Many children learn best through the sense of “touch” and experience. This is the foundation for Montessori learning. Little hands love touching and searching for brand new sensations and textures. When pairing this sense with fun games and activities, early learning and development sky-rockets. Although some parents fear the inherent mess of sensory tables, these creative stations are one of the best tools for preparing young children for school and future learning.
Sensory tables prepare young children for school by giving them a chance to practice fine motor skills and hand-and-eye coordination. These tables also present fun learning themes such as ocean life, animals, or construction. Every aspect of STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) is easy to incorporate within these tables.
Although many vendors sell pre-made sensory table sets, some of the best learning experiences are achieved through do-it-yourself sensory table design and themes. Invest in a basic table playset and start planning your first learning theme!
“Under the Sea”
Take your child on a trip under the ocean with this imaginative sensory table. By using specially designed water pearls, it’s easy to cut back on the chance of wet spills. These beads mimic the ocean’s wetness and provide an engaging sensory experience. Throw in fun ocean animals and fish and help your child start learning about the amazing creatures that call the ocean home. Add a small pile of sand off to the side of your “ocean” to represent the tide and beach. Regardless of where you live, your child will have their own personal beach to visit.
- Blue Water Pearls
- Plastic fish/ocean animals
- Small fish net
- Water toys (funnels, toy boats, etc.)
“Fly Me to the Moon”
Nearly every child loves to envision themselves as an astronaut or even a mischievous “Martian.” Capture your child’s outer space wonder with this space-themed sensory table. Fill your sensory table with white sand to represent the Moon’s dry barren landscape. Add glow-in-the-dark rocks and stars for an extra surprise when the lights are turned low. No space landscape is complete without astronauts, space vehicles, and even the occasional alien. Talk with your child about outer space and show them real Lunar maps or NASA’s “Picture-of-the-Day” for an added learning experience.
- White Sand
- Glow-in-the-dark “moon” pebbles
- Glow-in-the-dark stars
- Space toys (planets, astronauts, “Martians”)
- Sand toys (trowels, small buckets, cups)
Children love watching a good construction scene. Powerful trucks and bulldozers are great to watch for an easy lesson in engineering and building. Help your child learn what it takes to excavate their own construction scene by creating your very own “hard-hat” zone. Fill your table with sand, pebbles, wood chips, dirt, or any digging medium. Add miscellaneous sticks, rocks, and other fun surprises within the dirt. Complete your scene with some toy construction vehicles and some digging supplies. Allow your child to experiment with digging, tunneling, and building their own creations. Activities like this go a long way toward encouraging their natural desire to build and experiment.
- Small pebbles
- Wood chips
- Construction trucks/toys
- Sticks, rocks, miscellaneous nature objects
- Construction hat for extra imagination
Color & Shape Matching Race
Every child works hard to memorize their basic colors and shapes. This is a basic pre-requisite for every child before entering kindergarten. Give this learning process a fun spin by turning it into a “matching” game. Fill your sensory table with a wide assortment of shapes and blocks. Include a large selection of colors and sizes. Mix the shapes well and set plastic cups or bowls off to the side with labels showing specific colors or shapes. For an extra boost in fine motor skills, show your child how to master fun jumbo play “tweezers.” Children will breeze through this fun sorting game faster each time as they learn their colors and shapes.
Alphabet & Number Soup
Next to learning their colors and shapes, children often struggle a bit with learning their alphabet and basic numbers. This is natural. To give them a learning boost, create a “soup” of letters and numbers for them to sort through. Sorting through these letters and numbers helps your child gain more familiarity with their individual shapes. Provide cups or bowls with a specific letter or number label and allow them to sort through and find the correct matches. Choose only a few letters or numbers at a time to avoid overwhelming your child with options.
For an extra spelling or counting lesson, label your containers with small words such as “cat,” “hat,” or “ball.” Your child will love getting the opportunity to “spell” these words by matching the appropriate letters into the right word cups. Simple spelling or counting activities like this give your child a definite early-learning advantage; letters and numbers won’t seem nearly so intimidating for them in kindergarten if they’ve been playing with them in advance.
- Foam letters and numbers
- Labeled bowls or cups for sorting
Sensory tables are far more than just “play tables” or potential messes. These valuable Montessori learning tools provide many wonderful STEM opportunities for young learners. By creating unique themes and activities, you allow your child to learn of the real world through imagination and play–an experience you both will love. Young children are little scientists. Giving them a sensory table is like giving them a lab to experiment in. Prepare your child for early learning and stimulate their interest in sensory play.