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Sensory Table Ideas

Sensory Table

Goldfish Scooping

Goldfish Scooping

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...

Which Kind of Sensory Table is the Best? - A Clear, See-Through Sensory Table

A clear,  allow children to observe from underneathe.

A clear, allow children to observe from underneathe.

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.

Sensory Tables help Children learn to Pour and Meaure

Water Play

Water Play

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.

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:

  • oil
  • water
  • oatmeal
  • glycerin
  • pond water
  • lentils
  • acorns
  • shells
  • rice
  • sawdust
  • sand
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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 Sensory Bin

Frog Sensory Bin

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

Yellowback Poison Dart Frog Tadpoles

Yellowback Poison Dart Frog Tadpoles

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.

We notice:

  • 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.

Ice Sculptures

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 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 Table

Rice Table

Rice Table

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?

Do you have a Sensory Table yet? - Have you used a clear Sensory Table?

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on September 16, 2014:

Interesting, I had never heard of sensory tables before, but after reading this hub I understand very well. Great thanks for sharing.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on October 27, 2012:

@MikeRobbers LM: Thank you, MikeRobbers :)

MikeRobbers LM on October 27, 2012:

Sensory tables sound like a fab teaching tool! You must be such a wonderful teacher :)

AngelDey on July 21, 2011:

I've never even heard of a sensory table before now. This is very cool! Thanks for sharing.

Donnette Davis from South Africa on July 02, 2011:

This is an absolutely stunning lens, as all of yours are. Thank you for sharing your magical ideas wit us.

Jen from California on October 24, 2010:

Great lens! I found this lens while looking for some new ideas for things to play with at our sensory table - got some great ideas - especially the potting soil that turned into a jungle!

CCGAL on September 18, 2010:

While a clear sensory table would no doubt be a delight to have, I can't help remembering that the gentleman who raised his daughter to be a genius did so with nothing but what he could find in the library and by interacting with her verbally at every opportunity. No gadget, however wonderful, can replace that one on one interaction between a caring, committed adult and a child. Loved learning about the sensory table, though. I would think that it would be beneficial not just to small children, but anyone with a brain injury needing to rewire those neural pathways, and the elderly with certain forms of dementia, as well. Fascinating lens!

Jeanette from Australia on September 16, 2010:

Another excellent lens! You certainly have so many great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 11, 2010:

Maybe this is what Mom had in mind when she gave us an old pan and a spoon to play with in the dirt yard.

SnoopyGirl1 on April 29, 2010:

Just our sandbox outside. I would sure love one of those clear ones though! They look like loads of fun!

ClaudeKinney LM on April 28, 2010:

Hey, I discovered your lens while searching on squidoo, your article looks extremely important for me. I'll add a backlink and bookmark your web page. Keep up the good job!

Raccoon Eyes

Puffy Eyes

Circles Under Eyes

Dark Eye Circles

Kathy McGraw from California on April 18, 2010:

I am amazed at all these wonderful ideas. Wish I had known about them when my kids were growing up, but we did variations on many of them. That Sensory Table sure has a lot of great activities a child could do, making it well worth the investment...especially if you have more than one child.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 17, 2010:

@SpellOutloud: We call them Wonder Bottles. Children love to turn them around and around to see what's inside.

SpellOutloud on January 17, 2010:

We don't have a table, but we do occasionally use sensory bottles or I Spy bottles. I wrote a lens on it and am lensrolling this. I'm also going to feature this in my toddler workbox lens.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 11, 2010:

@jimmielanley: Sometimes we use food but often we use leaves, dirt, buttons or beads. There is an endless variety of substances to use in sensory tables. I agree that food should be respected and used for eating.

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on January 11, 2010:

I love the idea of sensory tables. I understand the reasoning behind using food products, but on the other hand, I do have some resistance to using food for play instead of for eating. Something to consider.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 10, 2010:

@sukkran trichy: Thank you for coming to explore the Sensory Table with me.

sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on January 10, 2010:

one more wonderfully created lens from evelyn. your 'list of lenses' is a clear sensory table for me. i am learning from it. thank you evelyn.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 10, 2010:

@oztoo lm: What a wonderful idea. I'm sure your grandchildren will love having a sensory table.

oztoo lm on January 09, 2010:

Evelyn you are such a wonderful and creative teacher. Love this idea of a sesory table. Perhaps my grandchildren will benefit.

BWDuerr from Henrietta, New York on January 09, 2010:

No, but wish I had know about this when my kids were younger. Although I think I might have fought real hard to wait for my turn. :D Fabulous ideas in a wonderful format. Congrats on the blessing as it is well deserved.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 09, 2010:

@poutine: Having you for their mother, I am sure that I would have been delighted to have taught them.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 09, 2010:

@anonymous: Thank you SquidAngel.

Evelyn Saenz (author) from Royalton on January 09, 2010:

@OhMe: Children sure do love being able to manipulate a wide variety of things. Sensory tables make it so much easier for them.

poutine on January 09, 2010:

You sound like such a good teacher. I wish my sons could have known you when they were little.

anonymous on January 09, 2010:

Sensory tables sound like a great teaching tool. You have presented it very nicely and are blessed.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on January 09, 2010:

I really enjoyed reading about all the uses for a Sensory Table. I would love to have been one of your students.

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