Nature Play On Vancouver Island

Nature Kindergarten On Vancouver Island

Tinker Trays for Kindergarten
Winter Stem Tinker Tray from What We Do With Paper and Glue

I have included loose parts in my kindergarten program for years and am continuously amazed at the engagement, creativity and language that develops with the playful open-ended experiences that my learners enjoy.

Over the years I have become a big fan of tinker trays. It started in our class atelier when I happened upon some great wooden trays at a garage sale and then it grew from there.

The boxes were the perfect size to fit on the atelier tables and easy to fill using repurposed berry boxes with small treasures. Once the art tinker tray is introduced to the children they are really great at keeping it organized and I leave it on the shelves all year. If this is something that you decide to offer your students I always recommend just taking your time and begin with small quantities in the sections.

I simply replenish the art materials regularly refilling with  the same or refreshing with new items. Of course you can use many different types of containers, over the years I have used large muffin tins, repurposed fruit trays, wooden trays, silverware boxes, sectioned cardboard boxes and more recently wooden boxes. Some of my wooden boxes are from the recycling centre, a couple my husband made as gifts for me and others are purchased locally from Dollarama. A colleague of mine uses jewelry making sorting boxes from Michaels (a chain of craft stores).

I also love to set up tinker trays with seasonal loose parts. For example, in the fall the children begin our forest program and we walk to the forest each morning for circle time, snack, exploration and learning activities. I set up a forest tinker tray in the classroom to provide an extension of our forest play using many of natures loose parts found in the forest. When I add some small characters and play dough these trays transform into story play trays. Add a few empty picture frames to the shelves and the children will design beautiful, thoughtful transient art within the frames.

A few of the principles of our Reggio Inspired Program are independence, curiosity and nurturing strong relationships through process learning. Tinker trays allow children to make decisions, explore new materials, work with each other and use their imagination through playful learning. I love the beauty and organization of tinker trays and as environment as third teacher is a key component of our Reggio Inspired Program these rich experiences and easy student access compliment our program!!! Plus it is so much fun to stand back and observe such joyful play.

A few of our tinker trays include sensory materials such as Kinetic sand, magnetic play with metal loose parts, playdoh, water play, building materials and collage. Our most recent trays include mini-building materials like straws, spools, beads, plastercine and wire. This month we are using the tinker trays to introduce sorting (open ended of course) as a pre-experience to a pattern inquiry.

When setting up a tinker tray consider  the space that the children will use, especially if there are two to four children sharing the tinker tray and consider using materials like picture frames, fabric, felt rectangles, large cake circles, mirrors (donations from a local grocery store) to anchor their creation and provide a building space.

Offer easy access to the children so that the trays have a  shelf in the classroom, the children are able to explore the trays at different times of the day such as soft starts, quiet play, math play, exploration, etc. I like my students to see what is on the shelves and have a space nearby to set up. For example my art tinker trays are adjacent to the atelier tables, while others sit on open deep shelves at the front of the room. Because the trays have space around them the children notice them and I am able to lay trays, frames and/or mirrors beside the trays.

This year our professional learning co-hort is studying the impact of process learning as an important strategy for nurturing social emotional well being. We suspect that the playful experience using tinker trays is a calming, satisfying, confidence building activity for children. The connections and conversations that children share using these open ended materials may contribute to joyful learning and in turn social emotional well-being. 

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