Sensory tables give preschool children a hands-on experience with various materials. The children use various tools--including their hands, shovels, measuring cups and buckets--to manipulate various materials. Sand and water tables are available in a variety of sizes but typically come child-height with a shallow tray area that holds the sensory materials.
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Water play encourages kids to explore liquids in an entertaining format. Fill the bottom portion of the sensory table with clean water. Change the water on a regular basis to keep it clean. Include a variety of cups, spoons, strainers and other tools that the children can use with the water. Encourage them to pour the water from one container to another as they play. Add some soap and turn the sensory table into a washing station for toy cars.
Sand offers a textured material for the sensory table. Be careful when choosing sand for the table, though, as some sand made from crushed rock and contains silica, which is considered a carcinogen. Choose play sand that is made from actual beach sand. Look for a nontoxic sand that doesn't contain silica or quartz.
Many of the same tools work well for both sand and water. Small shovels, cups and strainers allow the kids to explore the sand in the sensory table. Add a little water to make the sand damp so the kids can shape it. Toy trucks and cars also work well in sand for the sensory table.
While sensory tables are often called sand and water tables, there are many other material options. Changing the contents of the sensory table gives the children variety and allows them to learn about other items. Seasonal items tie the sensory table into lessons on the seasons and weather. Fall items might include the insides of a pumpkin, dry pumpkin seeds, acorns, pine cones or leaves. Bring in a few buckets of snow for a winter sensory table. Spring might include seeds or dirt and worms.
Other Sensory Materials
There are several other general sensory table materials to use year round. Rice offers a texture similar to sand. Tint the rice using food colouring. Mix a few drops of food colouring with 1 tsp of rubbing alcohol. Toss the uncooked rice in the food colouring mixture until all of the pieces are coloured. Spread the rice out on waxed paper so it can dry. Uncooked pasta offers larger pieces to use in the sensory table. It can be tinted in the same way as the rice. Other options include small plastic toys, shredded paper, oatmeal and pieces of corn.
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