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Trays & Baskets: How-to use them for Activities

Ever since my little one was just a few months old, I have been putting together and creating some themed activities for her shelf using baskets and trays. Keeping it simple with just a few activities and items all in view are important in helping to prepare and guide your child in exploring their daily activities.


A simple and visually appealing item to store activities on are trays and baskets.

By using these items:

1. Everything has a place: By placing an activity with multiple parts on a tray or in basket/containers, your child will be able to see everything in clear view.

2. Encourages carrying & exploring items independantly: helps to encourage your child to carry items with focus, concentration, and simple repetition. This can take time as every child learns at their own pace. By setting an example; "Would you like to try this activity?" or "Lets try this activity together", using simple words and simple movements, showing your child how to carry the tray from the shelf, to the table or mat, how to use the activity or by guiding your little one to do so and showing your little one how to return the items to the shelf. This will help to encourage your child to work towards exploring the activity independantly, and moving onto another one of their interest.

3. Keep activities simple & inviting: if you have a shelf that has 2 rows for example you can start with 3 activities and a book or two. If you have a shelf with another row, you can move up to 4-6 items depending on the activities and your child.

When my daughter was closer to one year old, we started off with a two rows shelf that was just below her height and added about 3-4 and worked way up to 5-6 items:

At around 2 and 1/2, I moved some items to a larger shelf at her height and kept the smaller shelf for more arts & crafts based activities:

Here are a few examples of my little ones activities using trays and baskets:


I purchased this tray at the Dollar Store a few years ago and have used this for activities in my Home Daycare and now with my daughters activities. Here are a few examples of activities for this tray:

Build Mr. Potato Head - build and take apart as well as return the items to compartments in the tray

Planting Activity - items for planting flowers, from seeds (dry beans) to a watering can and flower pot

Sorting erasers/objects & sandpaper letter: this activity is all about birds and match/sort into each compartment.


Great for carrying multiple item activities/placing larger items on

Magnetic dress up + clothes

Puzzles & puzzle pieces - add a small basket

These trays are also great to add a book with an activity like this "Five Speckled Frogs" activity, log (cardboard paper towel roll) & container for Popsicle stick frogs

This was a fun activity great for motor skills, counting & music and all in one tray to carry to and from the shelf

Beans Practical Life Play: This other tray with handles has a little more depth great for TALLER items and smaller items like beans - this Practical Life activity is great for scooping, pouring with bowls, spoon & measuring cup with handle. You can guide your little one to try and use all of the items inside the large tray and keep in mind spills do happen. It is great to have a mini dust pan near by and if it seems like items are being spilled as curiosity is totally natural, take break and come back to the activity at another time. Model and repeat. Everyone needs breaks sometimes!

Counting & Matching activity: This tray is also great for puzzles and larger items; larger paper (number outlines/activity pages), stickers & puzzle number pieces


This tray was from the Dollar Store as well! We use this for our Painting Tray for multiple themed art activities - paint & paint brushes, paper and often I will include stamps or stickers as well. The paint tray goes along with this activity.

My little one will bring this from her shelf to the table and take out each item one at a time. Now that she is older, she loves to help open the paint containers and I pour the paint in the tray. She will often choose which colours to use and loves to mix the paint to see what colours they make and paint her hands as well :) After clean up, I will wash the paint brushes and tray, my little one will put the paint containers back in the tray and put it back on the shelf. Just replenish for the next activity

Just change the pictures to paint and items like stickers and stamps according to themes! We have had this on our shelf since my little one was a toddler


WOOD TRAYS are a signature piece to add to a Montessori shelf a natural material!

These bamboo trays below are from IKEA (I purchased them when I had my home daycare), are great for a few simple items & lighter items, and lightweight to carry to and from the shelf/table

Stickers and template (snowflake) - great for motor skills and counting practice. Add a container

(this one is a box lid) to hold the sticker sheet. Can use all the stickers at once or a few at a time, allow your little one to independantly decide

Cards and matching objects - this animal matching activity is great in this tray, the cards fit in the tray and the animals we place in a small basket. Great for matching and you can help guide your little one to store the animals back in the basket and cards beside them on the tray.

Lacing activities: this farm animals lacing set from Melissa and Doug - add a small container to hold the string. Help to guide your little one to place the string back into the container, and the animals next to it

Feed the Hungry Caterpillar: from our HUNGRY CATERPILLAR THEMED ACTIVITIES - this was a favourite of our whole family my little one loved to feed the caterpillar the pieces of fruit (counters from our IN THE KITCHEN Handprints Discovery Box). My husband made this out of cardstock, a kleenex box, some scissors and glue. The caterpillar fits right in the tray and added a small container for the fruit pieces. Lightweight for little ones to carry.

RECTANGULAR WOOD TRAY: Keeping with the natural wood look, these were from the dollar store a few years ago and I haven't been able to find them since! If you do come across lightweight wooden trays, grab a few!

These are a little deeper in depth, very light and great for lightweight items that you want to have standing upwards and only a few items in the tray.

Matching cards & objects: This activity below includes number and object cards from DK and added the container for the wooden puzzle number pieces that we got in a Peppa clock toy. Love these DK series of cards they have shapes, letters, animals, etc so many to choose from and I love that they are REAL pictures of the items - Montessori, Mama and my sunshine approves!

Shape sort and match - shape envelopes, foam shape stickers and popsicle sticks shapes - added a container to store the popsicle sticks upright. These clear containers are great, they come with lids and are great for so many activities including taller items like popsicle sticks.

I love the concept of having simplicity in activities, themed activities are always fun when possible and having items accessible at eye level, at the childs height and simple for the child to practice carrying in trays to and from their mat, table and shelf. I also love the Montessori concept of having everything prepared and accessible and having items on trays including the items needed to explore that activity all in one tray or basket.

Inspired by my daughter and passion for teaching, I came up with the concept of a themed activity box with fun, hands-on activities and materials, all in one box.

Our IN THE KITCHEN Handprints Discovery Box:

The box is made out of birchwood, lightweight, by my husband and designed by us, includes compartments for individual activities, just a few themed activities in each box and each one has a place. When your child opens the box, they can see that every activity has a place, see each activity, take an individual interest in choosing which activity to look at first and try and so-on. Once they have explored the box, every item can be re-used, returned and stored for next time! Just like the concept of using trays and baskets like the examples above in the post.

Our Handprints Discovery Boxes:

At the Beach

In the Kitchen

All About Shapes

Fall Fun

Can all be purchased in our Etsy Shop

Trays, baskets and containers can be found at your local dollar store, craft store and warehouse store like IKEA - they are great for organizing simple activities and objects on a shelf, to help encourage your little one to be independant and practice carrying items with focus and concentration. By having even 3 activities on the shelf on a tray (for multiple items), or in baskets, whether it be a theme, or a counting, language, motor skills, a puzzle/blocks or art activity, it is a great start to adding some simple, fun and hands-on activities to do at home with your little ones.

Hope that you found some inspiration to add some trays and activities to your little ones shelf!


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