When I introduced our version of the Montessori tray work (Tot Trays) a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure how it was going to work. Our house tends to be chaotic, noisy and messy at the best of times and I was sure we'd end up with tray items strewn all over the house. However, I liked the idea of having activities pre-set up so that M could work on what she chose and when she chose.
After three weeks, I find my fears were largely unfounded. M is very good about taking her trays (or the items on her trays if the tray's too much to carry) to her table or the floor to work on. She then takes the tray back to the fireplace mantel (our version of a shelf) when she is done. And best of all, she knows that the project is left exactly as she left it (we do close caps on markers and playdough!) so that she can continue when she wants. The independence and creativity she is showing already is amazing. I often find her mixing items between trays or bringing other toys onto the trays to play in new ways she has created herself. She has started cleaning up after herself so much better as well. She now says "uh-oh, mess" and gets a towel or wet-wipe to clean up the spills she made! I wish J would do the same!
(I know Montessori advocates using real items in order to teach the children respect for objects - glass bowls, metal trays, and wooden baskets. I am not the brave yet, we still use plastic trays and cups rather than real glass, but maybe someday I will be!)
M lights up whenever I bring new tray work out for her (I switch all 6 trays out on Sunday) and she has even started making requests for favorite items to return. Even J often wants to help M with her trays and finds enjoyment in the simple joys of these tasks.
Sure, not every tray works. Some are too advanced for her, some that I thought she would love she is just not interested in, and some are too messy for self-directed tray work (e.g. I forgot to buy washable stamp pads and M has dark navy hands that won't come clean!) but overall this concept is working out so much better than I could have hoped, for all of us!