We call activity trays "works" at Beansprouts Preschool. But just because they are work, doesn't mean they aren't a whole lot of fun! Fun...and developmentally meaningful.
We set up a table of activity trays in the middle of the classroom to appeal to the visual impulsiveness of some of our newer, younger children. It totally worked! This table has seen continuous use as children walk by, take a seat, and get to work. It calls upon something within each child that I cannot articulate, something that craves order and completion and a feeling of competency.
Each day we update the works a little bit by changing the materials or tools on the tray, and they become new and fresh and interesting all over again. Strategies like this make a classroom manageable in these early months of the school year. If you have four little stations in the room that engage two to three children at any given time, this makes for a very focused (and calmer) classroom. We are very much Reggio Emilia inspired in this way. The classroom is most definitely a "teacher" here at Beansprouts Preschool.