Using trays in the preschool classroom

In some of our classes, the teachers like to use trays to help with classroom management or organization…

Trays can provide children with their own work space…

Trays can help contain lots of pieces…

Trays can be set up to invite different kinds of play, exploration, or creativity…

Often times, teachers will use a tray system to give guidance or set limits when the need seems to be present…

Trays can be useful for many reasons but I don’t recommend placing everything on a tray. Sometimes, children need a large canvas to work with or may wish to work closer together. I think it just depends on the children and what works best for that particular activity.

But I do recommend trying trays for some of the reasons listed above. You may have other ideas for trays too…

By |2011-01-21T23:44:36+00:00January 21st, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Pam January 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    we love trays for playdough and painting…we keep the mess contained that way 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 21, 2011 at 11:51 pm - Reply

      Of course! I forgot to mention how trays can definitely help with messy materials:) Thank you for adding that to the list!

  2. deb January 22, 2011 at 6:26 am - Reply

    We use trays for shaving cream. It works well for a small group activity, or one on one when working on letter and number formations._

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Absolutely! Shave cream and trays would be a great combination for focusing on writing and drawing!

  3. Scott January 22, 2011 at 8:43 am - Reply

    We also use trays when we place activities on the floor. They give a hard surface to the carpeting and provide some “containment” as well.

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 9:42 am - Reply

      Great idea Scott – it would present more opportunities to use the floor for writing as well – I am going to share your thoughts with our teachers so we can do more creative and interesting floor time activities!

  4. Ateacch January 22, 2011 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Where did you get the cool trays? I have been looking to purchase a set.

  5. Melinda January 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    I use trays in the science center, especially with magnets. It helps keeps all of the small pieces from rolling and falling on the floor and getting lost.

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 7:01 pm - Reply

      We have just started adding trays to the magnets in our science center. We will have to do more with this idea for sure!

  6. Melinda January 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    I use trays with magnets in the science center. It keeps all the little pieces contained. It’s also fun to prop the trays up on unit blocks so the kids can move magnets around under the trays to make items in the tray move around.

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      Oh – what a great idea to use the magnets under the tray!. I have some magnets here at home – I am going to give that a try tonight and see how well it works for me:)

  7. Joan Banker January 22, 2011 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Not only do we use the trays for defining workspace, organization, etc. we also put the back of the tray to good use, also.
    Flip your tray over, glue on coins, leaves or anything else that will make crayon rubbings, and then cover the back with a layer of Contact paper.
    Now both sides of the tray can really serve a useful purpose!

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      I have never thought of using the back of the trays! These are excellent ideas to try! Looks like I am going to have to go out and buy more contact paper:)

  8. KM January 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Even though I don’t have a classroom… I still love using trays! I like to leave little art gifts on trays to surprise my kids on rainy days! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      Oh, that is such a cute idea – I bet they look forward to this!

  9. Lisa January 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks for visiting my blog last night and leaving a very nice comment. As for trays, I’ve always presented on trays for the past 20 years. It seems that when I choose a tray to do during carpet time with my toddlers, they have such a respect for what is on the tray and any materials that I am sharing with them. Even my older children want their trays but to sit side by side with their friends. It does keep all the parts contained, gives them their “own” space and a sense of security within their area. I have been making my own trays with material and towels to make them more sensory and personalized and I have had the best experiences sharing these with the children. They choose their own trays off of the shelves and is easier for them to transport their choices. I really like all your topics on the classroom environment and keeping it organized. I can’t wait to see what you offer on the next topic. Thanks for sharing. Lisa:)

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      Wow – you really make valuable use of trays! I like how you even use them with toddlers. I am still working on other topics – I really appreciate you stopping by here and leaving a comment too!

  10. Rockabye Butterfly January 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    That’s a great post! I pick up trays at our Dollar Store. We use ours for everything too, any project really. Keeps it nicely contained. Right now on my daughter’s school desk, she has stickers and a sticker book on her yellow tray! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm - Reply

      I have never looked for trays at the Dollar store – I am going to have to do that! How fun to have a sticker tray!

  11. Katie January 23, 2011 at 11:06 am - Reply

    And then you’ve got my kids who work everywhere but ON the tray….

    • Deborah J. Stewart January 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm - Reply


  12. Beth January 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    I’ve been a big fan of trays in my kindergarten room for years. I usually use cookie trays as they are cheap and magnets stick to them. I love your spiffy red trays, however, and they would be quieter than my metal cookie sheets. Where did you find them?

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