A simple sensory table for preschoolers

Years ago I took a part time teaching position in a YMCA preschool program. The classroom space was nice but we had to share the space with other users after preschool was finished for the day. So this meant that most everything we used either had to be put away or taken home.  Because the class I taught was almost all boys and they were all threes, I knew that a sensory table was a must but there wasn’t one supplied by the program so I created my own and it looked like this…

Yep! Impressive huh! It is pretty technical so let me explain…

This is two large clear plastic containers that I stack on top of each other. I stack them because it makes it almost the perfect height for preschoolers to stand and play in. I use clear containers so that when I add colored items or colored water, you can actually see the colors.

I generally use one of the containers for water play or other types of liquid/messy sensory play like shave cream.  The other container I reserve for dry sensory play like rice, pompoms, or sand…

I am careful not to fill the containers too full so that I can lift and move them as needed but full enough so that there will be plenty of materials for scooping, pouring, and I want some weight so the baskets will not slide around.

I also recommend to choose two baskets that have lids that fit tight and will stack nicely on top of each other…

And add a rug or towel or plastic table cloth underneath the sensory table. I used a plastic table cloth.

I added tape around the edges to make the table cloth a little heavier and easier to fold and put away..

After I finish using the sensory table, I slide it under this table for another day…

I usually rotate between water and dry sensory play each day. I have mine all set up for a little Valentine’s Day play!

If you would like to see another homemade sensory table, check out this one by PreK Pages!

And if you would like to see about a million ideas for sensory play, check out the ideas here by Counting Coconuts!

And if you would like to see some more amazing ideas for sensory table play then check out this Sand and Water Table blog!

Learn more about Sensory Play from Not Just Cute!

By |2011-02-04T00:54:28+00:00February 4th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Erin Klein February 4, 2011 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Your posts not only inspire me for classroom ideas, but also at home (with my own children). I can really see my two year old son, Jacob, enjoying this idea. Your ideas are so creative. Thank you for sharing!!

    Erin Klein

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 1:05 am - Reply

      I have mine all set up at home for my 2 year old nephew Wyatt! So It will be perfect for Jacob too!

  2. Trisha February 4, 2011 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Is the sensory table being used too deep for the children to reach inside to the bottom of it to play? (I hope this makes sense) 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 1:16 am - Reply

      I haven’t found it to be a problem so far but I am sure it depends on the height and age of the child and how much you fill it up!

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 1:18 am - Reply

      Oh, and I think it looks taller and deeper in my photos than it really is sitting on my floor in real life. I just noticed that:)

  3. Rachelle February 4, 2011 at 1:36 am - Reply

    What a fabulous resource you are! This is exactly what moms at home want to know for setting up sensory activities in the kitchen/yard/patio/etc. I don’t have have a lot of space in my home and just have one tub that I prop on top of a little table. And it’s perfect. I’d like to build something a little less makeshift for the garden. Any ideas?

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 8:04 am - Reply

      I’ll have to give that some thought!

  4. Counting Coconuts February 4, 2011 at 7:17 am - Reply

    This is GREAT! I’m going to add it to my FAQ Sensory Tub post, hope you don’t mind. Thanks so much for sharing and also for linking back to my blog! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 8:03 am - Reply

      Of course I don’t mind:)

  5. Joan Banker February 4, 2011 at 8:15 am - Reply

    Hi Deborah,

    While reading this, I was thinking to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
    Sensory/water tables are so expensive and this is an economical way to get one – plus great storage, too! Thanks so much for this idea!

    During a morning “dog walk”, I found a file folder cart on wheels that a neighbor had discarded in the trash. After painting it a bright cheerful yellow, it became my “sensory table”. I haven’t used it for water activities, but it has been great for beans, rice, etc. – and was just the right height for my class, too.

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      I love it! You know that you are a true teacher when the neighbor’s junk looks like teaching treasure!!

  6. Scott February 4, 2011 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Deborah, you are a genius. I’m “borrowing” this idea for certain. (And it will become a part of my training conference about homemade resources – with attribution of course!).

    Thanks for continually adding to my knowledge and thoughts about teaching. I’m not sure I can keep all that stuff in my head or my files.

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      LOL Scott – I have gotten just as many ideas from you! Sitting behind me right now is a very large magnetic board I bought at the local auto supply store:) Still have to put it to good use!

  7. Carrie February 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    For a class I had come up with something similar a “mobile sensory station”. At the time I was doing playgroups and needed something for on the go. I chose one of the long, flat containers as my base then 2 other containers fit inside it to hold the additional materials and supplies. I was working with infants and toddlers at the time so the shallower tub was better for them.

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 4, 2011 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Terrific idea Carrie – I love that you were planning sensory for infant and toddlers!

  8. Sarah February 5, 2011 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Love, love, love that sand and water table site that you linked! Everyone should check it out! I am going out to look for a giant sponge. Thank you.

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      Haha! Good luck with the sponge hunt! It is a wonderful website for sand and water play – I am so glad you took a look!

  9. Billie Jo Kelly May 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Dear Deborah,
    Do you have any sensory ideas that will work in an Infant classroom for children ages 6-9 months, 9-12 months and 12-18 months?

    I love the ideas that you share.

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