There was a time in my life when the suggestion to willingly hand over a sensory table full of actual sand to my wild-and-out toddler would be met with an incredulous stare. Recipe for disaster, anyone? But with a little direction (and a lot of patience), my 2-year-old quickly gets lost in the sensory activity of feeling sand in her hands and pouring it from cup to cup. With a sensory table, hours of fun are unlocked, but the key is finding the right setup. The best sensory tables for toddlers are sturdy, dependable, and inviting for little hands and minds.
But first, what is the big deal about sensory tables, anyway? To find out, Scary Mommy tapped expert Katie Miller, an early childhood education specialist currently supporting special education teachers and students ages 3 to 5 in the Kansas City area.
Katie Miller earned her Masters of Education in Unified Early Childhood from the University of Kansas and currently serves as an early childhood student services consultant in Kansas City. In her work, she hopes to empower teachers and families to help meet the needs of children at all developmental levels.
What is a sensory table?
While you’ve probably heard about the benefits of sensory play before, it can be a little tricky to know what exactly it all means. Miller says, “Sensory tables are usually tables that have a shallow depth to them, and can be filled with different ingredients, materials, toys, or items that promote sensory (usually tactile) engagement.” If you aren’t ready to commit to a full-on sensory table, she suggests starting with a small Tupperware or waterproof bin to serve a similar purpose.
Why are sensory tables good for toddlers?
Sensory tables are a vehicle for discovery and exploration — crucial for toddler development. “They allow the toddler to lead their own exploration of new materials of various textures, sizes, weights, and sensations,” says Miller. “Sensory exploration is one of the developmental building blocks of play and, depending on the items within the sensory table, can promote the child’s development.”
There’s also value in setting up a sensory table alongside siblings, classmates, or friends. “Beyond sensory play, sensory tables offer children a chance to observe other children’s play and imitate their actions or join in on their play schemes.”
Finally, sensory tables provide the perfect learning environment to expand children’s learning and explore higher concepts. “An example of this could be hiding certain animals or colored items in the sensory table and inviting the child to find the specific items you request,” shares Miller.
What do you put in a child’s sensory table?
The possibilities are seemingly endless when determining what to put in a child’s sensory table, but first, Miller reminds you to consider your child’s age and/or current developmental level. For example, if they’re still putting toys in their mouth, avoid ingredients that may become a choking hazard, and never allow kiddos to play unsupervised.
“Kinetic sand, flour, water beads, cotton balls, oatmeal, water, soil, feathers, shaving cream, beans, and snow, are a few examples of common sensory table ingredients,” Miller shares. She’s even seen parents of young children fill sensory tables with jello when choking hazards are a concern. But it’s not just about the materials — kids need tools to play, as well. “Adding tools to explore these ingredients like cups, funnels, small shovels, figurines, small buckets, [and more] can expand the learning opportunities for children playing at the sensory table,” Miller states.
Ahead, we’ve got the best sensory tables for toddlers for indoor and outdoor play — plus some awesome sensory fillers to get your kiddo playing right away.
While we sorted the options below into indoor and outdoor categories for easy shopping, most sensory tables here are fairly interchangeable in terms of where they can be used, as long as you’re game.
The Best Indoor Sensory Tables
This Portable Plastic Sensory Table For A Great Price
This portable, small sensory table is the perfect starting point for toddlers. Depending on what sensory fillers you choose, this table can be used for indoor/outdoor play as the plastic is easy to wipe down. This table comes complete with a lid and sand toys to kick off playtime and the legs come off for easy storage or small spaces.
Helpful Review: “Absolutely love this table! The plastic doesn’t feel cheap, and it’s very sturdy. We are currently using it for kinetic sand and my 3 year old loves it. The toys that come with it are very good quality also! It was a big hit on Christmas morning.”
Recommended Age: 2 years and up | Dimensions: 17.5 by 12.5 by 11 inches (L x W x H)
A Classroom-Quality Sensory Table With Wheels & A Lid
If you’re looking for something a bit more permanent, this large, classroom-quality sensory table is durable and weather-proof (again, for indoor or outdoor play). It features four casters (two of which lock) on a rust-proof steel frame to easily move locations and then secure into place. It even includes a lid for convenient storage, and the bin is removable for easy washing. “For less than a quarter of the price of the classroom tables, this one is working out fantastically!” one parent raved. Plus, the taller size is ideal for older toddlers.
Helpful Review: “This sensoryt able has been perfect for my preschool class with little ones from 3-5 years old. The wheels lock to keep it from moving while the students are at the table. The table is lightweight and easy to move around the classroom when needed. I would highly recommend!”
Recommended Age: 3 years and up | Dimensions: 36 by 24 by 24 inches (L x W x H)
This Heirloom-Quality Wooden Sensory Table With 4 Plastic Bins
Looking for options? This Montessori sensory table features four different plastic bins for plenty of exploration and play. Each bin can be removed for dumping or washing, and the lockable casters make for easy indoor/outdoor movement. (The brand notes that it can fit through most standard doors.) Plus, this table achieves Greenguard Gold Certification to avoid chemical emissions and contribute to cleaner indoor air.
Helpful Review: “Excellent product for sensory play. Our two children (3&6 yrs old) absolutely love it. It’s great that the plastic containers can be taken out and washed so easily and they have lids as well. The casters make it nice for moving around and we can lock them for safety. We have used it for slime play, kinetic sand, sparkles, beans, orbies, and water. So much fun!”
Recommended Age: None provided | Dimensions: 27 by 33 by 24.5 inches ( L x W x H)
An Ultra-Versatile Sensory Table With A Reversible Play Surface
Made of engineered wood with smooth corners, this low-profile play table does it all. Use the interior compartment for all kinds of sensory play, then slide on the smooth, illustrated board to transform it into an activity table. But don’t stop there, flip over the board for a building bricks surface. You even get 195 bricks so your kiddo can get started right away. (Note: the surface is not compatible with Duplo bricks). Parents would agree it offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Helpful Review: “We filled it with rice and toys for a sensory table for my one-year-old. We use it every day, and he will be able to grow into it for years to come. Love the size!!”
Recommended Age: 3 and up | Dimensions: 25 by 23 by 16 inches (L x W x H)
The Best Outdoor Sensory Tables
This 4-Station Sensory Table That Adjusts In Height
Get ready for hours of outdoor play with this four-station sensory table. (It also comes as a two-station for $120.) This one grows with your kids as it can adjust to three different heights — ideal for families with kids of varying ages. The bins remove for easy cleanup and the Greenguard Gold Certification is a win all around. This is an especially good choice for parents of multiples to encourage collaborative skills and interactive play.
Helpful Review: “Saw this at my work (I work at a daycare). Thought this would be a good idea for my kids and I happened to find the exact on on Amazon. I love it! It extends so it grows with your child. I love love love that you can remove the tubs which makes it super easy to clean. Much better then any other water table. My kids love it especially when I add soap and food colouring. […]”
Recommended Age: 3 years and up | Dimensions: 30 by 30 by 26 inches (L x W x H)
This Sand Table With A Lid That Can Be Filled With Any Sensory Item
This classic sand table is the perfect foundation for creative sensory play. One reviewer filled the sturdy plastic table with rocks and dirt for the ultimate construction site. Others opted for rice, slime, and shaving cream. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with sand. One parent calls it a “sand trap to keep toddlers occupied.” It comes with a five-piece accessory set for digging and scooping, and it even has secure lid to keep rainwater and roving animals out.
Helpful Review: “I purchased this to use as a sensory table for my almost two year old and five year old. It’s good quality and extremely easy to put together. Perfect height for the younger one. My 5yo is able to play well with it while sitting on her knees. The table is not as deep as I thought it would be, but that’s not a huge issue for us. Plenty of room for multiple children to play and explore.”
Recommended Age: 24 months and up | Dimensions: 36 by 26 by 16.375 inches (L x W x H)
A Cute Picnic Table With Sensory Bins & An Umbrella
Most sensory tables on this list are interchangeable for indoor/outdoor use, but this 3-in-1 wooden sensory table is truly primed for outdoor play. This cute picnic table can switch into a water or sand table in no time thanks to the two included bins. Meanwhile, the adjustable umbrella provides shade as toddlers snack, play, and lunch. Parents love it for its functionality, sure — but it also looks good. With a weight capacity of 220 pounds, this is a play option that will provide years of use.
Helpful Review: “I wanted a water table for our toddler, but I did not want one of the bright plastic kids tables. I wanted something that was going to look nice in our yard or on our deck, even when just adults are around. The plastic ones are fun, but a bit of an eyesore. […] The best part is that the child has to use their own imagination and exploration […] You can also use anything you want in the bins like pasta, rocks, sand, dirt, rice, etc.”
Recommended Age: 3 years and up| Dimensions: 38 by 37.75 by 19.5 inches (L x W X H) (not including umbrella height)
This Water Table With A Few Bells & Whistles
This 7-gallon water table launches frogs onto lily pads for plenty of giggles and fun on the hottest of days. The center spinner powers the water into a “lazy river” for frogs and toys to float about and the drain makes it easy to dump the water when the rogue goldfish falls into the pond. Some parents added sand and other materials instead of water and for a table so simple, reviewers genuinely love it. It’s earned a 4.7-star rating on Amazon after thousands of reviews.
Helpful Review: “This is a greatwater table for the cost! It’s pretty big and comes with 4 frogs, 2 lily pads and a net. It’s also come with a little centerpiece and two toy flickers. Hours of enjoyment right there. I filled it up and my daughter played for hours. […]”
Recommended Age: 24 months to 3 years Dimensions: 30.83 by 32.67 by 22.3 inches (L x W x H)
A 2-Sided Water & Sand Table That Guarantees Hours Of Fun
This sand table is the ultimate outdoor playtime accessory. Two-sided for sand and water (or whatever you choose), a tie-down lid featuring roadway grooves for additional play, and an adjustable umbrella for shade. The plastic table is light enough to be moved inside with ease for off-season fun too. Fill it with beans, rice, feathers, and more.
Helpful Review: “I bought this for my 2-year-old daughter. […] She loves it. She can play independently for as much as 45 minutes! For a 2-year-old, that’s a huge endorsement.”
Recommended Age: 18 months to 10 years | Dimensions: 42.52 by 24.02 by 23 inches (L x W x H)
The Best Sensory Table Fillers
Some Kinetic Sand For Moldable Creations
If you’ve yet to be primed on the magic of Kinetic Sand, believe that it is truly mesmerizing. Easy to clean, soft, and moldable, this sand is perfect for tactile play. With this order, you get a large, 3.25 pound bag that’s a great starter filler for rolling out that new sensory table.
Helpful Review: “The sand […] holds the attention of kids who are normally like squirrels and jump from one thing to another. Kinetic Sand is unexpectedly soft and moldable and doesn’t have the texture of normal sand. It is more like soft putty versus actual sand and sticks together nicely.”
Recommended Age: 3 years and up
These Toddler-Sized Tools For Turning Sensory Play Up A Notch
Kids will no doubt have plenty of fun feeling sensory ingredients in between their fingers but you can easily kick it to another level with a few simple tools. This beginner set is perfect for sand and water tables. The set includes a squeezy bottle, spinner, wavy dropper, and scooper, and kids love them so much, you may find them toted into the bath or kitchen for other fun creations.
Helpful Review: “Perfect for water tables or creative/hands-on play with waterbeads, colored water, etc.Nice variety of activities to encourage toddlers to pinch, squeeze and turn. Its funny watching younger kids learn how to use them properly.”
Recommended Age: 36 months to 6 years
A Huge Set Of Sea Creatures For Endless Sensory Exploration
Dig, bury, uncover and do it all again with this assorted 52-pack of sea creatures. These multi-use toys are just as cute atop a cupcake as they are primed for imaginative play at a sensory table.
Helpful Review: “My child is obsessed with sea creatures, so these have been a big hit. The painting on some of the animals isn’t super detailed, but they are nice enough for the price and have provided plenty of opportunities for imaginative play. We’ve also incorporated them into sensory play by adding them to waterbeads or water. They are fun little toys.”
Recommended Age: 36 months to 17 years
Some Montessori Sensory Toys Made Of Durable Wood
Grab this bag of Montessori sensory table toys to encourage scooping, moving, and exploring. The sanded-down wooden tools make for the perfect addition to a sensory bin. The set includes eight petite tools that can be neatly packed away in the included drawstring bag.
Helpful Review: “This set was perfect for what we needed for our toddlers sensorybin. The scoops are perfect, he collects shells in the pots along with pouring sand from them. Cute & durable.”
Recommended Age: 36 months to 4 years
Katie Miller, M.Ed, early childhood education specialist