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We Built A Sensory Table. Now What?

With a sensory table, play possibilities are endless. Let your imagination be your guide. Consider both dry and wet experiences, what’s available, and how much time you have for “setting the scene.” Start out simple and observe the children at play. Trust them to know what to do and to let you know when they’re ready for new sensory play experiences.

Sand is a must. So is water. Both provide hours of open-ended play and learning. Start by putting out containers of different shapes and sizes. Add scoops and spoons, both solid and slotted, sieves, sifters, shakers, and pitchers, funnels, measuring cups and spoons. This is a time for adaptive use of both kitchen implements and toys. When used in sand play, stacking and nesting cups invite filling and pouring and can be used as sand molds.The cups demonstrate differences in volume and mass among the graduated cups. Basic mathematical concepts.

For water play, tea sets encourage pouring. Learning to pour liquids without spilling is a challenge requiring concentration and coordination, fundamental skills needed for developing more complex ones. Being able to pour without spilling gives a child independence: the ability to pour himself something to drink when he’s thirsty. When offering someone else a drink, he’s demonstrating social awareness. Learning to estimate how much liquid is in a pitcher and figuring out how to divide the contents evenly among glasses develops mathematical awareness. Without question, children learn while playing.


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What Children Learn from Water Play

Where would children be without water play? Water provides opportunities galore for playing and learning, and in the height of summer, what child doesn’t enjoy cooling off by running through sprinklers and playing in a splash pool?

Flooding sand with water creates another realm of play as children scoop, mold and sculpt the wet sand. Digging and filling channels with water expand the experience as children float objects in the canal, discover what floats – a leaf – and what sinks – an acorn – and figure out why. As the sand absorbs the water and the channels run dry, children discover more about the properties of sand and water. That’s experiential learning at its best.

Filling and pouring, measuring and mixing, using containers of different shapes, sizes, heights and diameters lead to a developmental milestone known as conservation of liquids. This means that a child understands that a specific volume of a liquid is the same whenever the shape, size, height or diameter of the container into which it is poured.

Consider this classic conversion experiment. An adult fills two short, fat beakers with an equal volume of colored liquid and asks a child to verify that the two beakers contain exactly the same amount of the liquid. Once the child and adult agree, the adult pours the contents from one beaker into a tall, narrow one and asks the child if the two beakers contain the same or different amounts. A child understanding the conservation of  liquids  knows the volume remains the same.  One who does not will insist that the taller beaker holds more. Why? Because it’s taller, an opinion based on external appearance. Typically children master this concept between five and seven years old.

More ways to play and learn with water:

add food coloring or bio-colors and explore color mixing

experiment with freezing and thawing to observe how water expands when frozen and contracts as it melts

add leaves, acorns, twigs to water, freeze and observe how being frozen changes the appearance of the findings inside the ice

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