tray
  • Add to a water bowl (if appropriate)
  • Add to a reflective mirrored surface
  • Use an empty picture frame to make art
  • Use to practice writing
  • Can be used for counting and sorting


What is a Treasure Basket?

A treasure basket is a selection of items chosen to provoke curiosity in babies and very young children. The items can be very commonplace everyday objects that a baby can explore safely. A good basket will stimulate the senses by providing a variety of shapes, textures and sounds to provide a rich learning environment.

How do we play with a treasure basket?

An adult should present the treasure basket to the baby and then retreat to a nearby location to observe. Babies should be in a happy, alert mood. Preferably not hungry or tired. They should be in a comfortable sitting position. It is important that babies are allowed to explore the basket in their own way and in their own time, to make their own choice of which object to select and how to explore it. Adults should be unobtrusive and resist the urge to ‘show’ the items to baby.

Babies use their senses to understand the environment around them and will often handle and mouth any objects that they encounter. This is perfectly fine and should be encouraged. The basket should be played with for approximately 30-60 minutes, depending on the level of engagement shown by the child. It should then be put away. If it’s accessible all the time the items will lose their intrigue.

What will babies learn from a treasure basket?

Babies gain a variety of skills and experiences from a treasure basket. Physical development from sitting up unaided to play. Fine motor skills and hand eye coordination by grasping the objects and bringing them to their mouth. This action is part of their sensory motor development too. Handling and mouthing objects to understand it’s physical properties stimulates growth of the brain.

They also learn to focus and concentrate for an extended period of time.

What age child is a treasure basket suitable for?

Treasure baskets can be enjoyed by babies and young children as soon as they can sit unaided and hold their own toys, to approximately 18-24 months. Each of these items has been chosen with safety in mind. They are of a large size and are sturdy enough to be played with by the littlest of people. That said, all play should be supervised by an adult to ensure safe exploration of the items.

What are Loose Parts?

Loose parts is the terminology applied to objects and materials that are provided for children to play with that have no defined purpose or use. They are not toys in the traditional sense of the word, they are a collection of ‘things’ that can be moved, merged, collected, shared, taken apart, stacked, stored, built up, taken apart, and any other type of play that you can think of.

They enable open ended play. Children can use their imagination and creativity to assign their own purpose and meaning to the objects and the ways in which they are used. For example, a stone can be a coin, a car, a piece of food, a fairy house. A scarf can be a hat, a veil, a river, a cloud, a blanket.

“When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of “what if” that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning. Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play” (Dale and Beloglovsky)

How do we play with loose parts?

There is no right or wrong way to play with loose parts. The possibilities for play are as limitless as the imagination of the child. Loose parts should not have a defined use. They should be stored in a location that is easily accessible to the child, and the child should be able to bring them out and use them however they wish.

What will children learn from loose parts?

  • Creativity
  • Independence, choosing how to play
  • Decision Making, choosing materials
  • An understanding of different media and materials
  • Maths skills from counting, sorting, combining
  • Literacy skills from language use and story telling during play
  • Art and transient art


What is Small World Play?

Small world play is the creation of real life or fantasy scenes in miniature. This could be a farm yard or a fairy glade. Children can play in a variety of ways using props and scenery to create a mini play world to really spark their imaginations.

What do children learn from small world play?

  • Imaginative and creative play
  • Language and vocabulary
  • Communication skills
  • Story telling
  • Social skills from playing in a group
  • Independence from playing on their own
  • Real life skills


What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play is any type of play that enables babies and young children to explore and investigate using one or more of their five senses. Babies understand the world through touch, sight, taste, sound and smell. Giving babies the chance to investigate objects through sensory play allows them to understand the world around them which causes the brain to form new connections, and supports their growth and development.

As adults, we often associate things that we have learned or experienced with a particular sense. For example, the smell of a fire burning might make you think of crisp, cold bonfire nights, the sound of popcorn popping might make you think of a cinema experience. We attach memories to senses and they become a part of our sense of self. Sensory play is the beginning of this lifelong process.

What will my child learn from sensory play?

  • How to regulate emotions through the calming properties of sensory play
  • Understanding of the world around them
  • Sensory experiences and development
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Literacy and use of language, talking about the play and describing its different sensory attributes. I.e. wet, smooth, sticky.
  • Scientific thinking and problem solving, investigating materials


How can we use topics in our Early Years setting?

I use a mixture of teaching styles at my setting; we enjoy lots of child led and free play learning and embrace many of the principles of In the Moment Planning.

However, we also have a monthly topic and the children LOVE it. I think topics are helpful to introduce the children to concepts that they may not otherwise encounter at such a young age.

  • Our topic helps me with toy rotation. My setting is also my home so we don’t have a huge space to have all of our resources out 24/7.
  • Our topic gives structure to our tuff tray and tinker tray play.
  • Our topic influences our choice of role play area and helps me rotate the fancy dress.
  • Our topic helps me introduce the children to different books and stories. We have so many so it’s helpful to bring them out based on a specific theme.
  • Our topic helps guide our choice of outings. I’ve taken the children to some fantastic locations for our outings that I may otherwise not even have thought of as a place to go.
  • Our topic helps me teach the children about the world around them.
  • Our topic helps me as a practitioner to constantly question what resources and activities I’m providing for the children, and how they can be used to enhance the learning provision I offer.

You can see some of our topic based play, tuff trays, tinker trays and role play set ups on Facebook and Instagram.

Each topic sheet has been designed as a monthly topic. There are 49 activities, seven for each of the seven areas of learning. Each square is a prompt, giving you ideas for activities, games and outings that you can take, adapt, enhance and make your own.

The children can have an input too, selecting which of the activities they would like to do that day, building on the British Values of democracy and the Personal Social and Emotional Development goals of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

The activities have been broken down into the seven areas of learning so they can easily be selected to meet the individual needs of the children in your care and the next steps they need to take to meet their learning outcomes.

What am I buying?

This listing is for an instant digital download of a one page pdf document. No physical product will be sent. This document can be used electronically on your computer/device, or printed and displayed at your setting.

Please let me know if you have any problems downloading or opening the document and if there’s a topic you’d like to buy but don’t see listed then give me a shout and I’ll put it together for you. Thanks Anna

Happy Tinkering!


Mon - Sat: 8am - 5pm

​​​Sunday: Closed