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water table easy fun cheap inexpensive diy

How to Make a Water Table

(That Doesn’t Cost $75)

If you’ve ever looked into buying a water table for your child, you know prices can get steep. When planning Genny’s The Little Mermaid themed birthday party, we wanted a water element. I was shocked at how much people were willing to put down for a table…of water! Activate brainstorming powers!


What is a Water Table?

From Toys R Us to Amazon, every major toy manufacturer has their own version of this simple toy. Prices range from the $30’s to the $70’s and higher, and the number of moving pieces varies depending on how many parts you want to keep track of.

Basically, the concept is to have a surface able to contain water for children to play in without getting soaked. Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so the not getting soaked part is not a guarantee. Many water tables for kids are interactive, able to shoot or drip water, but others are stationary. Some are colorful, some play music… The options go on and on.

That’s why my simple-loving self decided there must be an easier, cheaper way. Before I explain my stupid-easy hack, you should know about sensory play.

What is Sensory Play?

When a baby is born, his understanding of the world is limited by his senses: what he can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear. For about the first five years, children learn everything based upon these five senses. The more a child is about to explore these senses, the more he is able to understand the world around him. When a child feels secure in his world, he is able to explore further, learning more as he goes.

Sensory play combines natural curiosity with the most basic form of learning. By interacting with the texture of water, scooping and pouring it with cups, splashing it with her hands, and feeling the sensation of the wetness on her clothes, your child is learning. Cause and effect, object permanence, physics, gravity, and volume are just a few concepts your child is learning about when you see these behaviors.

See more developmental milestones in my FREE milestone checklist for ages 0 - 18 months old!

diy water table for under 15 dollars

Why kids need to play

“Play is the purest, most spiritual activity of man at this state, and, at the same time, typical of human life as a whole – of the inner hidden natural life in man and all things. It gives joy, freedom, contentment, and inner and outer rest, peace with the world.” – Fredrich Froebel, childhood developmental theorist

Play is the more natural form of learning! Driven by curiosity (internal motivation), kids pursue things that interest them. When a child of any age is interested in something, she will learn as much as possible about that thing. Any parent can attest to this truth! Even babies as young as 3 months old exhibit preferences in toys, sounds, and sights (for Genny it was, and still is, ceiling fans). This is why education is moving more and more into the direction of child-centered learning.

How we did it

We went to our nearest hardware store, probably Lowes or Ace Hardware, and bought a shallow storage container. With the lid, we could easily store the water table items. Add a few seashells from Hobby Lobby, some The Little Mermaid plastic toys, and we had ourselves a water table!

diy water table for under 15 dollars with sensory play

What you’ll need:

  • 1 10-gallon plastic storage container, rectangle, with lid (We got ours at Lowes for $9)
  • Cups
  • Plastic toys
  • Water! (required)
  • Seashells (optional – I purchased a bag of seashells from Hobby Lobby for $4, and my little one likes the texture of the seashells. She also likes to scoop water in them and watch it pour)
  • Small rocks (optional)
  • Anything else you’d like to add!

Viola! You have your “water table”, or water box!

Just pour in the water, using as much as you would like your child to get wet! Your little one will have a blast pouring, splashing, and swirling during this fantastic developmental sensory play!

When you’re done using it, pour out the water, dry off the toys, and snap on the lid for easy storage and quick access for next time.

Why should you opt for this diy version?

This can cost you less than $15, depending on what types of toys you’d like to use. That’s anywhere from $30-50 of savings just by creating a simplified version of a popular toy! My 17-month old loves the novelty of getting wet, even if it’s only a couple splashes. You will love watching the focused expressions on your child’s face as she explores with her hands and delightfully shares her discoveries with you!

What toys do your little ones like to play with? Share with me by commenting below!

Love, Emily XOXO

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Krista says:

    I love this idea! We can do this for a DIY sandbox as well!

    • emmywy says:

      That’s actually my next DIY post!! We did it with a more heavy-duty container, some Hobby Lobby seashells, and some kiddie shovels. It’s great for teaching processes skills, like burying items: first dig a hole, then place the seashell, then bury it. As well as object permanence: “Where is the seashell now? Let’s unbury it!” Stay tuned for upcoming posts!

  • Brittany says:

    Great idea! My son is only a few months old and I am already introducing him to different sensory activities. I will add this to my list of go-to play ideas. As a recreational therapist, I am a fan of sensory based play and activities. I am going to consider adapting your idea for dementia care too.

    • emmywy says:

      That’s a great idea, Brittany! Thanks for the feedback! I have some other developmental activities in the works as well. Would you be interested in a collab?

  • This is such a great idea! And it would be great for people with apartments or small patio spaces too!

    • emmywy says:

      Yes! We have a small back patio, and it’s super easy to just pull it out into the sunshine on a nice day or under the awning during a rainy one. 🙂

  • Tara says:

    I love this idea!! I have a 14 month old and am always looking for ideas about what to do to entertain him. This would surely provide lots of fun once it gets a bit warmer.

  • Melanie says:

    It is always preferable to do fun things while also saving money, and making it educational! Thank you for the super idea.

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