Sand and water tables provide a contained space for some great sensory experiences for children. Whether you are looking for a solo sand or water table or a combination of the two, I will guide you through what to look for, quality standards, and great features so you can find the best sand and water table for your children.
My top picks for each category can be found below. Or use the Table of Contents to jump to the section you are interested in to learn more.
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Sensory tables provide an opportunity for children to explore and discover using their senses. In addition, it provides the ability to work on fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination and grasping. Other skills developed include cause and effect, filling and pouring, early math and science concepts, and imaginative play.
While sand and water are the most common mediums for these vessels, they could alternatively be filled with other fun things like beans, rice, and Orbeez. Many tables, especially those intended for water, are made to be outside. However, they can be used indoors for year-round play when using the larger sensory materials.
Little Tikes and Step 2 are the most popular and trustworthy brands when it comes to sand and water tables. They both have a wide variety of options to choose from to suit your budget and child’s interests.
The thick and sturdy plastic of these brands ensure it will hold up through weather and play and last for years. Many other brands often found on Amazon use a thinner, more brittle plastic that can break into shards, leaving sharp edges that can cause injury.
When it comes to the features of sand and water tables, there are many things to consider. Often times, essential things can get overlooked while shopping. Since this generally isn’t a product that is displayed outside of its box, one really has to know what they are looking for or rely on the experience of others. Luckily, I have personal involvement with several styles to help you navigate the features that are potentially important to you.
Consider the space you plan to place the table. If it is in a sunny location, you may want to opt for a table with an umbrella. Some include an umbrella with the table, while others may only have a hole for one to be purchased separately. Not all tables do, though, so be sure to look for that feature if this is something you would like.
When looking at water tables especially, you will need to be sure it has a drain plug. This will allow the water to be emptied easily so the table doesn’t become a scummy, bacteria ridden mess. That is not the science we want our little ones exploring!
Sand tables tend not to include drain plugs, but combo tables should have at least one.
Sand tables or combo tables should have a cover. This prevents critters from using it as a litter box or food storage. It can also keep the sand dry when it rains or snows, so it is always ready for play.
Most sand and water tables will come with at least a few accessories. Some of the standard tools include shovels, rakes, sifters, and cups. These get you started so you can play right out of the box. Other tables may include characters, water wheels, slides, and more! Lower cost tables tend to include less accessories, but you will end up spending more to add to it, so keep that in mind.
This is one of those areas that I think gets overlooked, even by developers.
Some tables have a lot going on within it like roads or molded rock features. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for digging or scooping or even for the material intended to be placed inside. This can be the case for a lot of sand and water tables in an effort to combine both experiences and jam it with extras.
When choosing a table, take into account the amount of children that will be using it. One child may be fine with a combo table with less area for scooping, but the more children there are, the more space you will need.
Integrated suggestive play
I consider this a bonus feature, as not many tables are doing this yet.
Integrated suggestive play means there is something molded or included in the table that makes it have an extended way to play beyond traditional sand and water. For example, the Dino Dig Table by Step 2 has molded dinosaur foot prints on the base of the bins as well as rocky cliffs. This allows children to have their own archeological dig, discover a set of dino fossils, and have some prehistoric pretend play.
Providing this extra touch can inspire children to think in a fluid way and expand their imagination.
The Best Sand and Water Tables
A sand table or box by itself is a staple for young children. From feeling its coolness run through your fingers to making castles or cakes, sand is a great imaginative sensory medium. Have a look at my top pick as well as some others that I think you will love!
Naturally Playful Sand Table by Step 2
This table is a wide open vessel with enough space for multiple children to play. A lid keeps out rain, leaves, and animals and the colors are neutral enough to blend in. Don’t just think sand, this would be a great sensory table indoors for daycares and classrooms too!
- Large, open space for all sorts of sand play
- Lid with bungee loops for securing
- Neutral colors
- Includes accessories, including digging claws
- Legs keep it off the ground
Other Great Sand Options
Crabbie Sand Table by Step 2
- Smaller size takes up less space
- Perfect for one or two children
- Cover to keep sand clean
Big Digger Sandbox by Little Tikes
- Attached digger for scooping
- Includes a dump truck, characters, and accessories
- Lid can be used during play
- Built in tool holders
Naturally Playful Sandbox II by Step 2
- Large open play area
- Smaller children can sit inside
- Lid keeps out critters and debris
- Comes with graduated cups, castle mold, and 3 tools
Water tables provide a fun way to cool off in the warmer months without all the work of setting up a pool. There are many more options with these tables due to the various ways you can play with water and different water themes. It was hard to choose a top pick, but luckily I eliminated ones with known issues. All you have to do is decide which style you like best!
They do require a bit of maintenance as opposed to their sand counterparts. Be sure to empty the vessels after use to prevent mold and algae growth. Most tables and accessories can be cleaned easily with a disinfecting wipe and allowed to air dry.
Always supervise any sort of water play for safety.
Waterfall Island by Little Tikes
New this year, this water table by Little Tikes features an upper level to allow water to rain down like a tropical waterfall. It comes with three little sea friends to send down the slide or swim around under the spinning palm trees as children pour water over them. Children can also crank the wheel to make their own waves which can generate some great scientific questioning!
- Upper level pour center, waterfall, and slide entrance
- Hand crank water wheel to make waves
- Palm trees spin when water is poured over them
- Comes with 3 sea friends, water cup, and treasure chest to hide
Other Great Water Options
Rain Showers (Splash Pond or Unicorn) by Step 2
- Upper level pour center, rainfall curtain, water maze entrance
- Moveable fish launcher and water wheel
- Hole for umbrella (sold separately)
- Comes with 13 accessories
Spill & Splash Seaway by Step 2
- Two lower levels of play, launcher, spinner, and diving board
- Fill top to overflow into the bottom basin
- Comes with an umbrella and 11 accessories – including 2 characters
- No drain plug, but bins are relatively easy to dump
Easy Store Water Table by little Tikes
- Three levels of play including an upper rain shower
- Comes with two scoops, a funneled water wheel, and pour bucket that snap into the table
- Folds up flat for easy storage when not in use
- Lots of open play space for multiple children
Smaller Themed Water Options
Best Sand/Water Combo
A sand and water combination table provides two separate areas for both sand and water play. This not only saves space and money, but also provides an opportunity to mix mediums for a new experience. Children can easily go from water play to sand or vice versa and use wet sand to build structures similar to going to the beach. Some combo tables have half covers if you prefer the two not to mix.
Be sure to empty and clean the water side after each use to prevent mold and algae growth. If wetting the sand, allow it to fully dry out in the sun before covering if possible.
Always supervise water play.
Cascading Cove by Step 2
We personally own this one in the blue, but it is also available in a natural theme green. I love this for my two kids because it provides plenty of space in both the sand and water vessels, with a built in road that travels throughout either side. Bridges allow cars to pass and included boats to float under. While it doesn’t comes with any cars, we love to use the ones from the Spark Create Imagine Vehicle Playset found at Walmart. The lid also has a track on it for additional play. This also comes with an umbrella.
- Large space for sand and water – great for multiple children
- Drain plug on both sides for double water play
- Built in road to travel over water and sand for built in extended play
- Full lid to cover both sides with molded in track
- Comes with boats, bridges, hand tools and cups
- Easily adjustable umbrella
Other Great Combo Options
Dino Dig by Step 2
- Awesome for dinosaur lovers!
- Lidded sand side doubles as a cliffside for dino play
- Molded in dinosaur fossils for built in extended play
- Hole for umbrella (sold separately)
- Comes with 4 dinosaurs, 2 cups, and digging tool
3-in-1 Sand/Water Picnic Table by Best Choice
- Great option for older children or as a grow-with-me table
- Picnic table opens to reveal bins for sand, water, or any sensory medium
- Seating for play and umbrella for shade
- Cover bins for eating or activity area
Fiesta Cruise by Step 2
- Cruise ship themed with tourists and staff play characters
- Water slides and interactive sand lid provide fun for the people on board
- Umbrella included
Splash ‘n’ Scoop by Step 2
- Similar to our first table we owned
- Sand lid can be used as an extension of water play with a funneled water slide
- Funnel tower can also be placed on the water side
- Comes with a cup, a scoop, and one tool
- Hole for umbrella (sold separately)
If you just want a good value and aren’t particular about style or features, check your local Costco or Aldi.
For the 2022 season, Costco has the Double Showers Splash Water Table by Step 2 available in store. Similar to the Rain Showers Splash Pond, the Costco version always has extra fun made especially for them. The water slides are much more interesting as they wrap around the pillar and it comes with many more accessories.
Online, Costco also has the Rushing Rapids water table by Step 2. This one has a smaller footprint, but still two levels of fun and tons of cool accessories!
Aldi has yet to release their table for the year, but you will have to be quick on that deal as they are usually only around for a week. Check your weekly ad within the months of May and June for availability.
Which one will you choose? Leave a comment below!
And don’t forget to have fun this summer with your awesome sand and/or water table!