Kids love sensory play! The sensory table is one of the most versatile tools for childhood education. Listed here you’ll find 20 sensory table activities ideal for early learners.
Children will use their senses to explore and investigate as they play. They will explore how textures feel, how materials move and can be manipulated. In doing so, they will cultivate important skills such as fine motor and cognitive skills, problem-solving skills and explore with cause and effect, essential building blocks in learning and development.
The options for a sensory play table are endlessly exciting and can be adapted to any learning structure, theme, or purely for enjoyment.
What are sensory tables for?
A sensory table creates hands-on learning in a controlled environment where children develop their sensory skills while exploring and experimenting with the provided toys and materials. Sensory tables are typically filled with water or materials such as sand, paper, beans, or other textiles that can be stirred, scooped, poured, and manipulated by little hands.
The sensory table is used for sensory play development as well as allows children the opportunity to refine and practice many important developmental skills such as:
- Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
- Cognitive skills and critical thinking
- Language skills, developing vocabulary, and speech development
- Social-emotional skills such as sharing and turn-taking
- Creative thinking and creative expression
- Problem-solving skills
- Exploring cause and effect relationships
- Concepts involving shapes and colours
- Development of schema concepts
The sensory play table enhances learning experiences and understanding of materials and how they work. Adults can be available to scaffold the children’s learning too, especially if the child is reaching out to converse or engage with an educator or other adult, as they play.
The sensory table play will encourage growth in fine motor skills where children will strengthen muscles in the hands and arms used to grasp, scoop, dump or pour. Sensory development is stimulated as they explore objects and materials in a small setting. Cognitive skills such as attention span, problem-solving, and building benefit from sensory table play. Play development and social-emotional skills are reinforced as children converse about the play with adults or friends and share materials. Introducing new vocabulary with the use of objects or searching for letters can enhance the language skills of young children as well.
The sensory table is more than fun, it is all-round beneficial in the learning and development of young children.
What age is a sensory table for?
Early childhood learners between two and five are the primary age group for sensory table play, however sensory table materials can be adjusted to younger children between one and two years of age. Children must be supervised at all times to reduce the risk of them putting small objects in their mouth, especially if you are using materials like beans, rice, and dry pasta. With the younger age groups, you will want to use bigger, age-appropriate materials, and adjust as needed per child.
How do you make a sensory play table?
Sensory play tables are easy to make with at-home materials or with items from the local hardware store. There are also a variety of affordable premade sensory tables available for purchase from various suppliers. You certainly don’t have to be paying a big price. If you do not have the materials you can simply use your containers or deep trays at the table or outdoors. To make your own sensory table, you can check out this tutorial.
Essentially, all you need is either an empty tray sitting on a table top, or a tray with its own stand which you can place indoors or outdoors – choose a space that is able to be cleaned easily or where you don’t mind mess on the floor – no plush white carpet underneath!
It’s the varied contents that are important! There are so many different sensory table ideas out there – here are 20 fun activities!
Sensory Table Ideas – 20 Activities
Let the playtime begin! It is time to fill your sensory table with materials for your young learners to enjoy for hours, days, and years to come. It is important to always have supervised play and to clean and sanitize your play table.
Safety Warning: When using water, wash out daily to avoid bacteria growth. It is best to use just water and sand with large items, with children two and under or those who are still mouthing items. Materials such as dry beans, pasta, and rice are choking hazards but are enjoyable sensory items for older children. Raw red kidney beans are poisonous if ingested so refrain from using these in your sensory play table. You know your child best, so proceed with caution and ensure active supervision at all times.
Egg Hunt and Discovery Sensory Table Play
Ages 2 – 5
This egg hunt-themed sensory table activity will be enjoyable for your little ones as they dig for eggs and fill up their egg carton. To add some mathematical practice to the activity you could number the egg slots up to 12. Feel free to add in more items to make this as fun and creative as you want! For instance, you could throw in some bunnies and chicks, baskets, and more.
Construction Dig With Tractors in the Sand Table
Various sized rocks
Play tractors and trucks
Fill your sensory play table with some sand and a few rocks to create a construction site where your little learners can drive their play tractors and trucks, scoop, pour and build to their heart’s desire. This activity will strengthen hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills while expanding their imaginative play.
Bubbly Water Sensory Play
Bubbles or Dish Soap
Food dye (optional)
Water and bubble play is an all-time favorite and suitable for various age groups. Add bubbles or dish soap to your water sensory table and supply items to stir, scoop and pour. If you have a funnel, children can see how water moves like a cyclone in a funnel and pours out the bottom. This activity is perfect for the outdoor sensory table or indoors. If you have food coloring adding a few drops to the water is a fun addition and maybe even a little glitter to jazz things up!
Rainbow Rice Sensory Table Play
Paper towel or Plate
Different shaped containers
Steps to Dyeing Rainbow Rice
- 1 cup Rice
- Add 1 teaspoon of Vinegar
- Add Food coloring as desired, the more drops the more intense your colors
- Shake well in a container or ziplock bag until the rice is saturated
- Spread on paper towels or paper plates to dry.
- Repeat with as many colors as desired
The first thing you will want to do for this activity is to dye your rice and let it dry out completely before adding it to your sensory table. After about an hour of drying time, the rice should be ready to use. You could dye your rice one color, or have batches of multiple colors to achieve a rainbow effect. Supply your little ones with items to scoop, mix, and pour the rice. Get creative and throw in some toys like cars, trucks, and more. This fun and colorful sensory table activity will open up opportunities to practice colors, sorting, and fine motor skills.
Baby Doll Bath Time in the Water Table
Plastic Baby Dolls
Bubbles or Dish Soap
Baby doll bath time in the water table is fun for young children and encourages empathy and caring for others. All you need is some water, bubbles, washcloths, and bathtime toys if desired. Children can scrub their dolls, sing them songs, practice drying them off. Young learners as young as two can enjoy this activity, up to age five and older.
- Doll with outfit and cap
- Package Weight: 5.2 kg
- Fork, spoon and bowl
- Package Dimensions: 63.0L X 40.5H X 38.5W (centimeters)
Bear Hunt Sensory Table Activity
Cardboard paper towel rolls
Plastic Teddy Bear counters (or any bear toys available)
Nature items such as:
This sensory Table Activity is a fun bear hunt activity but is also a prime learning opportunity to learn and explore the textures of nature. To prepare your bear hunt sensory table, collect readily available materials from outside that are safe to handle. If your little ones are sensitive to the outdoors you could supplement these materials with cotton balls, green shredded paper, fake leaves, cardboard, and more. Hide your teddy bear counters or toys in the paper towel rolls (logs) or behind pretend bushes. How many bears can your child find? What sizes are the bears? Are they all the same or are they different? Asking these questions will encourage inquisitive thinking, investigative skills, exploration, counting, and more. If you know the famous “Going on a Bear Hunt” song, put it on and enjoy!
Dried Pasta Fine Motor Sensory Table Activity
Muffin Pan or Mini Saucepans
This sensory table activity strengthens hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Children will practice scooping up dried pasta with a large spoon or utensil and move them to muffin tin or saucepans. To enhance this activity, you could number the tins or label them with a colour. To make coloured pasta to coordinate with a matching game all you need is some food colouring, added to separate bowls of cooked or raw pasta, which is then drained and fully dried before adding to the play table.
ABC Sensory Letter Hunt With Orbeez
Orbee beads (water beads)
Plastic or foam ABC letters
Containers to scoop and pour
What better way to encourage literacy skills in the Sensory table than an ABC Sensory letter hunt with colorful Orbees. Soak your Orbees for a few hours or overnight in water and they will turn into plump, colorful little balls. Add the Orbees to the water table with some letters, containers to scoop and pour and let the hunt begin! (You can even omit the alphabet and simply have Orbeez and cups).
Pom-Pom Color Match and Pickup
Colorful Pom Poms
Assorted Colorful Containers (add color strips)
Child Tweezers or Tongs
Fill your sensory table with colorful and fluffy pom-poms of assorted sizes and colors. Then encourage your child to sort the pom-poms into matching colored containers and pick them up with tongs or plastic tweezers. This will help develop the small muscles in the hands to strengthen grasp and hand-eye coordination.
Sink Or Float in the Water Table
Aluminum foil boats (or plastic boats)
Assorted toys/objects to fill boats
Sink or float is a childhood favorite game that is perfect for water table play. If you have plastic toy boats they work great, but if not all you need is some aluminum foil shaped into boats (or bowls.) Fill your boats and count how many items until your boat sinks or floats! Children will explore cause and effect and use scientific skills while having fun!
Ice Dig Sensory Table Activity
Ice Cubes or bricks with toys frozen inside
Plastic or wooden tools
Fill the sensory table with some Ice Age-type fun with this great idea! Freeze some toy animals or any toys you have inside the ice, then put it in the table when they are ready and allow children to dig, hammer, and pick away at the ice to get to the toy.
Bug Dig & Sensory Exploration
Dirt, sand, or dried beans
This super simple activity is also super fun! Fill the table with dried beans, dirt, or sand, and bury some plastic bugs for your child to find. Supply them with tweezers, shovels, and containers to keep their critters in. You could also add in some leaves, sticks, or other nature materials that creepy crawlers could hide in.
Fishing in the Play Table with Water
Magnet fishing set (poles and fish)
In this fun sensory table fishing activity, you will only need water and pretend fishing kits. You can add shells and other materials to the water for fun, maybe use a play fishing net as well. The best kind are magnet fishing sets or with the plastic hook and eye. This activity will encourage patience and hand-eye coordination.
Treasure Hunt Sensory Dig
Sand, beans, or dirt
Pretend gold coins
This treasure hunt activity is fun and imaginative, allowing your children to dig and explore with shiny rewards! Who hasn’t wanted to find some buried treasure? This activity contains small objects so is best for older children.
Dirt or sand
Flowers (you can ask your local supermarket for the fresh flowers that are wilted and they can no longer sell – they’re usually still pretty good!)
In this hands-on activity, kids can practice planting their little flower garden or dig it up! Encourage your littlies to fill pots and plant their flowers or any plants you can find. Ask them what they want in their garden and how they will help them grow. You could throw in some play food like corn, tomatoes, and carrots to add to the garden. Get creative and have fun!
Car wash Sensory Play Table
Bubbles or dish soap
If you have a car loving kiddo this car wash activity in the sensory table using water, bubbles, and cars is perfect. Funnels, water wheels, or bridges to pour water on can add a whole new element of fun to the water play. You’ll need wash cloths to get those cars sparkling and don’t forget some imagination!
I Spy Sensory Table Activity
Any filler item desired (sand, rice, shredded paper)
I-Spy list with pictures
Shovels, Tweezers or Tongs
Magnifying glass (optional)
Fill your density table with the desired filler such as sand, rice, pasta, shredded paper, leaves, etc. Scatter toys in the mix and provide an I-Spy list and let the games begin! Encourage your child to dig, scoop and sort items and pick them up in new and challenging ways.
On the Farm Sensory Play
Sand or filler of choice
Play Rake, Shovel and other play tools
Kids can pretend to have their own little farm with this fun farm themed sensory play table. The popsicle sticks can be arranged to build fences and structures for the farm animals. Children can dig, rake and scoop their farmland and sing along to Old McDonald Had Farm!
Cotton Balls and Duckies Sensory Table Play
Spoons or Shovels to scoop
This super simple sensory table idea uses rubber ducks and cotton balls for a fluffy imaginative experience. Children can use spoons to scoop cotton balls into containers or play boats while practicing hand eye coordination.
Pretend Bakery Play in the Sensory Table
Colorful kinetic sand or play dough
Assorted cookie cutters
Kid sized rolling pin
Play kitchen/ baking accessories
In this pretend bakery themed sensory table activity children can strengthen muscles in the hands and manipulate tools to accomplish tasks. The cookie cutters and rolling pin are a great way to accomplish this while creating fun cookie shapes. Supply other fun items you have on hand like bowls, spoons, measuring cups and more and have fun creating pretend culinary masterpieces.
There are of course a hundred more ideas for sensory play tables and ideas for fabulous messy play! Some ideas for messy play sensory tables include using:
- Goop (cornflour and water), with food colouring added as desired
- Mud! – That’s right, how many of us grew up, NOT having made mud pies at some stage?!!
- Slime (soap flakes and water)
- Paint! (Thick paint for finger painting onto paper afterwards)
- Clay (with water added so it can be moulded)
- Cloud dough (corn flour mixed with hair conditioner)
- Jelly (yes, that’s right – watch out for the sticky floor after)
The sensory play table is not only fun, but an educational experience for children, encouraging growth in many learning areas and fine motor development. Sensory table activities can be tied into lesson plans or just for fun with literally hundreds of possible themes and imaginative, hands-on playtime, as well as many different ways they can be set up. Just ensure you are careful with small items around children under the age of 3 and make sure sensory play tables are always fully supervised by an adult.
Play is the highest form of learning for children as their young minds develop and explore the world around them. Utilizing a sensory play table opens up a whole new world of possibilities that are engaging, stimulating, and memorable.
Do you have an excellent idea for a sensory table, or something you’ve tried? Let me know as a comment below!