Fun Kids' Birthday Parties

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Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers

Trains! Some children get excited every time they see a passing train. Is your child one of them? This hands-on, scree-free, mini world train party is therefore meant for them.
This colorful train party tuff tray for preschoolers is a sensory activity that I have created to be paired with the picture book “Train Party” by Karen Blair that my three year old loves so much! Why not having a read-out loud session? Either before the children get to play independently with this fantastic tray or during cake time. It is up to you to give an extra spark of interest to this open-ended theme play.

Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers

What is a Tuff tray?

A Tuff tray is essentially a large, shallow plastic tray.Tuff trays allow you to set up small worlds, sensory play, painting, loose parts play and so much more. This is, all while keeping the play contained in the tray. Tuff Trays can also be used to create a visual boundary for the play.

Turf tray

What makes a Tuff tray great for children?

With Tuff trays, children are free to explore and make a mess within boundaries. Usually their height can also be adjusted: from being on the ground to be about a chair’s height or even higher so children can play standing up. The trays being relatively large allows them to feel that freedom. What really makes them awesome to children is what you actually put in the tray. Their possibilities are endless: from sensory play and arts and crafts to science experiments and small world play.

Within the boundaries of the tray, children will experience a range of sensory experiences for all the five senses: sound, smell, taste, sight and touch. These sensory inputs provide children an opportunity to fully immerse in the present moment.

Why are Tuff trays great activities for birthday party celebrations?

Tuff trays are large enough for 3 to 6 children to play simultaneously. They can host solids, liquids, sand,… The mess is contained which is specially important if the birthday party is organized indoors, but still good for outdoors as it makes cleaning up easy. But most importantly kids love them! They touch, get messy and really use all their senses to create imaginative play. They are always one of the most popular activities at the birthday parties I organized.

Tuff trays as well as sensory bins can be used indoors or outdoors making them a versatile option. They are also easy to clean.

How to make this Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers?

In this activity, we use table salt and food coloring as the primary ingredients along with a wooden train set to create a make-believe railway park. Salt offers a unique smooth and grainy texture that children will be delighted to experiment with!
The possibilities are endless with this creative train party tray: scooping, brushing, making patterns, stamping, mixing, filling, pushing the train and the best part creating an imaginative small world play among your best friends.

Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers in action

What you will need

  • One Tuff tray (I used 80cm wide x 89cm long x 7cm high)
  • 3 kg (6 lb) of table salt
  • Food coloring (I used blue, red, yellow and green)
  • 1 Measuring jug
  • 1 Funnel
  • 1 glass jar with lid
  • Baking/parchment paper
  • 1 Shallow plastic containers for drying
  • 1 Train set
  • 2 paintbrushes
  • 4 small wooden scoops
  • 1 silicon ice-cube
  • 3 Small plastic bottles
  • 3 small cups
  • 2 Silicon stamps
  • 2 Silicon wedge paint tool
  • Animal figurines (optional)

How to make it?

  • Pour 1.5 cups of salt into a glass jar using a funnel.
    Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Step 1
  • Add 30 or so drops of food coloring.
    Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Step 2
  • Put the lid on and give the jar a good shake until the coloring is evenly distributed. You could also use a reusable plastic bag for mixing, but I found that it was more efficient using the glass jar. Because any clumps forming were rapidly dissolving.
    Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Step 3
  • Add more drops of food coloring if you would like your salt to look with a darker color. Though, when I was making the yellow, green and red salt, I saw that I could never get a very dark shade, no matter how much food coloring I was using.
  • Line a plastic container with baking paper and spread out the colored salt on the baking paper. Leave it to dry overnight. Note that the salt layer should be as thin as possible to help it dry faster.
    Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Step 4
  • Repeat for each color, drying each color separately in its own container.
  • Put the train tracks in the tuff tray
  • Lay the colored salts around the tracks following your imagination!
    Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Step 5
  • Put all the figurines.
  • It’s time to play!
Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers Time to play

My child’s experience

My son had a blast experimenting with the colorful salt tray. At first, he didn’t want to mix the colors. Instead, he added Australian and farm animals figurines. He told a story making use of the railway park and the animals. He also used the stamps and paint brushes to make patterns on the salt.

Colorful Train party Tuff tray for Preschoolers: stamping
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