Build a Sand and Water Table for Sensory Play

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell
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Ready to build sandcastles, photo by Sheryl Campbell

With a few dollars of lumber, a couple of tubs, and some simple tools you can make a sensory play table for the toddlers in your life. This is an easy enough project for even a work-away-from-home parent to do on a weekend or for grandparents to crank out en masse for all their young grandchildren.

When we found our lives full of young parents with toddlers my husband wanted to do something to delight the children. Our son’s favorite toy as a toddler had been the plastic sand and water table that occupied him for hours of play. But these are expensive.


Time to play in the water!, photo by Sheryl Campbell

After scouring the internet for DIY tables, my husband came up with the following pattern for the tables he’s now been giving to the toddlers in our lives. They can be made out of simple lumber or even scraps you have laying around, but pressure treated wood will make the table last longer out of doors. You’ll need the following:


  • 1 2x6x8 board
  • 1 2x4x8 board
  • Outdoor paint (marine paint is even longer lasting)
  • 28 wood screws
  • Power saw (a mitre or circular saw works best)
  • Tape measure and pencil for marking
  • Drill
  • A cement mixing tub (28x20x5.5 size) with lip
  • A sturdy rectangular plastic tub with lid (we use the Hefty 34 qt. tub)
  • Sandpaper
  • Bag of play sand


Upside down view of assembled table, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Cutting Directions

Measure your cement mixing tub carefully as they vary slightly in size which will affect how you cut your wood. Your goal is to put the wooden tub holder together so that the tub slips in easily but doesn’t slide around much. Use the cutting directions below as a guide and adjust based on your tub measurements.

  • Cut the 2×4 board into 4 pieces that are each approximately 18 ¾ inches long. Cut a 5th piece 20 inches long.
  • Cut the 2×6 board so that you have two 20-inch pieces and two 25.5-inch pieces

 Assembly Directions

You’ll be building your table upside down so that the legs point up.

  • From the 2×6 board cuts, lay out a rectangle with 25.5 inch long sides and 20 inch ends (the long boards will fit inside the short boards as shown in the picture)
  • From the short sides, run two screws into each end of the short boards to attach the long boards to the short ones
  • Lay the extra 20 inch board (the brace) across the middle from one long side to the other
  • Screw the brace on with two screws at each end
  • Attach each of the legs to the outside corners and screw each one onto the table using four screws


Time to paint the table, photo by Sheryl Campbell

Using sandpaper, sand the table to a smooth finish and dust it off. Carefully apply two coats of paint to all surfaces making sure to completely cover all the screw heads to protect against rusting. Allow the table to dry fully and you are ready to play.

Setting Up For Play

  • Set the cement tub inside the table so that it rests on the brace – this tub stays permanently in the table and can be filled with water, cooked spaghetti, or even foam pieces to allow your child hours of play
  • Fill the lidded tub half full of play sand – this tub can sit inside the cement tub so your child can build sandcastles or excavate
  • The sand tub (with the lid on it) sits perfectly under the table when the water tub is in use – the lid is tight enough to keep water out of the sand even when stored permanently outside

Studies show that children need sensory and tactile play to activate their learning processes. Here’s an easy way to give them hours of fun while increasing their ability to learn. These delightful brown tables now sit in yards and on decks at the homes of many of our young friends. Start now to build one to bring joy to a toddler in your life when the weather turns warmer.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth GardenerandGrit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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