Like most people I know there are times my kids need a quiet activity, whether to calm down at the end of a rambunctious game or to help them wake up in the A.M. - I took ideas from a wide variety of schools of thought and started to have these, what some people would call invitations to play out on a table every so often. I think this would also work wonderfully in an art room as an "after activity", especially as a way to introduce new materials or techniques.
Over winter break I started to lay out materials and tools on simple white trays. There were a variety of different activities over the two weeks, mostly seasonal. My kids gravitated towards them throughout the day for different intervals of time.
Whether my kids complete them in the way I intended is up to them. Unlike what I understand to be the Montessori school of thought, I don't care if my kids do what I thought they would with the material. For example, I thought Auggie would enjoy pouring the rice back and forth between the pitchers; which he did. But then when some spilled out he asked for a spoon to put it back into the pitchers, and then he just started playing with the rice as a sensory experience, all A-okay with me.
Above are some of the setups we used over winter break. I took inspiration from the Montessori approach of setup and used a blank canvas of a white tray to keep it clean, for visual and practical reason. Over the weeks I learned to put anything that could be easily spilled (water, rice, etc,) in a higher rimmed tray. I had a great clear acrylic tray from the container store that worked wonderfully.
I started to keep track of these play trays visually with snapshots under the PLAY dropdown menu over here. What invitations to play have you had success with?