Ode to the Sensory Table

The sensory table may be one of the best bangs for your buck when it comes to children’s furniture for your child’s work/play space.

February 28, 2020

The sensory table has withstood the interest of children for years in my presence, the same children. The ability to change the contents as your child’s developmental age and interests change makes it not only versatile but handy.

Prices range from $80-200 depending on what size is needed or desired. In my preschool classroom of ten children we had a three person table; this seemed to be a good size for multiple children to work without too much crowding. Ultimately two children can work uninhibited and uninterrupted having enough space to create and play without coming into each other’s space.

*Sharing toys and space is important but so is being able to complete a cycle of work.

My personal favorite is the Lakeshore Economy Sand & Water Table. There are no bells and whistles on this table which makes it untimely versatile and the adjustable legs allow the ability to change the height as your child grows.  The bucket is small enough to allow easy cleaning, changing of contents, and it can be used for both wet and dry items.Note: the bells and whistles on some sensory table not only limit its versatility they take up work-space. Add your own bells and whistles with interesting contents and apparatus to use with those contents.

I start introducing the sensory table to my babes’ around one year old. Large chunky items that can be easily manipulated, transferred, yet choke proof sized; small balls, large wooden thread spools, and water are all wonderful items to place in the table for very small children.

* Note: when using water only fill table about 1 inch for the little ones, this will be more successful for both the worker and the cleaner-upper. A bucket of sponges and hand towels are always a good idea to have nearby.

* For little ones under one year old, a fast food tray can be used as a little sensory "table." Chunky, choke proof items or water can be placed in tray and set on floor.

As children get older, what can be put into the sensory table becomes endless. One of my favorite places to find materials to place in table is second hand stores. The Goodwill and Value Village have proved a solid and reliable place to find inexpensive and quality items over my 28 years of scavenging for my kids and students. They both sell bagged items along the side and back walls along within the toy sections, little goodie bags is what I call them.  

As children develop and understand the beauty of trying to keep contents in the table, we can start putting smaller and smaller items in the sensory table. An example of natural progression of contents would be from large bulky items to bean, rice, and then sand. Note: as the contents get smaller a hand-held broom and dustpan should be available near the table to encourage care of environment and easy adult-free clean-up.

A fancy new sensory table is certainly a real treat but not a necessity; it doesn’t have to be new or fancy. Any simple, shallow Rubbermaid Tote Box will do the trick. The underbed storage containers work well, they are long, shallow, and inexpensive. I have seen people use PVC pipe to create stands for their home-made tables but, placing on top a child sized table or the ground works just as well. This type of sensory table is great if you don’t have enough space for a permanent table or if you need the flexibility of using the area for other activities.