Sensory Table Ideas
Zen and the Art of the Sand Table!
One day I set up a Sensory Table in my kitchen with potting soil, small toy animals and birdseed. The children played with the animals, created rivers with a pitcher of water and then put on the cover for a couple of days while we were away. What a surprise they had when they came back and found that the seeds had sprouted! They now had a vast grassland for exploring. They created lion hunts, made burrows for rabbits and even found a bare stick outside to create a perch for a Bald Eagle. We used clay as a base to hold it up.
Children love to explore, touch, smell, taste, listen to and observe everything around them. The more ways that they can explore the more that children will learn. Sensory tables are designed to make exploration accessible to children while containing the mess sometimes associated this that exploration.
Set up a sensory table and become amazed that the discoveries that your children will make...
Clear Sensory Tables
allow children to observe from the bottom as well as the sides.
Which Kind of Sensory Table is the Best? - A Clear, See-Through Sensory Table
Over the years I have tried various types of sensory tables. At first I used a sink. The kids loved to play in the water. They learned to do dishes and wash vegetables. Usually that worked out fine but sometimes they would get so excited that they would fall off the chair or splash water all over the floor.
Next I tried a lasagna pan but I found it too small. A dishpan was better but still not big enough. For a while we used a plastic tub meant for mixing cement. Then one day we were visiting the Boston Children's museum where they had an aquarium for turtles where children could lie down underneath to observe the turtles. The kids were fascinated and I soon joined them. That was when I went on a quest to find a sensory table that allowed us to look from underneath. Finally I found one. We have loved it ever since.
allow children to explore using their five senses.
Sensory Tables help Children learn to Pour and Meaure
Photo Credit: Old Bottles for the Sensory Table
Photo Credit: Playing with Water in the Sensory Table
on Flickr, Creative Commons.
One day we filled the sensory table with water, cups, funnels and clear bottles. The children were delighted to fill the bottles and then dump the water back out. After a while we started to talk about the various sizes and shapes of the bottles wondering which ones held the most. Many children are surprised to find that a tall thin bottle may not hold as much as a short fat bottle.
These hands-on experiences are very important for understanding mathematical concept in volume. Those children who have had hands-on experiences readily understand the concepts presented in higher level mathematics.
are designed to contain the mess to allow for exploration of materials such as water, rice and sand.
Sensory Tables Prevent Messes
Materials for Sensory Tables
By allowing children to experiment with various liquids in a Sensory Table, the children get the opportunity to see how various liquids combine or repel each other without making a mess.
What kinds of liquids would work well in a sensory table? Some of the ones we have tried include:
- pond water
Zen and the art of Sandbox Play
Sand in the Sensory Table
Maybe the most basic kind of sensory table is the sandbox. It seems that children of all cultures love to play in the sand, dirt or snow.
There is something about the fine grains that can be sifted though fingers, poured, sculpted or molded that appeals to children.
They use their imaginations to turn a pile of wet sand into a castle filled with knights and damsels in distress. They can pretend that the sand is a museum for sand dollars. They might make a hidden paradise for fairies.
They might like to shine up pennies with vinegar and then hide them down in the bottom of the sand box pretending that they are pirates hiding their gold.
With a clear sensory table they could secretly duck under the table to assure themselves that their gold is still hidden there.
Then turn into Japanese gardeners and create a peaceful Zen garden.
Beads for the Sensory Table - Sensory Table Beads
Broken Necklace Sensory Table
Become a giant, a pirate or a jeweler with a sensory table filled with broken strings of necklace beads.
Whenever a necklace breaks, put the beads into a jar. Once the jar is filled, pour the contents into your child's sensory bin.
- Match colors
- Sort by shapes
- Count the ones that are alike
- String a new necklace or bracelet
Sensory Table Exploration
Frogs and Lily Pads in the Water Table - Frog Pond Sensory Table Activity
Frog Pond Water Table
Young children love playing in the Water Table but did you realize that it is also a learning experience?
1. Create a frog pond by pouring water into the sensory table.
2. Cut lily pad shapes from green craft foam.
What could children learn from this experience in the Sensory Table?
Penmanship: Children develop small motor coordination which will help them with handwriting and penmanship when they are balancing the frogs on the lily pads while trying not to let them dip over and spill into the water.
Math: Practice addition and subtraction facts while adding and subtracting the frogs as they jump on and off the lily pads.
The original idea for this activity comes from Frog Games at Perpetual Preschool.
Frog Pond Sensory Bin - Frogs in the Sensory Table
Frog Pond Sensory Table
Jessie used plastic aquarium plants that she found at Goodwill, a lily pad she cut from a sheet of foam, Flat Green Glass Marbles, and then added a plastic frog, tadpole, froglet and frog eggs before introducing the sensory table to her son.
She reports that her son loved the experience and that he soon was asking lots of questions about the life cycle of the frog.
Depending upon the age of the children, I might add some plastic insects for the frogs to eat. Also a rock or two for the frogs to climb out of the water onto the land.
Tadpoles - Tadpoles in the Sensory Table
Tadpoles in the Sensory Table
Each spring we collect a few frog eggs and place them in our sensory bin. We place mats and pillows under the table for the children to lie on as they observe the eggs.
- At first the eggs just lie there in the water.
- Then the black dots in the middle grow tails and begin to wiggle.
- Next the tadpoles begin to hatch out of the eggs
- The tadpoles nibble on algae growing on rocks collected from the pond.
- The tadpoles begin to grow legs.
- Froglets change color, eat a lot and begin to lose their tails.
- The frogs emerge from the water.
Be sure to change the water often with water from the pond that the tadpoles came from and return the tadpoles to the pond every couple of days. NOTE: The tadpoles are for observation not touching.
Light and Water Beads Sensory Table
Instant Potato and Snowplow Sensory Table
One day, after reading Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton we decided to make the town out of Instant Potatoes. The children loved pouring the potatoes into the Sensory Table.
Then they got out wooden houses, people and cars.
Finally they added snow plows.
Children like to pretend that their Matchbox cars and trucks are driving through the snow. One time we made snow plows by adding bits of cardboard onto the toy trucks.
Playing with Insta-snow
A See-thru Sensory Table is the perfect place for exploring Insta-Snow. Children living in warmer climates where it's too warm for snow can get a feel for the texture and properties of snow in a nice contained space.
Put a plastic bowl of water in the freezer for a couple of days until it is solid. Children can chip away at the ice to form ice sculptures.
Sensory Table Ice Fishing - Ice Fishing in the Sensory Table
1. Get a piece of the foam insulation cut to fit the top of your sensory table (I cut mine to fit snugly in the top so it rests inside the table
but only on the top) and cut two holes in it about 5 or 6 inches round then
2. Put water and magnetic fish in the table.
3. Place the foam ice on top.
Children use magnetic fishing poles h the ice fish. They love it!
This activity is adapted from one suggested by Deanna from ChildCareLand.com By using a see-thru Sensory Table the kids can see how the fish float in the water as well as how they are caught.
Rice Table - Fill the Sensory Table with Rice
Rice is one of the most common items to put in a sensory table. It is easy to pour, inexpensive and easy to clean up.
What would you put in with the rice? How about:
- Measuring cups, bottles and funnels
- Glass custard cups and spoons
- Bucket Loaders and Dump Trucks
- Toilet Paper Tubes and Scoops
- Plastic snakes and cactus
Be sure to teach the children how to use a dustpan and broom which we keep under the table. Knowing how to clean up using a dustpan and broom is a life skill that children love to learn at a young age.
Styrofoam Peanuts - Packing Peanuts in the Sensory Table
Packing Peanuts in the Sensory Table
Plastic peanuts come in nearly every box and children love to play in them.
- Penguins or polar bears.
- Tooth picks can turn the peanuts into insects or porcupines
- Markers for decorating
- Needle and string for decorating the Christmas Tree
Imagine how much fun this child is having sitting in the box filled with Styrofoam Peanuts.
Be sure to have a vacuum cleaner available for the bits that tend to stick to everything.
The Great Sensory Table Debate! - Why would you want a clear sensory table?
Now it's up to you. Will you put up with just whatever you find around or will you go for the best?
Which style of Senstory Table do you prefer?
What do your children like to use for exploration in their Sensory Table?