Activity Tables For Versatile Fun And Learning

. 4/3/09

One of the most effective ways to provide a wide variety of activities in a daycare setting is to provide the children with an activity table. There are several types of activity tables, and choosing one that can be used with different materials will give you several creative options for entertaining children while they learn. It's important to remember that the most basic tables have the most potential for creative play and sensory experiences.

An activity table needs to be large enough for several children to play in at one time, should have a cover so the table can be "closed" during other activities, and be sturdy enough to not tip or spill if children attempt to climb on it. The activity table should also be deep enough to hold enough material for children to play in happily.

Once you have your activity table set up, deciding what materials to use in the table is fairly simple. Sand and water are two of the most common activity table fillers. Sand can be damp or dry, plain or colored. Provide toys for scooping and pouring the sand, or give the children small toys to play with such as trucks, animals, or seashells. Water can also be kept clear or tinted with food coloring. Children enjoy scooping and pouring water, but will also have fun "washing" play dishes or baby dolls.

You can even give the children sidewalk chalk or washable markers so they can color the water themselves. Add blocks of ice to the water on a hot summer day, with or without small toys frozen inside. All of these activities help children develop fine motor skills, learn pre-math concepts, and develop creative play.

Activity tables aren't limited to sand and water play. Dry rice makes a good activity table filler for scooping, pouring, and pretending to cook. So do dry beans, flour, corn meal, and confetti. Each of these materials provides the opportunity to talk about textures and colors while the children play. You can put several colors of play dough in the table along with cookie cutters, rollers, and stamps.

Another popular activity is to fill the table with a mixture of corn starch and water. When you squeeze the mixture in your hand, it feels solid, but then runs through your fingers like a liquid. Children never seem to tire of this fascinating substance!

Having an activity table in the classroom gives teachers a contained area for projects that may otherwise be very messy. Children can take a nature walk to collect leaves, sticks, pine cones, and flowers, then add them to the activity table along with magnifying glasses. The nature items can be studied and played with repeatedly without ending up on the floor.

The activity table can also be used for something most children aren't allowed to do--playing in the mud! Add a bag of potting soil to the table, give the children cups of water to pour onto the dirt, and let them make mud. They can use small dishes to make mud pies, or use toy trucks to turn the mud into a construction site.

The activity table allows teachers to let children explore and learn no matter the weather and with less chance of a big mess to clean up. As with any toy used by small children, an activity table will need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly. Water should be emptied each day and any toys used in the water should be sanitized.

Other materials can be kept in the table for several days at a time, but to keep the children interested the toys in the materials should be changed more often. The cornstarch and water mixture will last for two days. When sensory materials are removed from the table, the table should be sanitized before being filled again.

With a little effort every few days, an activity table is an excellent daycare resource providing a wide assortment of play and learning opportunities.


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