Saturday, July 21, 2012

Basic Practical Life Trays

Today's post is all about our classroom's Practical Life Trays.  I am creating this post because I want teachers and homeschooling families to know that you can create your own trays, and make them very nice.  I found all the parts for all the trays from local stores.  I relied heavily on the local thrift stores. Items that I could not purchase at the thrift stores were found at the local hobby stores, the local dollar stores, and kitchen stores.  I did find the plain clear trays in Walmart's wedding aisle.

Time is money, and my time is very valuable, but while I was assembling these trays I would spend a few minutes on my way home from work, or the Doctor's office etc. combing through whatever store might be in my path.  I NEVER settle for something I don't want, or think that the children will not be drawn to.  What I am looking for always shows up sooner or later.  The total cost of these Practical Life Trays has been under $120.  I believe it took me about 3 weeks of looking here and there to find everything.  When I can save that much money over ordering from a service, it is worth the time.

There are many other Practical Life Trays that I use, but these are some of basics to start with.
This beginning exercise uses the three finger grip and aids in
prewriting skills as well as the development of discrimination
I change the medium and the 'bowls' throughout the year
I like to begin with beans, pasta and beads of different sizes, shapes AND colors
Later the items can gradually become more similar such as
same color but different shapes etc.
Dry Pouring Exercise
I change the medium throughout the year
I use the following:
black beans
pinto beans
navy beans
kidney beans
colored rice
wild rice
small round beads - same color
small round beads - different colors
Spooning Exercise #1 - larger items
I change the medium, the bowls and the spoons throughout the year
I use the following in this tray:

black beans
pinto beans
navy beans
kidney beans
garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
tiny sea shells
The spoons I use rotate between the two trays
I use the following:

wooden spoon (shown)
white porcelain spoon (shown below)
decorative sugar spoon
wooden scoop
metal scoop
Chinese soup spoon
Spooning Exercise #2 - smaller items
*note that this tray has a solid bottom*
I change the medium, the bowls and the spoons (same as above) through the year
I use the following in this tray:

natural short grain rice
colored rice
black rice
wild rice
flax seed
small beads
Basic Water Pouring Exercise
I always use colored water since young children
have a harder time seeing just how much water is left,
or how full something is getting without it
Mini Water Pouring Exercise
I LOVE these little Delft toothpick holders
*that will give you an idea of the size of this pouring set*
Funneling Exercise
Isn't that little vase gorgeous.  I paid 75 cents for it.
Sponge Squeezing Exercise
I use a natural sponge that I found in the paints and brushes aisle of the hobby store
It took a while to find the two part tray
I wanted melamine for it since the white glass trays that
are so easy to find will break into horrible tiny SHARDS
Basting Exercise
I used to have a mini baster and when I
find one again I will replace this big one
Operating a Dropper Exercise
two jiggers make a great way to get every last drop
I had to find the droppers at the nearest home medical store
Operating a Syringe Exercise
These are two little glass mugs
I also found the syringe at the home medical store
Whisking Exercise
I add three drops of dish soap to the water to make suds in the water
Tonging Exercise
I change the medium through the year
I use the following:

poms of different colors (brown shown)
sparkly poms
small wooden beads
small clay beads
garbanzo beans
mini wooden eggs
filberts (hazelnuts)
mini crocheted balls
*I am always on the look-out for more items*
I also change the tongs through the year
I use the following:

strawberry huller
decorative sugar tongs (this is a favorite)
mini salad tongs
bamboo tongs
quick sticks (beginner chopsticks)
Ball Tonging Exercise
this uses a small meat-baller - found at the kitchen store
I change the medium through the year
I use the following:

mid sized poms of different colors (green shown)
spiky balls
larger clay beads
larger wooden beads
I DO NOT use bouncy balls
*whatever I choose has to fit entirely in the ball*
Rolling Exercise
note that there is a clear cutting board used as the rolling surface
the cookie cutters change through the year from big to small
I use sculpey clay and change colors
Opening and Closing Exercise
I change what is on this tray from time to time
I also sometime hide some things for the
children to find while they are opening items
I use objects that have or do the following:

hinge opening
hermetic seal
magnetic closure
screw top
pinch open
Lacing Large Beads Exercise
color combinations of the beads change through the year


  1. Wow, this is a great list! Thanks for the ideas. I am linking back to you.

  2. Good morning

    I like to add few flavors or smells to the Practical Life trays after few months and I have used natural dried-dried flower mix for yhe spooning exercice. Spices comes also in various sizes and colours even salt. The chidren enjoy bringing coffee beans, grind them with a small traditional coffee grinder and take them home back for their parent's breakfast.

    1. I love this idea and will be incorporating it during this year to see how the children in the classroom take to it. Thank you.

  3. I love everything except the syringe - it gives me the creeps to teach a child how to use a syringe...Where did you get the cute little sponges? I have stopped putting sponges on my trays because they are usually misused. When the children have a spill they get the "sponging spills" tray. I think this makes them more careful with their pouring, because they have to get up to get it. Love your blog! Now on my reader!

    1. Thank you for the idea about the sponging spills tray. I haven't had too much trouble with the sponges being misused in my classroom so far, but you never know what a new year will bring. I might just add it in and see what happens. I found these sponges at a dollar store. They actually were an attachment to a scrubber and I had to take off a little plastic piece glued to them.
      I do include the syringe because there are material services that include it in their packages and because it is great for the 3 finger grip. There are other times that we use syringes in the classroom for art and for science. We also get to discuss with them about syringes and needles that are used in hospitals and at the doctor's office, and how we respect them. I could see how someone could feel uneasy about using syringes in the classroom.
      I am so glad to have you on my reader!

  4. These are beautiful. Keeping it simple is always better, IMO. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I agree. Keeping it simple and using natural products wherever possible. Not only does it draw the attention of the child, but they are allowed to use things that many of them do not use at home like glass and ceramics that can break. I do not want anything to take away from the exercise. The exercise itself is always enough to speak to the child, not frillies needed.

  5. This is really helpful! You definitely put a lot of time and effort into making this tutorial very easy and fun! I found you from Stay at Home Educator! I'll be back! :)

    1. Thank you so much. I will be adding a new post with updated items, since I am outfitting an entire room this year with a change in locations.

  6. Hello! I've spent the last couple of days reading through your blog (along with a few others) and am really enjoying it. I have a couple questions about this post but I'll try and explain myself in a nutshell. I'm brand new to Montessori, am reading a book about it as well as this online exploration. I live and work at a large children's center in Mozambique, and care for 34 boys, ages 4-8. I am not their teacher, they go to a regular (not very good) public school. As they are living in a children's center, they are here for a reason, and it's never good. Most of them are quite behind academically and emotionally, and certainly behind most of their American contemporaries. So I am interested in implementing some Montessori concepts when and how I can, but I cannot actually create a Montessori home or classroom. I'm just being inspired by the concepts and trying to discover what applies in our setting.
    Sorry that was lengthy!
    So I am wondering about these trays: what age group are they for? Are they all for the purpose of strengthening the three-finger grip? Or do they achieve other developmental goals? Is there a resource that talks about which trays work on what skills? And, about how long would most kids spend on these trays? I just wonder what age group would enjoy moving the little pompoms from one side to another, or opening and closing items, and for how long. (I'm seriously interested, that is not a flippant question.) Thanks for any input, I am really enjoying your blog and getting a lot of ideas! Keep enjoying your work! Laura Anderson

  7. Hello again! I put "benefits of spooning Montessori" into Google, and surprisingly, didn't get anything about sleeping snugly with your partner as I suspected I would, and got the information I just asked you! Sorry about that. Wouldn't mind your perspective though but at least I have the general idea now. Thanks, Laura