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The concept behind tinker trays (giving children freedom and control to explore) is the same as providing an invitation or provocation for the children to explore. Although, as the practitioner you are in control of the materials provided, which may or may not have a desired use, the children still have the freedom and choice to decide if they want to engage with the items or not. Furthermore, if a child does choose to engage with the invitation or provocation they have the freedom and choice as to how they want to engage with it. 


An invitation or provocation, invites or provokes a child to engage. This will often be a collection of items that ignite curiosity, awe and wonder which will entice the children to explore and play. You may add other resources to extend what the children do with the loose parts which may include weighing scales, magnifying glasses, scissors, etc. 


Invitations in action 

The invitation: We set up a block area with lots of different types of materials including wooden blocks, cardboard tubes and wooden slices. 


Observation: We started to notice a pattern in the way in which the children accessed the blocks, many of them built towers and discussed whose was bigger. 


Extension: We added measuring tubes to the area to encourage the children to continue to explore length.  

Another invitation that you can change regularly, particularly good for pack away settings or smaller settings, is a box or case of items that inspire children to be curious. Vintage suitcases filled with authentic or curious resources have become a popular addition to many settings. However, you don’t need anything fancy if you want to introduce this on a low budget; a suitcase can be easily replaced with a large bag or box and you can use already existing resources to fill it, creating awe and wonder as the children explore the resources you already have in a new way. 

Curious about metallics 


What you need: 

  • A box, bag or suitcase 

  • Silver tinsel 

  • Plastic mirrors 

  • Metallic Blocks 

  • Tins 

  • Metal utensils 

  • Silver sequins 


What to do: 

  • For younger children, you can explore the box alongside the children; allowing them to handle the items and explore them on a sensory level. 

  • Allow children to combine the items, line them up, fill the tins with the tinsel and explore all those schematic behaviours. 

  • For older children, simply add the box to your continuous provision. You may add it in a particular area to enhance it. For example, within the construction area to see how the children combine the materials with the blocks you already have. 

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