Sensory tables are a staple of the preschool and daycare scene. Why?
Little ones love to explore. So it’s important to introduce a special place for them to learn through hands-on play – and sensory tables can be the command center for all that tactile research. But why, specifically, do children benefit from this fixture of early education? Cue some dramatic music. Here’s the list!
5. Playing with Pals
Children learn how to play cooperatively with the materials in a sensory table. Mildred Parten, an American sociologist, put together a theory that outlined play at young ages. And even though it was developed in the 1930s, it’s still relevant in today’s classrooms. Sensory tables support Parten’s definition of cooperative play, encouraging children to take an active role in planning, structuring and collaborating through play. Fun fact: Sensory tables actually come from the occupational therapy world, according to Jeanette Der Bedrosian for Washington Parent. “Though sensory tables have their roots in the occupational therapy world, you might find a group of children working together at a table or bin at preschool centers … In this context, it encourages teamwork.” Sharing, taking turns and incorporating others? It all represents a big social step for early learners; it’s all powered by the presence of sensory tables in the classroom.
4. Learning the Lingo
Children learn how to communicate with their peers by using their budding vocabulary. Group play with sensory tables promotes conversation. For example, pre-K students might handle the materials differently, want to try mixing materials, organizing or building with the materials. Think blocks, sand, water – items of many colors and sizes that introduce a variety of textures to early learners. This sensory stimulation encourages communication and broadens language abilities for pre-K students. Plus, preschoolers’ classmates can have a significant impact on learning language, according to a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Virginia and The Ohio State University. Science Daily reported that because of “the growing recognition that young children’s language abilities affect their readiness for school and later school success, this study offers ideas for designing and structuring preschool classrooms.”
Looking for more ways to prepare children’s vocab for kindergarten and beyond? The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) suggests some other great methods to support early learners’ speech and language development.
3. Refining Fine Motor
Children learn how to maximize their hand-eye coordination with the myriad hands-on activities that sensory tables can offer. Mixing, molding, measuring, pouring, pushing, scooping and sifting; there’s so many ways for pre-K students to perform the small muscle movements that are necessary for other important tasks. This type of play provides great preparation for real world applications (tying shoes, buttoning a shirt or zipping up a jacket). Who knew that squishing gooey stuff and clanging toys in a bin could be so beneficial? If you need some extra help getting creative ideas going, Loubina Buxamusa and Ann Mahoney offer some top-notch sensory table activities for pre-K students in this Education.com article.
2. Creating Creative Commotion
Children learn how to get creative (without so many restrictions) with a sensory table. Other classroom activities like playing with blocks can only accomplish so much, impeding further exploration. But with a sensory table that’s chock-full of sand, water, rice, macaroni or even dirt, all of these separate mediums are fair game for building structures, demolishing structures and getting engrossed in the magic of make-believe. Outside of taste (we don’t want 4-year-olds chewing on sawdust), children can engage their other four senses with incredible vigor, which, heck, isn’t that why they’re called sensory tables? Now that you know why sensory tables are so important, create one, buy one, put it to great use!
1. Keeping Classrooms Clean
Here’s a teacher-focused numero uno – and it’s incredibly important (just not as much to kids). Of course, you want to encourage children’s hands-on learning, the enthusiastic exploring, all that immersive education, but you also want to keep the mess-making contained. Sensory tables can accomplish that for you. Lay the ground rules for your little ones, consider getting/making a few aprons and, with a little luck (and maybe a trash bag or vinyl mat placed on the floor), you’ll maintain a respectable classroom.
Still hesitant about how you’ll keep sensory table clutter under control? Several blogs (creativewithkids.com, notjustcute.com, teachertomsblog.com, tomsensori.blogspot.com) offer great ideas that can help. So get started; celebrate sensory play with your preschoolers today!