Sensory Table – Research-Backed At-Home Activities – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Sensory Table

Create an immersive sensory experience for your young child to encourage their creative, messy play.

Learning Goals:

  • Make Thoughtful Decisions
  • Communicate Thinking

Materials Required:

  • Large bin or trough (e.g. under the bed plastic storage bin)
  • Sensory materials, such as:
    • Sand
    • Dirt
    • Water
    • Shaving cream
    • Rice
    • Pom poms
  • Tools for the sensory table, choose one or a few:
    • Measuring cups
    • Spoons
    • Tongs
    • Whisks
    • Pipettes
    • Small shovels or scoops
    • Funnels
  • Additional non-chokable materials, choose one or a few:
    • Small animal toys
    • Gemstones
    • Natural materials (rocks, sticks, flowers, seashells)
    • Small foam blocks
    • Colored blocks of ice


  • Fill the bin with one of the sensory materials you’ve chosen.
  • Add one or a few additional non-chokable materials along with a few different types of tools.
  • Have towels, a sink, and/or wet wipes nearby for easy clean-up. This is a great activity to do outside if possible. If inside, a tarp or vinyl mat under the bin helps to contain the mess.
  • Let your child explore and experiment with the materials using their hands or the tools provided. Remind them to keep the materials inside of the bin.
  • Encourage pretend play and observations about the properties of the materials (“This river rock is smooth and slippery!”).
  • A few combinations to get started:
    • Sand with toy dinosaurs and shovels
    • Water with colored, glittery blocks of ice, pipettes and salt shakers
    • Shaving cream with foam blocks, scrapers and silicone spatulas
    • Pom poms with ice cream scoops and cupcake tins

Tips for Adults:

  • Get creative with a themed sensory table! Use books, holidays, or children’s interests as inspiration.
  • Try using the same materials, but altered. For example, add soap, color, or glitter to the water, turn your dirt into mud, or add a layer of water to the sand!
  • Additional materials can be either made or purchased to use with a sensory table. Try out oobleck, flubber, slime, kinetic sand, or instant snow powder.
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