Sand & Water Tables; A Beginner’s Guide

If I was to make a list of essential items for keeping smallies busy, a sand & water table would be pretty high on that list… probably right up there at no.2… just below TV!

When my eldest had just turned one, was up and walking and getting more high maintenance by the day, a fellow mammy recommended that we invest in a sand & water table. To this day it is one of the best things we ever bought.

From March -October every year since, it has been in full use almost every day, keeping 1 boy and then 2 boys busy, interested, and most importantly out from under my nose for anything up to an hour at a time. Anyone who already has children can appreciate how amazing a feat that actually is!

Unless it is absolutely lashing outside I would try to get them out to it for a while each day. Especially on days that I am working. Those few minutes of them being occupied outside the kitchen door is enough to allow me to get dinner prepped & started, and sometimes if I’m lucky, also get dinner finished without small cling-ons doing my head in.

Granted, they aren’t for everyone because they do require a bit of effort and a few deep breaths, but it is so worth it.

After more than 3 years of managing the sand & water table situation, I have put together a list of Do’s and Don’ts for each… I learned the hard way! So, if you are looking for something to keep smallies busy and out from under your feet for at least 15 minutes a time, then read on!


  • Do gather lots of accessories to put in the sand box; some of them come with mini plastic shovels, scoops etc, but adding your own will stretch the play; yogurt pots, containers of various sizes all work really well for filling, emptying, pouring, making mini-sandcastles etc
  • Do add some washable plastic toys already in the house; small animals, dinosaurs, vehicles etc are great for getting the childrens’ imagination fired up and really keeps them interested; covering, burying, digging out, hiding and finding these things are all really good fun activities for smallies.
  • Do spend some time playing with your child at the beginning. They need to learn how to use the bits & pieces and manipulate the sand to get the most out of it. And some children might not like the texture or feel of the sand to begin with so if you show them that you like it and that it’s fun they are more likely to get into it themselves.
  • Do save a few quid by buying builders sand from hardware shops. Play sand in toy shops is much more expensive and as far as I can see, builders sand is perfect and much much cheaper at about €6 for 20kg!

  • Don’t have the sandtable too close to the door… Give yourself a couple of feet for the sand to fall off as they traipse in and out of the kitchen 50 times while playing!
  • Don’t give them too much sand at one time… mainly because the real smallies; under 3’s; will happily fill and fill..and empty all over the ground no matter how many times you explain the concept of tipping INTO the box! So keep the sand level down, and keep plenty in reserve for top ups!
  • Don’t be afraid of the mess. No matter how hard you try, there will be sand in your house. Just let them play; sweep or hoover when they are finished and don’t let it annoy you too much. Just focus on those precious few minutes of peace you just had!


Water play is most definitely a step up from sand play… and it’s not for the faint hearted, or anyone who is trying to minimise laundry! But again the payoff is worth it. My two messers love water in any context. Water table, watering cans, puddles, tractor trailers left out overnight gathering rain, you name it, they will literally come and go from water for hours when they get the chance.

  • Do add bubbles to water play; washing up liquid, handwash, whatever is around. Bubbles make water play ten times more engaging.
  • Do set small rules; in my house they go along the lines of “No pouring water on your brother’s head” and “When that’s empty now you’re getting no more!”
  • Do add some bits & pieces to extend the play. Like with the sand play; small animals, vehicles, pots and containers are all easy and useful. Squirty bath toys are fun. But they always end in tears and shouting, in my experience at least.
  • Do leave water play for later in the day, unless you don’t mind changing clothes multiple times. If you let them have at the water in the run up to bath time or PJs time then at least it doesn’t feel too bad when you have to strip and change them anyways.
  • Don’t overfill the table to start with, otherwise the fun will be short lived as they will be soaked and moaning within 5 minutes! Go half way, and be willing to give a few refills!
  • Don’t expect waterproof suits to keep them 100% dry. These small humans are not to be underestimated, they will find a way to get soaked. The suits etc will minimise or at least delay the soaking, but it will still happen.
  • Don’t stress about the mess. Make it clear that if they need to come in they can call you and wait at the door where you can help strip them down or whatever needs be. And if they bring the Niagara Falls in with them then they can “help” you clean up afterwards. A quick run of a mop or good old fashioned tea towel on the end of a brush will have it under control in no time.
  • Don’t be afraid to join in. Sand and water play is fun for all ages, not only is it enjoyable for children but it is also a great learning opportunity for them on so many levels. And of course, having Mammy and Daddy join in the odd time makes it all the better!

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