The sensory table is a staple in early childhood classrooms (or it should be). Each week I reflect and create a plan for my sensory table. It is a place where students LOVE to play and I need to be intentional about how I set it up. It needs to be inviting, engaging, and a place where learning will occur. I keep the same material in the sensory table for 3-5 weeks depending on how long our theme or study is.
“Play is often talked about as if it was a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” Mr. Rogers. I LOVE this quote and it really speaks to how important play is. As teachers it is our job to set up the environment, question, and take students’ play to the next level!
Plan and reflect about what material you want to put in your table. I always connect the material to what we are learning about (theme) and what my students are interested in. There are ENDLESS materials you can put in a sensory table! Above are some of my favorites!
Every week in my lesson plans I have a learning objective for the sensory table. Adding different tools to the sensory table will support different objectives. I get most of my tools from the dollar store. You can also find them on Amazon.
As teachers we always need to know why we are doing what we are doing and be able to justify what we are doing. Let me show you what I mean…
Each week during my birthday theme, I added and/or took out props/tools to meet various objectives based on student needs and interests. I put colored rice in the sensory table because I thought it was bright and colorful like sprinkles!
Week One & Two – Birthday Sensory Table
students were measuring with measuring cups and measuring spoons to explore measurement and volume. For week two, I added cake pans and empty cake mix boxes. I had several students who were pretending to make cakes week one. By adding the cake mix boxes and pans students could pretend to make a cake from start to finish, exploring sequence and ordinal numbers. Sorry I forgot to take a picture that week.
Week Three – Birthday Sensory Table
I added number candles and rubber cupcake liners. From my assessments, I noted that some students needed to work on identifying numbers 1-10. By adding the number candles, students could incorporate the numbers into their play, take about them which made the numbers meaningful to them.
Week Four – Birthday Sensory Table
I added letter manipulatives. Students could make a letter cake, match the letters, make their friends names with the letters, or just explore the letters to build their knowledge about letters through play.
By purposely adding something new or changing the activity each week, students have something new to explore or expand upon. Making their play fun, exciting, and intentional!
Incorporate math, science, dramatic play, fine motor, and literacy intentionally by adding various tools and/or props. Plan activities and materials that infuse other areas so students are always learning.
Check out my Favorite Sensory Tables
Letter Manipulatives! Dump any letter manipulatives you have into the sensory table. My students had the idea to make letter soup so we added bowls, measuring cups, and spoons. Another week I added sorting trays and students sorted the letters different ways.
Beans! We had beans in the sensory table during our Food theme last fall. I added tweezers, small plastic bottles, cardboard tubes, and measuring cups. The tweezers were added to strengthen their fine motor muscles. The bottles and measuring cups were added the following week so students could explore measurement concepts and volume.
Little Legos! These were a hit and AMAZING fine motor work. The first week students were just building (pictured). The next week I placed pattern cards in the table and students could explore patterns by making or extending patterns with the Legos.
Ice! Ice experiments and investigations were a ton of fun during our winter theme! Students used pipettes, tweezers, and water to investigate their own ideas and conduct their own experiments. One student experimented how to make holes in the ice. See his little hole with the blue water in it!
The next week we were learning about animals that lived in the Arctic. I froze plastic arctic animals in ice. As the students were trying to free the animals, they were talking about the animals and building their vocabulary.
The last week students wanted me to freeze different colored water! A group of students were wanting to see “what would happen if the water was different colors and it melted together”. I LOVE it when students take charge and be the leaders in the classroom!
Sand! I found this amazing playground sand at the Toys R Us in the spring. To start, I only put in buckets, funnels, and shovels. Students had funnel races. They explored the relationship between size of the funnel and amount of sand it holds (volume)! The next week, I added empty juice bottles. I only added two bottles. Now students could practice sharing and taking turns. Having social skills objectives is important too!
The third week we were learning about having snakes as pets. I added snakes to the sensory table to build vocabulary and knowledge about snakes.
In my classroom whatever is in the sensory table tends to ends up on the ground. Add baskets with dustpans and brooms. Students can clean up what flies out! Make a square on the floor with tape (we used our square tiles). It’s a visual support to show students know where to sweep the mess to. At the beginning of the year students need help using the dustpans and as the year goes on they can do it independently.
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Check out my Pinterest board for more sensory table inspiration!