Play trays are such an adorable and easy activity that can work for so many different ages. You can easily customize them to fit any age and the best part is they can be a budget friendly activity as well! Many play trays can be created using items from around the house or from a local dollar store.

The reason play trays are so great is because they are so easy to put together, are so versatile, and very open-ended. You can use pretty much anything to put together a play tray, and you can make small adjustments to keep the tray fresh or a bit different each day.

When I create a play tray, I typically leave it out for a few days. But, I will add a few different items each day to switch it up a bit. Adding spoons or scoops, other containers, funnels, etc.are great add in items.

In this post I am going to walk you through creating a Jungle Themed Play Tray using items exclusively from the dollar store. I was even lucky enough to snag the tray from the dollar store!!! The best part is all items used can be re-used again in other various ways.


To create this play tray you will need the following items:

  • A shallow tray or container
  • Blue gems (or other blue base)
  • Green shredded paper (or other green base)
  • Rocks or pebbles
  • Fake shrubs or bushes
  • Plastic jungle animal toys


Create a Jungle Themed Play Tray. Encourage open ended play with these quick and easy play activity. This play tray is also a budget friendly play activity that also encourages learning

Step One | Base Items

First we gather our base items. In this Jungle themed play tray, I used blue gems for the water and green shredded paper for the grass. I also threw some rocks in as well.

The things is, the options for bases are endless. You can use rice, beans, pasta, chick peas, oats, or even cereal. You can also go non food and do fabric, paper, sand, water, sticks, cardboard, or really anything! When choosing what bases to use, I like to have at least one that has good sensory components and can be played with in more than one way.

Food bases are super easy to dye as well. So if you use rice for example, you can dye it green the night before and use it as your “grass”.

Step Two | Additional Items

Once you have your base set up as you please, you can add in any additional items you would like. I added a fake shrub into mine, but you could add sticks, leaves, trees, etc.

Step Three | Add Your Animals

Play animals are always a win with my little one, so I almost always add them into a play tray. I placed the gorilla in the shrubs, the hippo in the water, etc.

I used dollar store animals in this play tray but there are many different options to use. You can buy really great quality plastic animals, or beautiful wooden animals.Step Four | Use Play for Learning

While play trays are really great for independent play, they are also a great way to play and encourage learning with your child. Have them name the animals, or name an animal and have them point to it. Use the play to encourage language development by asking questions. Some great questions are:

  • How does that feel?
  • Does that feel soft or hard?
  • What color is the …water? grass?
  • What animals do you see?
  • What does the lion say? Monkey Say?

Play trays also encourage imaginative play as well, which is so great and also SO adorable!

Jungle Themed Play Tray

Step Four | Redirect As Needed

If your little one starts to get bored, you can easily add in other items to change the tray up a bit. I often add in spoons or scoops, other containers, funnels, ice cube trays, etc.

Adding other items into the tray changes things a bit and created something new and exciting, and I find having something to scoop and pour is always a hit.

Step Five | Create Your Own

Now it’s time to create your own play tray! Assess what you already have around your house to use in your tray. Whatever you are missing, you can most likely grab from your local dollar store, or since I am sure you are a busy momma, you can also grab everything you need from Amazon and have it delivered right to your door! Sometimes lugging a toddler out for a shopping trip is just not worth it, so Amazon has become my best friend.

Here are my amazon picks for creating your own Jungle Themed Play Tray!




Easy Jungle Themed Play Tray