Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 6: Play Areas/Playgrounds and Transportation

6.2 Play Area/Playground Equipment

6.2.4 Specific Play Equipment Sensory Table Materials

All materials used in a sensory table should be nontoxic and should not be of a size or material that could cause choking. Sensory table activities should not be used with children under eighteen months of age. For toddlers, materials should be limited to water, sand and fixed plastic objects. All sensory table activities should be supervised for toddlers and preschool children. When water is used in a sensory table, the requirements of Standard, Water Play Tables should be met.
According to the federal government’s small parts standard on safe-size toys for children under three years of age, a prohibited small part is any object that fits completely into a specially designed test cylinder two and one-quarter inches long by one and one-quarter inches wide, which approximates the size of the fully expanded throat of a child under three-years-old. Since round objects are more likely to choke children because they can completely block a child’s airway, balls and toys with parts that are spheroid, ovoid, or elliptical with a diameter smaller than one and three-quarter inches should be banned for children under three years old (4,5); any part smaller than this is a potential choking hazard (5). Injury and fatality from aspiration of small parts is well-documented (4). Eliminating small parts from children’s environment will greatly reduce this risk.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), eating as few as four or five uncooked kidney beans can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition to their toxicity, raw kidney beans are small objects that could be inserted by a child into his nose or ear; beans can potentially get stuck, swell, and be difficult to remove (1). Styrofoam peanuts could cause choking. Flour could be aspirated and affect breathing; if spilled on the floor, flour could cause slipping. If soil is used, it must be free from chemicals such as fertilizer or pesticides.

Sensory table activities/materials are not developmentally appropriate for children under the age of eighteen months; the potential health and safety hazards outweigh the benefits for use with this age group. Supervision is required for toddlers and preschool-age children to ensure that they are using materials appropriately (2,3).

Sand used in sensory tables should be new “sterilized” natural sand that is labeled for use in children’s sandboxes or labeled as play sand. Water used in sensory tables must be potable and clean.

Children’s hands should be washed before and after using the sensory table. Children with open areas (cuts/sores) should not be allowed to use the sensory table.
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Situations that Require Hand Hygiene Cleaning and Sanitizing Toys Sandboxes Water Play Tables Inaccessibility of Toys or Objects to Children Under Three Years of Age
  1. California Childcare Health Program, University of California San Francisco School of Nursing. Health and safety tip. Child Care Health Connections 16:1.
  2. Harms, T., D. Cryer, R. M. Clifford. 2006. Infant/toddler environment rating scale. Rev ed. New York: Teachers College Press.
  3. Cryer, D., T. Harms, C. Riley. 2004. All about the ITERS-R. Lewisville, NC: Kaplan Early Learning.
  4. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 2004. CPSC warns parents about choking hazards to young children, announces new recall of toys posing choking hazards. Release #04-216.
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. 2010. Policy statement: Prevention of choking among children. Pediatrics 125:601-7.