What do sensory tables help with? Examples and Ideas

What Do Sensory Tables Help With? Ideas and Examples

Children rely on the senses to discover and experience the world. So, many childcare centers provide sensory tables for children to get the hands-on experiences they use to help them learn.

Therefore, both parents and teachers need to know; what do sensory tables help with? And this article is all about sensory tables. Accordingly, I will discuss the purposes of the sensory tables, the benefits of sensory tables, items to be included in a sensory table, and sensory table ideas.

So, What do sensory tables help with? Sensory tables develop many skills of children such as fine motor skills, sensory skills, cognitive skills, creativity, logical thinking, etc.  This is the best way to develop an experience-based learning environment for the kids. Sensory tables can be organized using simple materials or household goods such as empty containers, bottle caps, rice, seeds, etc.

Most nursery schools prioritize sensory learning and are more likely to have sensory tables in the classrooms. Not only at school, but parents also can arrange sensory tables at home for your kids to learn while they play.

This will be a comprehensive post that covers all the relevant information. Therefore, I have listed the topics I discuss below. Please, feel free to jump straight to the section you want by clicking on the topic.

Let’s get started!

The sensory tables

Before we get into what do sensory tables help with, it is important to understand the concept. Children are unable to communicate and investigate as adults do verbally.

They rely on the senses to discover and experience the world. They use their senses to collect information and explore answers to the questions that they may have. 

Typically, any type of container where a tactile medium is filled is called a sensory table. They are probably recommended for children up to age 5 or preschool level.

Sensory tables can be filled with various items. A tub also can be used. But a table can be more secure and comfortable for the children to use. 

The materials that are used in the sensory table should be nontoxic. And they should not be of a material or size that can cause choking. The activities on sensory tables are not to be used with children under the age of 18 months. 

What is the purpose of sensory play?

The purpose of the sensory play directly connects with the question of “what do sensory tables help with.” Children are using their senses from birth to explore and make sense of the world around them.

Sensory tables are commonly used for it. The sensory activities allow children to refine their limits for sensory information and help their brain create strong connections to process and respond to sensory input. 

It also provides the chance to actively use their senses and explore their world through “sensory play. The activities stimulate your kid’s senses like smell, taste, touch movement, sight, balance, and hearing and are all included in the sensory activities.

They facilitate the exploration and encourage children naturally to use scientific processes such as investigating, creating, and exploring while playing. There are five significant purposes of sensory play; 

  1. Sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways and, leading to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks. 
  2. It also supports cognitive skill development, language development, gross and fine motor skills, social interaction, and problem-solving skills.
  3. Sensory play is aiding in the development and enhancing memory.
  4. It is the best method to calm the anxiety of a frustrated child.
  5. This also helps children to learn sensory attributes.

What do sensory tables help with?

As I mentioned earlier, understanding the benefits of the sensory table is important for both teachers and parents. By understanding the objectives and the outcomes of the sensory tables, you would support kids to play, learn and enjoy their time with sensory tables.

Below I have answered the question, “what do sensory tables help with.” 

Cognitive skill development

The development of cognitive skills is one of the significant benefits of sensory tables. Sensory tables allow experiencing, sense, and thinking.

Children interact with items on the table in many ways such as counting, organizing, matching, and labeling objects. When various tasks are given to them, it is easy to observe how they are cognitively engaging.

Since the challenges and tasks are often presented as games, children enjoy and learn through various learning activities. 

Development of language skills

Sensory playing is the best opportunity for children to develop language skills. They increase their vocabulary by attaching words to the objects with fun and excitement.

The sensory table also works as a great conversation opener. Children are asked their opinions, challenged with tasks, and allowed to express themselves.

All those activities help them to develop their language skills. 

The social and emotional development of children

The use of sensory tables is a group activity. Children play together and positively engage with others. They also express their opinions as they are getting feedback from the objects on the table.

Naturally, children express themselves as they engage their senses of sight, smell, touch, sound, and sometimes taste. 

Helps children to relax

A sensory table can give a calming effect if your children are often anxious and hyperactive.

The sensory table items help capture the attention and engage their minds because they are presented with various objects like; clay, alluring smells like popcorn, and new textures like rice. It helps to calm and engage them in a learning activity. 

Developing fine motor skills

The predetermined actions that are involving the movements of our babies are motor skills. As the children have to use their hands to interact with objects, the sensory table demands fine motor skills.

They are playing with whatever is on the table. This will allow children to handle balls, mould clay, grasp spoons, or pour the sand. When they play with different objects, it is enticing for them and helps them have fun. 

The development of creativity

There are no rules or guidelines in a sensory table. They have the freedom to do anything they want with the objects on the table.

Sensory tables are mainly focused on the way kids use materials on the table than what they create with them. It adds fun to the learning process.

Children are excited as they are experimenting with different objects, textures, colors, weights, etc.  

Giving children a sense of balance

Children are excited about the world. The sensory tables do not structure with rules, and that’s why children enjoy the learning process.

They can express themselves and manipulate the objects they want because of the freedom to do anything they want at a sensory table. It helps to balance their minds and moods. It also makes them open to various types of learning (even structured ones).

Items that can include in a sensory table

The items that can be included in the sensory table are a major part of the topic; what do sensory tables help with? When talking about the materials to be filled in a sensory table, it depends on the child.

And it is good to change the items every two weeks in a classroom, and at home, it is essential to change them by determining whether the child has been bored with the activity. When the child loses interest in a specific action, you may modify the items.

It depends on the child and how often he has access to the sensory table. Below I have provided you with some suggestions on things that can be included in a sensory table. 

1. Materials

Here are different materials for you to keep on the sensory table for your child to play with.

Accordingly, you can place; beans, rice and quinoa, birdseed, sand, noodles, shredded paper, marbles and pebbles, popcorn kernels, fallen leaves (dry leaves), jelly beans, feathers, artificial/ plastic grass, beads, and buttons, cereal, cotton balls, coffee grounds, kinetic sand, Epsom salt, oats, Insta-snow powder and orbeez.

2. Tactile objects

  • Fisher-price little people: – These are fun minor characters that are easy to bury and funny to find.
  • Magnetic numbers/letters: Caregivers may ask children to find specific numbers or letters to provide an incentive to dig and encourage them in prolonged play.
  • Leftover toys: Have you found broken pieces of old toys? It’s perfect. Then you may add them to the sensory bin.
  • Bath Toys: – Duckies, squirt toys, and other bath toys are perfect for improving children’s exploration.
  • Bugs made of plastic: – Children get delighted when these creepy crawlies are on the sensory table.
  • Construction toys/Duplo/Legos: – Are you tired of stepping on these toys? Then add them to the bin.
  • Binder and paper clips: – These are also magnetic. Therefore, the children can use a horseshoe magnet to pick them up from the bin.
  • Bingo chips: – children will work on their fine motor skills to pick these things out of the bin.
  • Fidget Toys: – It will be effective by adding these to your sensory bin.
  • Jingle bells: – As children are running their hands and fingers in the bin, they will hear a little jingle, and it will help them find this tiny shiny object. 
  • Erasers: – You may add various-shaped erasers which are fun to uncover. 
  • Toy trains and cars:– Add these too, children will be happy to use them in sensory play.
  • Wooden blocks: – Children love these as they like building.
  • Pine cones: – These are also best to add to the bin.
  • Plastic eggs: – You may fill these things with other objects for your children to shake, open, and put into the mix.
  • Game pieces: – Checkers, Chess, Dice, Monopoly, etc. As almost all the games have pieces and are suitable for sensory exploration and tactile discrimination, you may also add them to the bin.
  • Seashells: – These are easy to find if you are living near the sea.
  • Packing peanuts: – Squeezable and squeaky peanuts are suitable for this.
  • Pretend food– Children can use these everyday items to play dollhouse.
  • Cookie cutters: These come from all sorts of funny shapes and will let them learn different shapes and sizes.

3. Olfactory Ideas

Dried herbs like Rosemary, Sage, Mint, Thyme, Rose petals, cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, and natural extracts like Lemon, Orange, and Vanilla.

4. Tools

  • Gardening toys: –Pots, watering cans, shovels, and even gloves.
  • Tweezers: – These are perfect to pick small objects that are on the sensory table.
  • Kitchen Utensils: – Spoons, Forks, ice cream scoop, spatula, etc., children will also be glad to use these things away from the dinner table.
  • Bath Toys: – These toys are not just for the tub.
  • Cups: There is no specific size, but all sizes are working on pouring back into the sensory bin and picking up.
  • Painting brushes: – These are perfect for children to let them dust off the objects in the bin. 
  • Horseshoe Magnet: – There is a U shape in these magnets that will be best grasped by hands and fingers and can be used to find any magnetic vessel.
  • Chopsticks: All sizes are suitable for pouring and picking up.

Sensory table ideas

Here, I will provide you with some sensory table ideas that will be effective for you. You can understand well by going through these sensory table ideas; what do sensory tables help with.

  • Bottles, Pom Poms, and Tongs

Kids are using the tongs to pick up the colored pom-poms and drop them into a bottle. This helps for motor practicing and hand-eye coordination.

Choose a bottle where the opening is not too wide and too small. Then replace them with clear plastic bottles because the bottles would break when they fell since your sensory table is on a hard floor.

  • Marbles and Melon scoops

Children use the melon scoops to pick up the marbles and put them into the ice cube tray. They love to do this, and they funnily practice fine motor. The marbles can be a little noisy.

If it is a hindrance for you, you can keep sheets of craft foam or a large piece of felt at the bottom of the sensory table to reduce the noise. You should also use water beads for this.

  • Pouring water

Here, children may pour water into different-sized containers.

  • Pouring sand

Children can pour sand into various-sized containers. Here, you may use dustless Jurassic sand if you can.

  • Explore the volume with water

Here, kids may use measuring cups and different shapes and sizes of clear containers.

  • Magnets in the sensory table

This is a fun science sensory table where there are non-magnetic and magnetic items for children to explore. You may fill the sensory table with rice or sand.

And then add colorful plastic pony beads and some magnetic marbles and colored metal paper clips. Finally, give magnet wands for each child to collect magnetic objects. 

  • Creative exploration (Lizards)

Here, the children can use tree blocks, river rocks, Jurassic sand, and plastic lizards to play creatively. 

  • Creative exploration( spiders)

Children may use tree blocks, Jurassic sand, and plastic spiders to play creatively. The plastic spiders are rings where the ring part has been cut off.

  • Colour Mixing

Here, children are using and mixing primary colors to create secondary colors.

  • Turkey Basters

You may add turkey basters with a water bucket and measuring cups. All the water in the bucket will end up on the table, but it’s okay.

From there, they may squeeze up the water from the table and try to get it back into the bucket. There the children will practice fine motor practice and have a lot of fun.

  • Cups with and without holes

Add two cups without holes and two cups with holes for kids to explore with water. Use clear disposable punch cups and use a drafting compass to poke holes at the bottom of the two cups. 

  • Catching fish

Add foam fish along with kitchen strainers and two small buckets. The kids may enjoy catching fish and putting them in their bucket.

When all are gone, they will dump their bucket of fish into the water again. 

  • Coloring the stones

You may add stones to sensory tables and give the kids paint, to color or draw patterns on them.

  • Easy finger paint

Put finger paints on the sensory table. And it’s better to mix colors well when adding. You may keep wet wipes handy and, as soon as the playing time is over, wipe out the table. Kids also can help with the cleaning process.

  • Mixing Goop

Here, the children may mix cornstarch with colored water to make “goop.”

  • Bubbles

Kids may add liquid soap to water with medicine droppers and blow bubbles with a straw.

  • Ice rainbows

Here, the children explore crushed ice and colored water by adding drops of colored water for a cup of ice. 

  • Flour and water mixture

Place a cup of water, cup of flour, bowl, and a spoon for the child on the sensory table. The kids are given a chance to choose the amounts of water and flour to add their bowls and stir.

Then experiment to see the difference of consistencies they are getting when adding more water or flour. 


We have discussed what sensory tables help with in detail with practical examples through this article. Accordingly, you may have a clear idea about the sensory tables, the purpose of sensory play, items that can be included in a sensory table, and sensory table ideas. 

A sensory table is the best method to improve children’s social, physical, cognitive, and emotional skills. Accordingly, you can use multiple sensory table ideas like; Magnets in the sensory table, Colour Mixing, Turkey Basters, etc. Then you can effectively contribute to the skill development of your children.

I hope now you are hands full of information to create a sensory table for the kids.  Stay tuned with Edu Nursery for more valuable content.

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