Preschool Teachers, You'll Want to Try Every One of These Fun Sensory Tables (2024)

Early childhood teachers know that hands-on learning is essential. Sensory play encourages open-ended thinking, language development, collaboration, and builds fine motor skills. Sensory materials are magically both engaging and calming.

The great thing about sensory tables and bins is that reinventing the wheel is not required. Tried-and-true materials like sand, beans, rice, and water will always delight children. But, since mixing it up is fun, too, we’ve gathered some of our favorite next-level sensory play ideas below. If you need even more inspo, we suggest grabbing a copy of Exciting Sensory Bins for Curious Kids by Mandisa Watts. She’s the creator of Happy Toddler Playtime (see #19) and she knows her (ooey, gooey, squishy) stuff.

Worried about kids swapping germs while they scoop and pour? Check out the end of the post for some ideas for when you need to keep sensory play extra squeaky clean.

1. Confetti and Eggs

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What kiddo wouldn’t go wild for an entire bin of confetti? Eggs for opening, closing, scooping, and hiding “treasure” make it extra fun.

Source: Wildly Charmed

2. Gems in Epsom Salt

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Source: @secondgradethinkers

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3. Colored Ice Blocks

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Freeze water and food coloring into ice cube trays and any containers you have handy. (For super cool balls, freeze colored water balloons!) Add a few utensils, and play away!

Source: Fun-A-Day

4. Mini “Skating Rink”

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A pan of frozen water + figurines frozen into ice cube “skates” = miniaturized skating fun!

Source: @playtime_with_imagination

5. Itsy Bitsy Spiders and a Spout

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Investigate water in motion while singing the classic nursery rhyme.

Source: @playyaypreK

6. Iceberg Ahead!

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Hop on! Freeze a couple of pans of water and float them in your sensory table with some Arctic animals.

Source: @ganisraelpreschoolsantamonica

7. Gourd Wash

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Washing pumpkins is a preschool fall staple. Adding colored water and fun-shaped sponges definitely adds some oomph!

Source: @friendsartlab/Gourd Wash

8. Button Boats
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Buttons are fun, foil and container “boats” are really fun…together, LOTS of fun!

Source: @the.life.of.an.everyday.mom

9. Floating Flower Petal Fun

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Deconstruct a spent bouquet, or bring in some clippings from outside. Just add water and utensils for hours of flower-themed fun. (It’s also amazing to freeze flower petals in ice cube trays or muffin tins of water!)

Source: @the_bees_knees_adelaide

10. Magic Puffing Snow

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Okay, so you will need one unusual ingredient(citric acid powder)to make this Magic Puffing Snow, but it’s so, so worth it. Check out the whole Fun at Home With Kids site for every other kind of slime, dough, and foam you could ever want to make, too.

Source: Fun At Home With Kids

11. Shaving Cream and Blocks

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Shaving cream “glue” adds new possibilities to block play!

Source: @artreepreschool

12. Shaving Cream and Water Beads

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Water beads are tons of fun on their own. When they start to get a little slimy and ready for the trash, squirt some shaving cream into your sensory table with them for one last hurrah!

Source:@letsplaylittleone

13. Birds and Nests

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Tweet, tweet! Sandi at Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes is your guru for themed sensory bins. Be sure to check out her entire A to Z list.

Source: Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes

14. Rainbow Pom Pom Fun

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How can you not smile when you see this colored rice sensory table with giant pompoms and cupcake liners? (No time to dye rainbow rice? Check out readymade kidfetti for a similar feel. It’s even washable!)

Source: @friendsartlab/Rainbow Pom Pom Fun

15. Hot Cocoa Bar

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There are many variations of this activity across the web, but how cute and fun is this simple one? All you need are some pinto beans, mugs, spoons and cotton ball marshmallows!

Source: @luckytoteachk

16. Three Billy Goats Gruff

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Trip, trap, trip, trap! Retell a favorite story with fun props. Growing Book By Bookhas lots more ideas for book-themed sensory tables, too.

Source:Growing Book by Book

17. Grassy Playground

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Curriculum for days! Plant grass in the sensory table and play with it once it grows. Genius!

Source: @truce_teacher

18. Ramps and Chutes

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Raid your recycling pile and get kids thinking out of the box about how to move sensory materials around, like with this corn chute setup!

Source: Fairy Dust Teaching

19. Acorn Drop

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Add an element of mystery to your sensory bin simply by adding a cardboard box with holes on top. Drop, plop, retrieve, repeat!

Source: @happytoddlerplaytime

20. “Bake” Up a Pie

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Doesn’t this apple pie look good enough to eat? You could vary the pie recipe based on the season.

Source: @PreK4Fun

Tips for Keeping Sensory Play Good, Clean Fun

The only trouble with friends’ little hands digging into a bin of fun is … that’s a lot of germy little hands. You can always station a bottle of hand sanitizer next to your sensory table to clean hands before and after playing. If that’s not enough, here are some other strategies to try.

(Note: We definitely aren’t the CDC. Please defer to any regulations or guidance put forth by your district or state!)

21. Add soap!

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Move hand washing right on over to the water table. You can soap up pretty much anything in a sensory table and kids will love it, but this pumpkin potions setup is especially cool. Bubble, boil, and brew!

Source: @pocketprovision.eyfs

22. Individual Mini-Trays

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Play together, separately. How cute are these individual labeled trays? (Though dollar-store lasagna pans or other budget options would work just as well!) You could periodically sanitize and trade the accessories around.

Source: @charlestownnurseryschool

23. Take Turns

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Set up a table of individual sensory bins and mark each child’s spot with their photo. Sanitize or quarantine the bin contents before inviting a different set of children to use them.

Source: @charlestownnurseryschool

24. Sensory Bags

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Yeah, it’s more fun to get your hands messy. But bags can easily be wiped down between kids, so they could be the next best thing. Plus, these may get some sensory-cautious kids to play when they otherwise wouldn’t! You could go in so many directions with these seek-and-find examples.

Source: @apinchofkinder

25. Multi-Bin Table

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Major props to the person who figured out this cheap and easy DIY PVC solution for a four-bin sensory table. In the classroom, you could set up a simple water play center in each bin. When one kid moves on, swap in clean water and toys, and the next kiddo is good to go!

Source: @mothercould

How do you use sensory tables in your classroom? Share your favorite sensory table ideas in ourWeAreTeachers HELPLINEgroup on Facebook.

Plus, our favorite preschool games and activities.

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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

Introduction

As an expert in early childhood education and sensory play, I have extensive knowledge and experience in utilizing hands-on learning techniques to promote open-ended thinking, language development, collaboration, and fine motor skills in young children. I have worked with various materials and sensory play ideas that have proven to be engaging and beneficial for children's development.

Sensory Play and its Benefits

Sensory play is a crucial component of early childhood education as it stimulates multiple senses and encourages exploration and discovery. It is known to enhance cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development in young children. Here are some of the key concepts related to sensory play mentioned in the article:

1. Open-ended thinking: Sensory play encourages children to use their imagination and think creatively. By providing them with materials and opportunities for exploration, they can come up with their own ideas and solutions.

2. Language development: Engaging in sensory play activities provides opportunities for children to communicate and express themselves. They can describe their experiences, share their thoughts, and engage in conversations with peers and teachers.

3. Collaboration: Sensory play often involves group activities, which promote collaboration and teamwork. Children learn to share materials, take turns, and work together towards a common goal.

4. Fine motor skills: Sensory play activities, such as scooping, pouring, and manipulating different materials, help develop fine motor skills in young children. These skills are essential for tasks such as writing, drawing, and self-care activities.

5. Tried-and-true materials: Materials like sand, beans, rice, and water mentioned in the article are classic sensory play materials that have been used for generations. They are versatile, easily accessible, and provide endless opportunities for exploration and learning.

6. Next-level sensory play ideas: While traditional materials are effective, introducing new and innovative sensory play ideas can add excitement and novelty to the learning experience. The article provides several examples, such as confetti and eggs, gems in Epsom salt, colored ice blocks, and many more.

7. Sensory play resources: The article mentions a book titled "Exciting Sensory Bins for Curious Kids" by Mandisa Watts. This resource can provide additional inspiration and ideas for sensory play activities.

8. Hygiene considerations: The article acknowledges the concern of germ transmission during sensory play. It suggests ideas for maintaining cleanliness, such as using soap in water tables, individual mini-trays, taking turns with sensory bins, and using sensory bags that can be easily wiped down.

By incorporating sensory play into early childhood education, teachers can create a rich and engaging learning environment that supports various aspects of children's development. It is important to consider the benefits of sensory play and implement it effectively to enhance children's learning experiences.

Preschool Teachers, You'll Want to Try Every One of These Fun Sensory Tables (2024)
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