Teachers are always contacting me and asking how to make activities more engaging and fun. Sensory tables are an easy way to accomplish differentiating by interest and learning profile. You can use all different kinds of colorful fillers with different textures and even smells. Throw an otherwise boring sorting activity into a sensory table or just a simple low-sided tote and you have a station that is instantly a classroom favorite. But thinking of new and interesting fillers that are easy to manage can sometimes be a challenge. So I decided to put a few of my own classroom favorites together to give an idea of how a year of easy sensory table fillers might look.
Of course, you always need to be mindful of allergies when considering sensory table fillers. I usually send a quick note home in my weekly newsletter to give parents a heads up for the next months filler items just to make sure everyone is safe.
At the beginning of the school year, I like to use a filler that is easy to clean up and super enticing. My students can’t wait to get their little fingers in a tub of brightly colored pasta in every shape and size imaginable. This is an easy material to use to teach sensory table routines and rules and then once a little exploration has taken place and they have the feel for the expectations . . .
you can add a simple sorting activity. I throw in my color sorting cards from my Back To School Math Stations Galore pack and add some festive colorful buckets to make the activity engaging and fun.
What an amazing month to use sensory tables with your word work and math station activities. There are so many colors you can use and fun fillers to engage and hook your students. This month I like to make sure I have some Halloween colored pasta in green, orange and dark dark dark (almost black) purple. My students loved playing with these thematic rhyming cards in this bin. I threw in some clothes pins with spiders glued to them. They would find the rhyming pair and pin them together.
Whenever I can find seasonal buttons . . .
or erasers I also like to either put them in a small bin or add them to another filler to make it even more interesting. If you look for these seasonal items after the holiday, you can usually get a ton of them for super cheap.
Of course, taking things from nature is always a great idea. Yes, it’s thematic which is all good and dandy, but it also connects to those kids who are naturalist. Acorns are always plentiful in my part of the world in the fall. Some people freak out and think that you’ll get bugs or mold if you use natural products, but I’ve never had that problem. I collect my acorns and place them in a large plastic bag for a couple of days in my freezer. Then I take them out, spread them out to dry and they are good to go. The little pumpkins last quite a while as well. I just always make sure that when I use these kinds of items. I don’t keep the top on my table top. They need to be able to breathe.
November is usually the first month I bring out rice. Rice is easy to dye, and you can mix some great fall colors together or select just one. Rice can be a bit messier than pasta or larger filler items, so I like to wait until I know my students have the cleaning routine down before I introduce it.
Dried beans also offer great variety in texture and color and my kinders tell me they like the way they feel. A great way to get your hands on some of these filler products, including beans, is to put a request out to your parents. Parents, even in the poorest communities, want to help their child’s class with items they may need. A bag of rice or beans doesn’t have to be expensive, and I always find I can count on getting enough to fill my bins. Here students used cards with pictures and matched them with the word. So much fun when you have a thematic clothes pin with a leaf or pumpkin foamie glued to it.
When I’m done with my pumpkins in October, I often replace them with dried ears of corn. This offers students a ‘what do I do when I’m done’ activity. Once they’ve completed the sensory table task, they can ‘shuck corn.’ You’ll be hard pressed to find a better fine motor activity than shucking corn. I promise. And quite honestly, it’s a bit addicting. My kinders are always in such deep concentration when they do it.
You might be seeing a pattern here. I love using natural products whenever I can. There is such a huge variety of pine trees in Northern Michigan that I am never in short supply. I can add in pine cones and seasonal erasers and manipulatives to make it even that much more festive. And when my students are done with the sensory table task, I give them scissors to cut the boughs up. Again, another great fine motor activity, and it makes my room smell amazing.
Fun colorful and seasonal shredded paper can also be an easy filler for tens frame matching activities. I added small ornaments with numbers printed on them for a second game that students could play.
The month of snow and cold in Michigan, I use simple and easy white rice in my sensory table.
Or, because it’s aways available after the holidays on sale, I throw some artificial snow and white stones in one of my bins along with some ‘Arctic and Antarctic’ critters. The critters stay in a separate bin until the activity has been successfully completed. Then students are welcome to pull out he critters to retell stories and role play from our study of the Polar Regions.
I love sensory tables in February because the colors are so fabulous. I like to always add some fun manipulatives (in this case these clear hearts) or erasers when I can find them. Here students matched base ten units to their numbers.
Pink rice with seasonal beads and trinkets work great in smaller, movable bins that I use for morning work like this I-Spy Sight Words station.
And even more pasta . . . (matching CVC words with pictures).
I love St. Patrick’s Day so it’s not surprising that I try to add a little magic to this months sensory bin activities. First of all, everything is more fun in a fun container, right? A cauldron is absolutely necessary to hold your leprechaun’s . . .
GOLD!!!! Chickpeas are a wonderful thing. You can dye them all sorts of colors or, in this case, spray paint them gold. These gold nuggets are a HIT and so engaging. I use this pot over and over again throughout the month.
And in my big table, I have pasta in all shades of green.
April is all about Easter and Bugs in my class. The simplest filler for this time of year is Easter grass! I don’t like the plastic kind of grass. It sticks to everything, but if you get the shredded paper kind of grass, it works great.
You can even add your word work and math station activities to it easily . . .
. . . I also like to add some little buggy critters to make it even more interesting. In the FREEBIE below, students match up the rhyming bugs. You can grab this activity for FREE by clicking HERE.
Dinosaurs invade my classroom in May. I have one sensory table that is dedicated to digging up dinosaurs from plaster paris rocks, but for my literacy and math stations, I like to use this Crayola Blue sand. It looks great against my nonsense word dino bones! If you don’t have a box of bog biscuits to paint laying around. I also have a FREE set of cards for this activity that you can get HERE.
So there you have it. It’s not so difficult to find easy fillers for your sensory bins. Remember that it’s ok to ask parents to donate a box of pasta or bag of beans here and there. Most families would love to help in such a simple way.
And if you want to see even more ideas for sensory play, check out my Pinterest board by clicking below. Make sure you follow me so that you can see all the latest and greatest sensory ideas. And if you’d like to see more of the activities included in the picture above you can just visit my store HERE. I have a year’s worth of sensory table activities, differentiated and aligned so that your kiddos will love them and so will your administration.
Follow Marsha McGuire (Differentiated Kindergarten)’s board Sensory Table Fun on Pinterest.
I’d love to hear what easy items you have in your sensory bins. Who doesn’t need new ideas? So drop me a line and share your ideas in the comments below.
And in case you didn’t know, there’s a big sale going on. I’d love for you to check out the items in my store and SAVE up to 28% using TpTs promo code BTS15.
I love love love your sensory table fillers. My question is, do you throw away the filler after you use it and how do you dye your pasta? Thanks!
I keep my pasta and rice fillers for more than one year . . . sometimes as many as three years. My kids use sanitizer before and after using the bins and there is a lot of alcohol in the dye so I think it lasts a little longer than you would expect.
How do you dye your pasta!
1/4 cup rubbing alcohol in a ziploc freezer bag full of pasta or rice and a bunch of dye. Mix and shake it up…leave it in there for a good while and then dump it on some aluminum foil to dry. Super easy.
Amber Peterson says
LOVE this post! Thank you so much! I am definitely going to be adding sensory bins to my classroom this year!
Thanks for sharing! I love these ideas..especially nature! Another fun one is packaging styerfoam…easy clean up for beginning of the year!
Nicki Moad says
i love your creativity and appreciate your ideas. However I have steered away from using food in my sensory table especially when so many families need food to eat.
Thank you for this post! I’m a first year prek teacher and I was looking for ideas for my sensory table. What do you use to dye the chickpeas gold? I’m sure my little ones would love that! Thanks again!
spray paint. . . it’s so easy
Jenny Anderson says
You have such great ideas! Thank you for sharing. I do not have a sensory table in my room, but would like to make a sensory center. I was wondering what you thought of using a Rubbermaid container? What size would you recommend? How much filler do you usually need? How many students at this center?
Thank you for answering questions! I do appreciate your time!
I have several rubbermaid sensory tubs. I only let 2 students attend on rubbermaid bin at a time though to control how many hands are in it at one time. I do have a few games where 4 students will play at the same time, but it’s usually a game and they understand that only one set of hands go in the tub at a time.
Ashley McMahon says
I tried to use the coupon code and it wouldn’t work. Is there another one that might work instead? Thanks!!
What coupon code?
Kerry Antilla says
I just got a sensory table in my classroom and I am super excited about it! Thank you for all of these great ideas! I am thinking I might cut up pieces of Christmas tree garland and put that in the table with a write the room center I already have.
I saw an earlier question about saving the sensory materials year to year and wonder what you store them in? Do you just have many different bins and you rotate those, or do you put the rice, pasta, etc in something else to save? Love this and can’t wait to start!
Mostly in ziplocs and then in larger bins which I store in my class under my tables that have the rag skirts.
Nicole Leatherby says
Hi Marsha. I love your blog! The sensory table was one of my favorite things in my classroom when I taught preschool but when I began my current kindergarten job, I put it out of my mind until I started reading your blog. Now my passion for it is renewed! One of my favorite things to put in it in the summer months in Colorado was any natural things I could find on my lunch hour walks. I’d come back with cat tails, flowers, pine cones, leaves – all sorts of stuff. And it was all free!
Nicki Moad says
I love the ideas; I wish alot of them did not use food. We need to be careful to not use food, especially rice, beans, and pasta that are staples for some families. I would like to see us become more creative with non food items.