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Insect tuff tray activity ideas

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

This week marks 'National Insect Week 2020' and Early Years and Little Learners Messy Play Teacher, Bernice Jackson, has shared her top insect tuff tray ideas to try at home!


Celebrate National Insect Week with these insect tuff tray ideas from Early Years and Little Learners Teacher, Bernice Jackson.

Did you know this week is National Insect Week? Poppy's been at school so we've not managed to do much to mark it. However, we will be taking a look at insects in our garden at the weekend and recording what we find. The nation gets behind the Big Bird Watch each year, so we want to make sure we do our bit for the insects too!

I love handing the Popsy and Mama blog over to other parent-run businesses so they can share their ideas with you. This week, the wonderful Bernice has kindly created some tuff tray activities to help us all celebrate National Insect Week at home with our little people.

Bernice is an Early Years Teacher and also runs the Little Learners Messy Play sessions for Windsor, Maidenhead and Slough. However, after COVID-19 forced many of these amazing classes to close, Bernice is running her sessions online for everyone across the UK. You can also hire the equipment for play sessions at home or social-distanced gatherings and parties in the garden.

Here are Bernice's four top insect tuff tray ideas to try with your little people. Do also give her group a follow on Facebook for lots of free baby, toddler and preschool activity inspiration.

Happy insect-hunting weekend!

Sam x

P.S. I hope you managed to get one of the bonnet, sun hat and woven clothing item shopping slots yesterday? If you didn't, don't worry, I'll be reopening the shop again on Sunday 5 July.




Bernice with her son, Oscar.

I often use minibeast-themed trays in my messy play and mark making classes, so to celebrate National Insect Week I wanted to share some of my favourites with you.

Don’t let ‘messy play’ put you off. I promise (for the sake of your floors) none of these are too messy! However, if you do feel like letting your little one make a bit of a mess indoors or out in the garden there is always the option.

These insect tuff tray activities encourage fine motor development, mark making and conversational learning for your little ones. I've recommended materials and items that will be found in most homes, however if you don't have them you can substitute for something similar. The activities are easy to prepare, but provide hours of fun!

If you don’t have a tuff tray, any large tray or even a sheet will work. Be as creative with the equipment and materials as you like.

Children of all ages will love how open-ended the activities are and how much they can use their own ideas to play.

I hope you and your little ones enjoy them!

Bernice x

1. The Spiderweb

Insect Tuff Tray ideas
Insect tuff tray ideas

What you need:

  • Yarn/wool

  • Strong tape

  • Toy/craft spiders

  • Clothes pegs

  • Long strips of paper/material

  • Letters of your child's name (optional depending on their age)

Creating and playing with the tuff tray:

Weave the yarn or wool around the tuff tray and stick it down in any shape or pattern you like.

Throw in some toy and craft spiders for small world play, clothes pegs to get those fine motor skills going, and of course some spiders for them to catch. I also added cut-up letters of my little boy’s name for him to hunt.

Encourage your child to use the long strips of paper and material to practise weaving in and out of the web.

There's a chance to get active with this tuff tray as little ones can try stepping in and out of the web without disturbing the spiders!

2. Insect Hunt

Insect tuff tray ideas
Insect tuff tray ideas

What you need:

  • Strips of coloured tissue or wrapping paper

  • Insect toys

  • Child-friendly tweezers

Creating and playing with the tuff tray:

This is an easy tray to set up and gets children engaged for ages. All you need is strips of coloured tissue paper or wrapping paper. Hide an assortment of small world insects among the paper, give your child some fine motor tweezers to develop their hand strength, and send them off hunting!

My little one extended the activity himself by adding more and more toys to the tray and lining up the ones he had found.

3. Pasta Worms

Insect tuff tray ideas
Insect tuff tray ideas

What you need:

  • Cooked spaghetti (al dente!)

  • Uncooked penne pasta

  • 'Mud' made by mixing flour, cocoa and water (optional)

  • Child-friendly tweezers or tongs

  • Child-friendly scissors (depending on age of child)

Creating and playing with the tuff tray:

I love this activity. It encourages fine motor skills, sensory play, and is edible too!

To make the worms, cook some spaghetti until it is still firm enough that it stays together when little hands play with it. If you don’t mind a bit of mess, you can add some ‘mud’ to the tray by mixing flour, cocoa and water until you have the desired colour and consistency.

Children can use tweezers or tongs to pick up the spaghetti worms, or they can practice their cutting skills by chopping up the pasta with safety scissors.

Try threading the worms through uncooked penne pasta too.

4. Insect Small World

Insect tuff tray ideas
Insect tuff tray ideas

What you need:

  • Toy insects

  • Uncooked couscous (optional to dye with green food colouring)

  • Cereal

  • Sticks

  • Pine cones

  • Toilet rolls

  • Tools and containers for making marks, scooping, pouring and collecting

Creating and playing with the tuff tray:

This tray set up is great for imaginative play, and how it is used is completely up to your little one.

You just need some toy insects and the rest depends on what you have available. Honestly, anything goes!

In my tuff tray I used uncooked couscous (coloured with green food colouring and left to dry for an hour), cereal squares, sticks and pine cones from the park, and some toilet rolls to create an insect world. I also included tools and containers such as plastic spades and bowls for making marks, scooping, pouring and collecting.


If you liked the insect tuff tray ideas you might also want to check out these play and imagination blog posts:

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These are amazing ideas. I particularly like number 2. Thank you for sharing cc


Love these tuff tray ideas! Will be giving them a go Xx


These are all such great ideas!


Love these ideas! 👌xxx


What fab ideas!! You’ve certainly given me inspiration to set up more activities like this for Luna. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a tuff tray too and this has definitely confirmed that I need one! Xx

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