Sensory Table Ideas for Toddlers


Sensory tables, also referred to as sand and water tables, allow toddlers to explore with their senses and help develop important cognitive skills. According to Angie Dorrell, former commissioner of The National Association for the Education of Young Children, sensory tables develop math and science concepts and build problem-solving and decision-making skills. Changing the contents of the sensory table regularly provides new experiences and hours of fun. The more variety that is provided, the more stimulation children will get.

Traditional Sensory Tables

  • Sensory tables traditionally contain a tub designed to hold water or sand. Both are excellent additions, but you don't need to rely on them alone. You can add a variety of common objects or substances to surprise children and keep them busy for hours.


  • Rice is easier to clean up than sand, and is great for scooping and measuring. Color the rice with food coloring and let it dry before adding it to the sensory table to a depth of two to three inches; measuring spoons, measuring cups, and small scoops will encourage children to play with the rice.

Aquarium Gravel

  • Aquarium gravel makes the perfect background for small toy sea creatures and fish. Bright blue gravel echoes the color of the ocean and enriches a child's imaginative play with sea creatures. Add seashells to complete the experience.
    White aquarium gravel makes a great arctic landscape or snow. Add such animals as the polar bear and arctic fox to encourage imaginative play. Add small vehicles and action figures for play in the "snow."

Gelatin Dessert

  • For lots of giggles, fill the sensory table with prepared gelatin. Mold shapes or cut the gelatin into cubes and add them to the sensory table. Young children will have a blast as the gooey gelatin wiggles and rolls. Watch toddlers carefully, however, to prevent them from eating the gelatin.

Shaving Cream

  • Shaving cream creates a sensory sensation that is sure to please kids. Some brands of shaving cream add scent to the experience, but should not be used if the children are allergic. Provide cups and bowls for making delicious "desserts." Make sure kids know that the shaving cream is for pretend, not for eating.

Packing Peanuts

  • For a change in texture, size, and weight, fill the sensory table with packing peanuts. Hide small magnetic toys in the peanuts, and let kids find them with a large magnet.

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