How to: Animal Habitat Sensory Tables

How it all came about

I was first inspired to make some sensory tables after being allocated STEM classes for students as young as Year 1 and pre-primary! I knew straight away I needed to come up with some lesson ideas that would engage them, and let them use their hands – because let’s be honest, they don’t want to sit still listening to me! I did some Googling (and Pinterest-ing) and quickly came across a range of different sensory table ideas. And I fell in love with the idea of them instantly.

I set about brainstorming which sensory tables I could create, which would also tie in with the Australian curriculum that I was following. First up was Biology:

  • Pre-Primary (Foundation): Living things have basic needs, including food and water (ACSSU002)
  • Year 1: Living things have a variety of external features (ACSSU017), Living things live in different places where their needs are met (ACSSU211)

Ok, so I knew I was making animal-themed sensory tables! I have about 17-24 students across those classes so I also knew just one table wasn’t going to be enough. I found six strong, perfect-sized tubs in my Science Lab and decided these were perfect. Six animal themed habitat sensory tables it was!

Making the Tables

The six animal habitat sensory tables that I ended up with were: Beach, Desert (Safari), Farm, Garden Pond, Jungle and Under the Sea.

I purchased the different bits and bobs for these tables from places such as Red Dot, Kmart, Bunnings and also the local Op-Shop! This kept all the costs down, plus most of these items can be re-used for different activities afterwards. So really, it’s an investment!

Not gonna lie, it was a bit overwhelming getting started. Fortunately, my teacher friend volunteered to help me out. We started by laying out everything, and grouping items by possible habitat. The white-board was my go-to visual organiser, this was how we kept track of everything that needed to be done per table. After that, it was simply a matter of blasting the Spotify playlist and getting underway.

Tip: using the hot glue gun was a game changer! This gave me peace of mind that items such as the “fish food” (i.e. a little jar of glitter!) wasn’t going to end up everywhere. I simply plugged the jar with the cork and then sealed it with the glue.

Laying it all out!

Starting to organise items by animal habitat

Using the Tables


I’m not a naturally “arts and crafts” person, so to say I am proud of my efforts would be an understatement! In fact, I think it took about 3 weeks before I even let a student touch one of the tables!! I was so worried about them messing up each carefully placed creature. But so far so good – I started by making my expectations very clear about how they were to play with the tables (i.e. everything stay inside the tub) and to date * touch wood * nothing has been damaged! We were even able to add some water to the beach and underwater tables which the Year 1s just loved splashing the fish around it, and it didn’t damage the table set up at all.

Because of our ties to the Biology curriculum, we specifically looked at where each animal lived, and what they ate. Students rotated around the tables in groups and were given some “free exploration time” to engage with the tables. After this, I asked them to identify each animal in their tub and explore what they might eat. This worked particularly well for tables like the Safari table, where there was a tall tree and a giraffe figurine! As well as the Garden Pond where there were frog and fly figurines. Depending on the amount of time we had, we either had a discussion as a class or small groups about what we found or students drew out on a template one animal, what it ate and where it lived. In Year 1 we also did an activity following the tubs where students received stickers of the animals from one of the tubs and had to draw their habitat around the stickers. We sometimes used pictures books about animals as a hook before the tubs, and then students tried to find those animals in the tubs afterwards.

Overall, a lot of fun!!! I could play with sensory tables every day I think 😉

Beach Sensory Table_In-Action

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About Kim Maslin

Kim is a passionate educator empowering others to feel confident using technology. She has spent the last 10 years teaching students aged 5 to 85! Kim is the author of The Tweeting Galah cybersafety series.