Classroom Environment · Improving my Teaching Practice

Sensory table: my mission to use it and to include children in the set up process!


I’m on a mission to use our sensory table and stop it from becoming a wasted space. In my post about classroom environment I asked for suggestions about what to put in the sensory table.  A good friend, and reader, suggested play dough. A few weeks ago I made cooked play dough (I like the feeling of it better than uncooked play dough) and put it in the sensory table. I used this recipe and I really liked it (I made a double batch). The night I made the play dough, there was only one child left in the classroom so I made sure to include them in the process. I really enjoyed it and I think the child did too. The play dough was in the sensory table for about a week. I ended up making another double batch and adding it to the play dough I had already made. I think the children enjoyed playing with it but there were only a few children that were really invested in exploring it. I know that the more we put play dough out the more interesting it will become. I also believe that if I include more children in the cooking process they will explore the play dough more, or the process will be more exciting to them than the product, which I am perfectly happy with!

This past week, I found a mixture of flaxseed, glitter, small rocks and beans in our art studio and put that in the sensory table. I added a few corks to it, so the children could have something to collect. Curtis & Carter state, “Providing special objects in unexpected places draws children’s attention and focus” (124). Curtis & Carter refer to these special objects as treasures. I don’t necessarily think that corks are anything special or a treasure but they might be to the children. Curtis & Carter also say, “When children come upon something magical, beautiful, fragile or complicated that has been carefully collected and arranged for them, they know that they themselves are respected and treasured” (124). When I set up the sensory table in our classroom I think about what treasures I can add to the material for the child to collect and hunt for. I want the treasure I put in the table to tell the children that they are treasured (I don’t think corks gave off that message, but I can be hopeful!). I’m going to be looking through our art studio to find treasures that are safe for toddlers while still being beautiful and magical.

One of my professors in college once said something along the lines of “be cautious about putting food in the sensory table”. First off, I don’t really want the children to think its okay to play with their food and secondly, I don’t want to offend any families who might be struggling to put food on their own table. Based on the economic class of the community the school I work at is in, I don’t believe the second idea is an issue, but you never know. Whenever I think about sensory materials my professor always pops in my head and I still feel weird putting food in the table. But I went with it anyway because I know how valuable sensory exploration is for toddlers.

The children seemed to enjoy the flaxseed mixture. Some children took handfuls of it and put it on the ground while others worked to fill one of the plastic cups I put out with the mixture. Some children filled the cup completely while others filled the cup a tiny bit and carefully poured the mixture into a second cup. I had anticipated this, toddlers love to fill and dump! I would really like to see what the children would do if I provide them with small metal candy scoops (these are on my “need to buy for my classroom” list). I’m hoping to leave the flaxseed mixture in the sensory table for another week or so, if it doesn’t all end up on the floor, and then switch it out with a new material.

I really value sensory exploration and I know that it can be very exciting and beneficial for the children. Developmentally Appropriate Practice states that some aspects of the sensory environment are, “toddlers are surrounded by sensory objects for their play activates (e.g., banging objects, mounding sand, kneading dough). To a reasonable extent, they also can enjoy sensory play during routines such as hand washing (e.g. squirting the soap)” (96). I don’t want the sensory environment in our classroom to be limited to sensory play during hand washing and I don’t want our sensory table to be wasted space. I want it to be a place that the children gather around and enjoy. I want it to be a part of the classroom that helps to strengthen and build our classroom community.

At the child care center I worked at in college the water table was truly a gathering place for the children. They helped to fill the water and select what would go into the table. The children were part of the process (this is key!). In this same classroom I made play dough once a week. I brought out all of the ingredients and a skillet that I could plug into the wall. I sat at one table and the children could join me in making the play dough if they wanted to. Again, the children were a big part in the process of creating! This is how I would like it to be in my current classroom. My mission is providing sensory exploation in the sensory table but it always needs to include having the children help with the process.

If you have any suggestions of what could go into our sensory table please PLEASE share! I really value your ideas 🙂



Bredekamp, Sue, and Carol Copple, eds. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Third ed. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009. Print.

Curtis, Deb, and Margie Carter. Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environment. St. Paul: Redleaf, 2003. Print.

5 thoughts on “Sensory table: my mission to use it and to include children in the set up process!

  1. We use corks extensively as loose parts here at SMA. We keep a big basket of them at all times. They use them in clay, they make them into people, etc. I have also found that wooden drawer pulls (the kind that looks like toadstools) as well as the old fashioned clothes pins that doesn’t have metal springs in them keep the children engaged for a while. We like to use scraps of fabric and even tin foil sheets to wrap things in! Seashells are a big hit as are plastic spools that ribbons came on. Children can really find a use for anything you put out for them. They especially seem extra enthralled when you put out an item that they typically perceive as a “no” item. I have little clay cups (technically shot glasses) that are painted that I picked up at a thrift store for under $2. They use them for tea party, carrying small objects etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for all these great ideas! I’ll have to add some more things to my “things I need to buy list” or go find. Fabric and tin foil sound really fun in the sensory table. Shells for scooping with rice or some other material. Thank you again 🙂 you really got me thinking!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The tin foil is super fun! You can even wrap items in the foil and place them in the sensory table and let the kids unwrap them. Provide some extra foil sheets along side and see if they’ll attempt to rewrap the items again. It’s super fun and foil is totally different to manipulate than what most kids are used to.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s