Craft supplies, toys, and kids’ stuff, OH MY! Keeping kids’ things organized and neat, while giving them plenty of ways to play and create can be a BIG challenge! Here is one solution that gives kids lots of choices, independence, and responsibility with activity trays!
I have been asked several times to write a post about the activity trays my kids use. Friends have seen our pictures on Instagram and have been curious about all the different trays with which they play. Captions about how nice it is that they can help themselves to an activity before breakfast with no help from mom make the activity trays sound appealing.
Kids are constantly acquiring new toys, showing interest in new crafts, and needing fresh learning activities. The constant shuffle and accumulation can get overwhelming. I have been there too.
We have tried a variety of systems over the years. Every few months it is important to think about what can be rotated away for a while, what can be donated, and what just needs to be tossed.
Then the next step is figuring out how best to organize the remaining toys and supplies that keeps them both accessible and easy to clean up.
I have found that keeping toys contained in small amounts according to their kind is essential. If toys are kept all together in large toy bins, cleaning up is incredibly overwhelming for kids and parents because the bins inevitably get dumped during play time. Having too many choices in one play period can also be overwhelming for kids.
When kids have a smaller, more intentional, amount of toys to play with, they are more prone to use their imaginations and develop new and creative play.
What I love about the activity tray system we have in our home, is that my kids can pull out a tray and carry it to wherever they want to play. When they are finished, they have a manageable amount to clean up before they move on to doing something else.
The expectation of cleaning up rather than abandoning the toys on the floor or at the table is generally accepted and even my two-year-old has learned (is learning) to be responsible for putting away her things.
The principle applies whether you use trays like we do, plastic shoeboxes from the dollar store, baskets from Goodwill, or another organizing system. Just keep things small, intentional, and varied.
20+ Activity Tray Ideas
We have two rolling carts that have ten trays each. The limited space in each tray, as well as the limited number of trays, is very helpful to be selective in what you choose to keep out. You can only put so much in a drawer, but I have found the amount in each drawer to be just fine for my three children (ages 6, 4, & 2)!
Our carts are kept in a closet in one of our main living areas. The carts are not bulky at all and will easily roll in and out of the closet, though rolling them out is rarely necessary.
This closet serves as storage for our carts, as well as a place to keep our printer, extra craft supplies, some sewing supplies, and my husband’s rod building equipment and a few commonly used tools. A shoe organizer is also perfect for keeping school supplies handy!
What Is In Our Trays…
Here is what is in our trays, in no particular order. A couple of the trays go together in pairs, but most are single-use. At the bottom of the post, you can also find even more ideas for activity trays.
My oldest son LOVES Snap Circuits. He was gifted one set for Christmas and then an upgrade for his birthday. I love that he can follow the instructions on the project pages by himself and that he can enjoy working on them for hours.
A bunch of marbles, plastic easter eggs, scoopers, and toilet paper tubes are a hit with all of my kids. Or throw in a pool noodle and play ski ball.
Anything that helps my kids make as much noise as possible is winning. Mostly for them.
This is the current favorite drawer that gets pulled out almost daily. Little plastic figurines, set up all over the house, often along with farm animals from their farm boxes, or with wooden blocks set up into towns and towers. I love how something so simple can be so much fun for my boys.
5. & 6. Wooden Trains and Tracks
Just enough track to set up and play for a while, or enough to use as a marble run.
7. Craft Supplies
A spirograph set and book with foam shapes to make various crafts fill one tray.
My kids love to draw so I keep this tray stocked with books on how to draw some of their favorite things along with plain white paper.
9. & 10. Play-doh and Dough Tools
We love play-doh at our house, though I know it’s not for everyone. One of my favorite things about it is how engaged my kids stay when they play with play-doh at our kitchen island while I make dinner. Turn on an audiobook and it’s almost quiet enough for this introvert to recharge.
13. Stickers & Tattoos
I want to add to this tray, but for now it contains the contents of a set my oldest son received for his birthday after expressing interest in learning about magnets.
This tray is another favorite that can easily occupy my kids for an hour or two. They enjoy making animals, bugs, and snakes with the clay and the moldable strings.
16. Bean Bags
Playing catch, tossing into laundry baskets, practicing juggling, or whatever else they can think of…
17. Pipe Cleaners & Pony Beads
This tray is great practice for toddlers and preschoolers to develop fine motor skills and practice threading beads. Plus, when they finish, they can twist the pipe cleaners into bracelets or other jewelry. I also threw in the golf tees to thread the beads onto.
18. Construction Paper
Keeping our construction paper in a tray is the most convenient place I have found to store the paper while making it very easy for the kids to get to when they need some.
19. Foam Alphabet Fish
These fish are great for beginning readers to practice putting together sounds and blends. They are also just fun to play with.
20. Stamps and Ink Pads
I made alphabet stamps from foam and recycled bottle caps. I also have a set of animal stamps that I used as a child. In addition to these are smaller alphabet stamps purchased in Target’s dollar spot. The kids can grab a piece of construction paper and this tray and sit at the table altogether and make animal scenes and practice spelling words.
Other Activity Tray Ideas:
- Magnetic dollhouse (this is now in one of our trays and it is SUCH a great toy! All my kids love it)
- Farm animals and materials to set up a farm
- Building Toys (My kids LOVE these!)
- Collage materials (google eyes, yarn pieces, paper scraps, cotton balls, etc)
- Pattern Blocks & Boards (We have these, but I keep them in a school crate)
- Magnetic Dress-Up Figures or Paper Dolls
- Playing cards & games
What would you add to this list?
How do you organize toys at your house?