Children learn best through exploration and experience, which is why it's important to give children opportunities to participate in sensory play in the classroom. A sand and water learning center is one of the best ways you can give children sensory play experiences, because children can explore the properties and uses of sand and water as they touch, dig, scoop, and play. A sand and water learning center also encourages creativity, helps children develop socially, and gives them the opportunity to learn new math and science skills.
Setting up a sand and water learning center that is just right for your space can be a long process, but we've come up with a few simple steps to help you organize a sand and water area that provides wonderful learning opportunities for the children in your care:
1. Determine the Size and Location of Your Sand and Water Center
You need to consider the following factors when determining the size and location of your sand and water center:
- The overall size of the room.
- The total number of learning centers you want to incorporate.
- The number of children in your classroom.
- The number of children you want to use the center at one time.
- The size of the sand and water table and the number of accessories you want to include in the center.
Keep in mind that learning centers should accommodate 3-4 children at a time, but space for two children is fine if you are working with a small space.
You should try to locate your sand and water center close to a sink if possible. Close proximity to a sink will help with filling the table with water or with cleaning up any messes. Depending on the activity and the children using the center, sand and water centers can range in noise level. Try to locate your sand and water center near other centers that vary in noise level, such as the math and manipulatives center and the nature and science center. If one area of your classroom has a tile floor, it would also be a good idea for you to consider setting up your sand and water center in that area to make cleanup easier and to avoid ruining any carpet in the room.
If you're looking for a layout that best utilizes the space in your classroom, How to Plan a Great Classroom Layout (Preschool Edition) and our MyKaplan FloorPlanner tool are both great resources you can use to plan out your space.
2. Pick the Right Sand and Water Table for Your Center
There are a variety of sand and water tables you can choose from for your center:
- Transparent sand and water tables
- Multi-station sand and water tables
- Double tray sand and water tables
- Mobile sand and water tables
Waterwheel tables and sand and water tubs or trays are a few other great options for your sand and water learning center. There are also sand and water tables available specifically for infants and toddlers. Be sure to consider how much space you have available when picking out a sand and water table. You should also base your decision on whether you want to provide one large sand and water table for children to use or a few smaller tables and tubs.
For more information, read our guide on Choosing the Right Sand and Water Table for Your Students.
3. Prevent Messes with Sensory Mats, Aprons, and Storage Containers
Sand and water learning centers can be a bit messy, which is why placing sensory mats under sand and water tables and having children put on waterproof aprons can help prevent any major messes. It's also a good policy to only fill tubs ½ to ¾ full of sand and water. This will give children plenty of sand and water to experiment with and use while lessening the chances of accidental spills.
Storage containers can also help you keep play sets and accessories organized. If you have a lot of sand and water accessories, you may want to pick out a storage unit or rolling cart to help keep everything in its proper place. Remember to label any storage containers you use, so children will know where they can put props and accessories once they're done playing with them.
4. Provide a Variety of Sand and Water Play Sets and Accessories
Once you've picked out a sand and water table and sensory mat for your learning center, you should provide a variety of sand and water play sets and accessories to help enhance children's learning opportunities:
Suggested Sand and Water Play Sets and Accessories
Play Sets and Kits - Sand and water play sets and kits can help enhance learning and encourage open-ended sensory play in your sand and water center. Buckets, scoops, shovels, sifters, sand molds, and other tools help children experiment with sand and water and learn about natural science as they play.
Sand Accessories - Children can use their creativity to make fun sand figures when they have a great selection of sand toys to use while they play and learn. Encourage children to use sand wheels, molds, diggers, rollers, scoops, and shovels to create a variety of sand art.
Water Accessories - Children will love learning basic physics as they experiment with water. Floating toys, mini fishing poles, water drawing crayons, water pumps, scoops, and buckets will all add a little more excitement to your sand and water learning center.
Be sure to browse our Sand and Water section for more accessories and table ideas. Once you've completed these four steps, you'll have an engaging sand and water learning center that the children in your care will love.