Preschool Teachers, You’ll Want to Try Every One of These Fun Sensory Tables

Measure, splash, build, pour.

Best Preschool Sensory Table Ideas

Early childhood teachers know that hands-on learning is essential. (Really, who doesn’t like sinking their hands into something wonderful?) Sensory-table play encourages open-ended thinking, language development, collaboration, and fine-motor-skill building. Sensory materials can be both engaging and calming. Plus, they can be tailored to virtually any curriculum unit. We’ve gathered some of our very favorite sensory-table ideas below.

1. Materials to Scoop, Pour, and More

The great thing about sensory tables is that reinventing the wheel is definitely not required. Tried-and-true materials like sand, beans, and rice will always delight children. You don’t need to stop there, though. Check out this list of forty sensory-bin fillers from Little Bins for Little Hands. What preschooler wouldn’t go wild for an entire bin of confetti?

Source: The Eyes of a Boy

More scooping-and-pouring ideas we love:

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Apple cinnamon sensory play 🍎. The kids enjoyed the smell of the cinnamon play dough so much that they were asking for another activity with cinnamon. I decided to show them that cinnamon comes in sticks; I included some oats, baking items, and red pompom “apples”. I then popped this bin into our @ikeacanada FLISAT table and it was an instant hit 🙌🏻. . . . . . . . . . . . #earlychildhoodeducation #earlyyears #earlylearning #earlyyearsideas #earlyyearsteacher #ece #ecemom #preschool #preschoolathome #preschoolactivity #preschoolteacher #learningisfun #learningthroughplay #playbasedlearning #playbased #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #letthembekids #playingislearning #earlychildhood #playmatters #playfullearning #playathome #invitationtoplay #sensoryplay #sensorybin

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Sensory fun with pom-poms #sensorytable #preschool

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2. New Ideas for Water Play

As any young child who turns handwashing into a lengthy, splashy adventure will tell you, you can’t beat the sensory experience of good old water. Adding different items, tools, and extra ingredients, like colors and bubbles, keeps a water table exciting. Look to this roundup from Hands on As We Grow for inspiration. This colored ice idea looks like a winner:

Source: Fun-A-Day

More water play ideas we love:

3. Messy Recipes

A sensory table is the perfect containment strategy for messy concoctions. Asia Citro, author of 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, has an exhaustive collection of recipes for sensory materials at Fun at Home With Kids. You can find every kind of slime, dough, and foam imaginable on her site, but to start, how about a little indoor winter fun with Magic Puffing Snow?

Source: Fun At Home With Kids

More messy sensory bin ideas we love:

4. Themed Sensory Bins

Whether you highlight a season, holiday, curriculum topic, or simply an appealing idea, sensory tables composed around a theme invite exploration and creative play. For this type of setup, Sandi at Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes is your guru. Be sure to check out her entire A to Z list, including this adorable birds-and-nests idea:

Source: Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes

More themed sensory bins we love:

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Beach in a Tub 🏖 It’s a beautiful day in Melbourne today but unfortunately we don’t have time to get to the beach ☹️ So I’ve bought the beach to us! I used our DIY sensory table, some sand, water, shells, rocks and our reef Toob creatures. I wanted in to look realistic so I’ve let the sand mix through the water to give the creatures places to hide. I’ll give the kids little nets to catch and release them. I’ve no doubt they will find them all pretty quickly and move onto splashing and making a mess! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #playbasedlearning #sensoryplay #sensorytable #learningthroughplay #playmatters #reggiokids #invitationtoplay #invitationtolearn #montessori #montessoriathome #reggioemilia #letthembelittle #nothingisordinary #childhoodunplugged #preschoolactivities #kindergartenactivities #playactivities #letthekidsplay #finemotorskills #smallworld #smallworldplay #messyplay #learningmadefun #earlyyears #earlychildhood #earlylearning #handsonplay #playathome #abcplaytable

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We had a Piggie and Gerald week that turned into a fortnight. The most popular activity was this sensory bin inspired by "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" On the left is moonsand, on the right is rainbow rice (The recipes are in my archived stories, under "toddler activities"). The second most popular, which he still plays every day, is "Let's Go For a Drive" where we'll sit on the couch and say stuff like "We need bags!" then he'll run off and grab a basket of toys to put behind the couch until there are a dozen baskets 😂 . . . #playfullearning #letthemplay #playmatters #invitationtoplay #100languages #learningthroughplay #playideas #playbasedlearning #childledlearning #emergentcurriculum #handsonplay #ece #toddleractivity #toddleractivities #toddlerplay #learnthroughplay #totschool #funlearningathome #thekidsplay #montessoritoddler #montessoriathome #earlyyears #takebackchildhood #countlesswaystoplay #sensorytable #sensoryplay #sensoryplaytime #looseparts

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5. Literacy Connections

Combining exposure to letters, words, and, of course, books with sensory play is a win-win. This roundup from Growing Book By Book has lots of ideas for book-themed sensory tables. Check out this extension of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, complete with a sock troll!

Source: Growing Book by Book

More book and literacy-related ideas we love:

6. (Literally) Out of the Box Sensory Tables

Fairy Dust Teaching, a Reggio Emilia–inspired resource site, has an extensive post on how to add “challenge” to sensory tables. If your students are ready for something more, check out their ideas for expanding upon the basic model, like this corn-in-a-chute setup:

Source: Fairy Dust Teaching

More out-of-the-box ideas we love:

How do you use sensory tables in your preschool classroom? Share your favorite sensory table ideas in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, our favorite preschool games and activities.

Posted by Lindsay Barrett

A former elementary teacher and reading nonprofit director, Lindsay now works as a literacy consultant and freelance writer while wrangling her four young children.

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