I see a lot of pins on Pinterest with sensory table ideas--there are tons of great ideas out there! But it can be difficult and expensive to switch out the filler very often (which is why I would often make smaller, special sensory trays to use in addition to the big table. That's for another post!)
In my classroom, I had three main fillers that I kept in the table for extended periods of time. These were tried and true materials that children can pour, scoop, pile and otherwise manipulate to their heart's content. They are food items, which is a sticky point for many, as children shouldn't be playing with food, and it's wasteful to use food as a toy. However, I stored my fillers in large cat litter tubs, and they kept for several years with no problem. Most of these can be bought in bulk at stores like Cosco, and asking each parent to bring in one bag or box of the filler to get you started is a great way to go about this, too.
First up: cornmeal. With grits added to cut down on the dust. I love how soft and quiet this is.
Next is my personal favorite: lentils and split peas. The feel of these is so soothing. They sometimes get stuck in a funnel--what a great problem solving moment!
Finally, rice. This is a common filler--some people even call their table the 'rice table' because that's all they've ever used in it!
I certainly supplemented with other fillers, but mainly I used these and rotated the tools instead. So easy to give the tools a dunk in a bucket of hot soapy water, and put in a new batch of tools for a new experience.
A tip for those times you do switch your fillers: put your storage tub in the middle of the table and use a large dustpan reserved for this purpose to scoop as much of the filler into the tub as you can. Then you only need to lift the mostly empty table to pour the last few bits into the tub.
Want more ideas of tools and fillers to use in your sensory table?
Share your favorite sensory table fillers in the comments below!