Outdoor Tuff Tray Ideas to Keep The Kids Busy

With all this wonderful weather upon us, I’ve been making a conscious effort to do fun and novel activities with the boys using our outdoor space. My kids love the great outdoors. From exploring in the trees to ball play and the sandpit they are always on the go. In an attempt to keep them in the shade and cool for some periods in the day, we have been getting busy in our tuff tray. Over the last week or so we have had a few great successes that I thought were worthwhile sharing. So here is a collection of outdoor tuff tray ideas to keep the kids busy in the garden!

What is a Tuff Tray?

For those not familiar, a tuff tray is essentially a rounded edge square of durable plastic. Deep enough to hold a little water or sand, and to contain messy materials! The tuff tray has been a huge hit since the day it arrived to our house, and we have used it for everything and anything. From arts and crafts, to kinetic sand, water play and building sites – the possibilities are endless.

During the winter months we use it indoors to contain mess. It isn’t very wide and so is compact enough to store and it doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. The other massive selling point is that it is great for kids of all ages. From tiny tots, to teens, I can think of a use for it! Olly enjoyed gloop and messy play in our tray from a very young age, and as the boys get older, we are coming up with new and exciting ideas to try out!

3 Easy Outdoor Tuff Tray Ideas for Summer

1.  Ice Excavation

You will need:

  • Regular Balloons or Water Balloons
  • Small Toys (Lego figures, small animals, small balls)
  • A Freezer
  • Kids knives, toy hammers, toy screwdrivers, spoons (whatever you can find for excavating!)

What to do:

Blow up the balloons slightly to loosen. Squeeze the small toy inside the opening. Inflate again slightly and wrap around kitchen tap. Fill with enough water to make a ball. Pop into the freezer overnight. In the morning, gather some tools with the kids and let them hack away until they get their favourite toys out! We spent lots of time talking about concepts such as freezing, melting, hard, shiny, cold. There was lots of learning in this task – and also a bit of a break for me! They loved it and it kept them busy for a good 45 minutes!

2.  Bubbly Water Play

What you can use:

  • Bubble bath or wash
  • Some water (however much you want)
  • Different shapes and sized containers (big openings, small openings, jugs, bottles etc).
  • Some toy animals/dolls/barbies
  • Sponges
  • Measuring Cups
  • Spray can

What to do:

Mix up some bubbles in the tray. Then let their imaginations take over! From a car wash for small toys, to a watering hole for safari animal. A hairdresser for barbies and dolls? Luke enjoyed pouring water between different sized containers. Squeezing small sponges and talking about wet, dry, spilling, pouring and splashing! He eventually ended up in the tray – again this held his attention for nearly an hour.

3.  Build Your Own Farm

What you can use:

  • Farm fencing if you have some. Alternatively twigs and sticks to make one.
  • Cheap boxes of cereal (I used corn flakes and bran flakes from Aldi).
  • Leaves and greenery from around the garden.
  • Sand and gravel from around the garden.
  • Toy animals, tractors and vehicles.

What to do:

This task was a real team effort. We went on a treasure hunt around the garden and playroom looking for materials for our farm. From grass and leaves to stones and twigs, we had great fun exploring lots of different textures and terrains! The bran flakes and corn flakes were a big hit, and the boys really enjoyed crunching and crushing them with the animals and vehicles! An incredibly simple task that gave hours of fun and play!

Where to Buy?

I picked up our tough tray from a fantastic Irish online store called Thinking Toys (based in Killaloe, Co.Clare). Tuff Trays are widely available, that said, shop around and don’t pay more than you need to. I paid approximately €30, and given how much we have used it, was a bargain.

More Inspiration

Google images and Pinterest is a wash with Tuff Tray inspiration, so if you are not feeling overly inspired, get Googling! From babies, to school aged kids, there are loads of lovely activities ranging from nature exploration, to numbers, colours and craft.


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