This is the third post in a 3-part series on early learning activities. See Part 1: Reading for three pre-reading activities and my thoughts on how to use these learning games. See Part 2: Math for two hands-on math activities great for kids ages 2-4.
Spring has finally arrived in Wisconsin. I actually whispered that because I fear if I speak too loudly snow will return and I’ll have to, once again, haul out the mittens and stocking caps. I’m giddy with excitement as I start planning summer fun for the boys and me. Mission #1: find a sand/water table for Jax.
Seven years ago I bought a water table at Toys R Us. It was too small, wobbly and just an overall disappointment. This time around I knew exactly what I wanted, but wasn’t willing to fork over the money necessary to purchase one commercially made. An overview of the internet DIY offerings revealed several options, but none that were exactly what we were looking for. We then combined the aspects of the ones we liked best and came up with this version.
I preferred a table with two bins because I wanted Jax to be able to play with sand and water at the same time. I also wanted the flexibility of using it as an outdoor sensory table – adding whatever tactile-friendly elements to the bins I wanted. Finally, we needed it to be super easy to build — requiring a low-level of handiness. While my husband and I can install tile floors, plumb your new bathroom or paint up a storm, woodworking isn’t our forte. Thus, we opted for a PVC frame versus wood. Here’s how we did it:
The supplies required are minimal. We purchased all of them at our local big-box home improvement store: Menards. The total bill for our supplies was $49.88. I didn’t compare prices at Lowes or Home Depot, so you may get them cheaper elsewhere. We used a circular saw to make our cuts, but a hack saw will work just fine. Here’s what we paid per piece:
- Bins: $5.97 x2
- PVC Pipe: $2.72 x6
- 90° Street Elbows: $1.79 x8
- PVC Tee: $.73 x 10
I chose bins with lids because I like the option of covering the sand/water (or whatever I have in them) when we weren’t using it. If you opt for different sized bins, your measurements for your cuts will be different than ours — just make your cuts to fit your bins’ length and width. We chose Bella brand bins (because that’s what Menards had), which measure 24″x16.56″x5.88″.
While these are the cut measurements for our table, we recommend putting your table together as you go and making your cuts one at a time. This way you can adjust your measurements if necessary. When measuring and cutting, remember to account for the fact that you will be inserting your pipe into a fitting (either a elbow or tee). The overlap — or the number of inches your pipe will go into the fitting — is 1.25 inches. So, if the length you need to account for is 24 inches, you need to cut your PVC pipe 24 + (1.25 x 2) inches to account for the fact that your pipe will overlap into the fitting 1.25 inches on each side.
Step 1: Build the top frame. If you are using bins the size of ours, cut a “short base”, fit it into an elbow fitting on either end, add a tee fitting to each elbow fitting, and make sure your bin will sit securely on your partially-built frame. Use a rubber mallet to ensure that the pipes slide completely into the fittings. Then proceed to cut two “short top” pieces, fit them into the tee fittings on one end, then add another tee fitting to the other ends. Again, make sure your bin continues to fit. Now cut another “short base” for your middle support, and insert it into both tee fittings. You should now have the correct sized opening for one bin. Continue to cut PVC pipes and add fittings in this manner to support your second bin.
Step 2: Add the table legs. Turn your frame upside down (so the openings in your tee fittings face up). Cut four vertical posts. Insert these into the tee opening at each of the four corners of the top frame.
Step 3. Build the bottom frame. Keep your table “upside down”. Add a tee fitting on each of the four vertical posts (table legs). Then add an elbow fitting to the outermost tee opening (to crease the corners of your base). To build one of the two the short sides of your base, cut a “short base” and insert it into the corresponding elbow. Working your way around the base, cut a “long base” and insert it into the corresponding tee openings. Then cut and install your final “short base,” followed by the final “long base”.
Step 4. Make final adjustments. Ensure all your pipes and fittings are tight and secure, then flip your table right-side up. Insert the two bins, and take a step back and ensure all your angles are at 90° and your table legs are straight. Make any necessary adjustments, which may include dis-assembling some table lengths and making minor cutting adjustments.
We chose not to glue our pipes into our fittings because our table is very sturdy (I could even sit on it). Because we have limited storage space, I like being able to take the table apart at the end of summer for storing over the winter months. But you could certainly glue it together if you wanted. The perfectionist in me wants to spray paint the frame, but I’m resisting. While using a paint like Krylon Fusion for Plastic will probably work, I’ve decided that I could better use the time I’d spend painting raking the snow mold off my grass.
We test drove this table the day after it was completed. Jax and his sweet friend, June, had a blast. It is the perfect height for these
almost 18-month olds. The two of them played comfortably around the edges, and I estimate we could have six toddlers playing around the table at one time. I predict we are going to get lots of mileage out of this project!
UPDATE: So we’ve been using our sand/water table for a few weeks now and have discovered a flaw. One day, the water bin fell through its hole and broke. As a solution, we simply bought strapping at our local big box store (we chose a $10 pack of two narrow straps with “claws” that ensured they would stay secure) that would sit under each bin to provide extra support. We wrapped each strap around the top PVC pipe that supports the long side of the bin, strung the strap so it sits under the bin, wrapped it around the center PVC, strung it under the second bin, then wrapped it around the other PVC pipe that supports the long side of the second bin. Then we secured the strap into it’s “claw” underneath the bins. We repeated this same process with the second strap and positioned them parallel from each other near the top and bottom of each bin. Now both bins are supported by the two straps. So far, this solution has solved our problem.
** UPDATE 1 year later: I continue to be thrilled with our DIY table! We use it for sensory bins in the winter, and are now pulling it on our back deck for its second summer. We did end up using PVC cement to glue the pipes into their fittings. We found that the weight of heavy sensory bins (like rocks) were much better supported when the table was glued together. To see our spring and Easter sensory bins ideas, check out this post: Easter | Spring Sensory Bins.