Child led learning: Tuff spot tray ideas for early years

1 Jun 2020 | Early Years, Inspirational Activity Ideas

This blog post is by Mrs Mactivity, who make affordable and innovative printable learning resources.

Having taught in many different age groups, I have to say my favourite has to be Early Years. At this age, children are so open to new ideas and concepts, so keen to learn and join in. Every day you laugh out loud, become inspired and gain pleasure from the company of the little ones around you. One of the most stand out things about children of this age is their natural curiosity and innate skills for lots of different things. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense for learning to be led by the child’s own interests, knowledge and take advantage of the people and environment around your setting to bring about incredible learning, awe and wonder. Tuff trays are a great idea to get started if you’re trying to encourage this, which we’ll go in to. That is not to say however, that as adults we can’t guide, prompt and extend children’s own ideas and interests – indeed as educators that is our number one role.

At Mrs Mactivity, we’ve been thinking about a child led approach to learning – making worksheets just isn’t our thing, though we know there is a place for them sometimes – we really want to help inspire practitioners with fresh ideas and ways of thinking, perhaps in areas they haven’t considered before.


What is child led learning?

Child led learning is a way of using the children’s existing skills, interests and ways of playing to guide your planning and approach to provision. It can also be guided by what is going on in the world, a way of contextualising events in a way children find easy to understand. Maybe the birth of a sibling, a rocket going into space or The Olympics – anything that children find naturally interesting. It can be a little scary as it might mean altering the traditional planning you’ve been doing for a while, and going with the flow. All the while, guiding, prompting, observing and thinking about new ways of extending children’s learning through their natural interests.


How can we implement child led learning in our setting?

Tuff spot trays are a great way to get started. They are an inviting and stimulating way of getting children involved in creativity and learning in a collaborative way, with everyday items or even natural things from the school/setting environment. At Mrs Mactivity, we term these provocations – following the Reggio Emilia approach – but they are also called invitations to play and the best way to approach your tuff spot trays is to set up activities that are beautiful and inviting. If it looks like something you would want to play with, so will the children! Remember that this is simply an invitation to explore and investigate, so try to avoid setting up the activity with a pre-determined outcome in mind. The children should lead the learning, with the adults there to support and scaffold play and development opportunities.

Need ideas? Start with tuff spot trays

That’s where we come in! As luck would have it, we have provided a series of Early Years Tuff Spot Provocations that aim to “provoke” thought, creativity, play and more, inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. We have also provided key questions, prompts, supplies list, set up instructions, photos, and links to Early Learning Goals and Early Years Outcomes.

Our Early Years provocations can be used with any flat surface or tuff spot tray – we have used the word “plan” to describe these resources, though of course they should be personalised around each setting and should be used very much in a child led way, with the supplies that you already have in your setting or in the natural environment nearby.

And all of these provocations are also available as one page versions here too – and we’ve provided one free for you to use right now – with the link at the bottom of this page.

For ease, we have divided our Early Years Provocations into short, easy to read versions, and longer more detailed versions – useful for anyone new to this approach to learning.

Our Tuff Spot Tray Playdough Provocation Plan Pack uses children’s natural love for playdough to inspire thought and learning.

Whilst our Tuff Spot Tray Weighing and Sorting Provocation Plan Pack is great for stimulating thought around mathematical language.

If you prefer something very VERY creative, try our very popular Tuff Spot Tray Transient Art Provocation Plan Pack.

Have a go – you’ve nothing to lose, and your children will love their new tuff spot trays and learning stimuli.

Thanks to Mrs Mactivity for that great article! If you’d like more ideas similar to this from us, check out more of our inspirational activity ideas.

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