There’s a reason many preschools have sensory tables. The kids love them and they are fantastic for learning and motor development. If you want to replicate this at home , it can be cheap and easy – an expensive pre-made sensory table isn’t necessary.
Make your own “table” from a plastic container, inflatable pool or baby bathtub and place it on the floor on top of some towels or on top of a kid-size table. The best thing to use for this is a clear plastic storage container meant to fit under bed. It’s see-thru on the sides, relatively inexpensive, and probably light enough to pick up and dump for easy cleaup. Plus it comes with a lid so you can store your sensory stuff away for later. Perfect.
Sure it might sound messy at first, but actually it’s the opposite – a sensory table will give your child a place to play with messy stuff so that it’s not all over the rest of the house. Just make sure you establish some ground rules (and that your child is mature enough to follow them – around age 3 for most). Some starting points:
Explain that the sensory table is designed for messy play but the mess should stay within the sensory area.
Stock some towels, rags, and a little broom and dustpan nearby and expect your child to at least make an earnest effort to clean up any spills. This helps teach her independence and responsibility.
If your child is not ready or calm enough to follow the rules at any time, put away the sensory table until she can use it as intended.
Combine one part imagination and two parts household junk, try: water, soapy water, sand, beans, rice, shaving cream, birdseed, oatmeal, cooked pasta, uncooked pasta, flour, cornmeal, sugar, rock salt, shredded paper, cotton balls, buttons, Insta-Snow, ice, hay, easter grass, pebbles
Note: Children should always be supervised while playing with sensory items. Do not allow children to taste the materials.
Use a hodgepodge of kitchen gadgets, sand toys, and recycled stuff – almost anything goes – such as: measuring cups, jars with lids, mini shampoo bottles, salt shakers, bottle caps, cardboard or plastic tubes, straws, cups, shovels, spoons, strainers, bowls, bakeware, funnels, waterwheels, empty oatmeal boxes, potato masher, styrofoam trays, toothpicks
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For a completely exhaustive list of possible fillers as well as props, crafts, activities, songs and even snacks related to the sensory table, see this awesome article from ChildFun.