DIY Sand & Water Table

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Recently John & I attended a workshop for parents that was all about how to encourage children to play. And by “play” they meant things like learning how to create, act, role play, discover, experience, & dream, often with natural elements (like dirt, rocks, sand, water, etc.). Like really playing. Think back to when you were a child—what was your favorite thing to keep you occupied? I will always have fond memories of building forts with my brother or playing outside in our swampy ditches that surrounded our house. Our mom had to practically beg us to come inside at the end of the night because we were out playing from sun up to sun down, creating scenarios & building creations that helped us become the people we are today

The workshop that John & I attended encouraged us to think about what we enjoyed playing with as children, to introduce those things to our kids, & to help engage them in their jobs as little human beings: as little people who play well.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Chances are, you didn’t grow up “playing” on your computer every night or watching movies for hours on end (unless you were born in 1990 or something crazy like that). When I was a young kid, most people only had 1 television & it was in their living room & reserved strictly for Friday night movies or Sunday night TV specials. It wasn’t something that kids experienced whenever they wanted & it certainly wasn’t something they experienced by themselves. Although the workshop wasn’t pitching an “anti-media” campaign, the instructor did raise a question of how our children play today & it really stayed with us.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Although Ruby is quite the creative little gal, she would almost always choose to watch a movie than do just about anything else & this saddens my mama heart. Although I’m not anti-movies by any means, I still think that they should be treats & like any other treat, if it’s in moderation, then great.

There are many times when I find myself saying, “go find something to play with!” especially when there’s something that I need to get done during the day. And although we are very choosy about what kinds of toys we keep in our tiny home, Ruby still has a mountain of toys that often go un-used. The instructor not only challenged us to sort through & organize our children’s toys so that we get rid of the one dimensional toys (the ones they immediately lose interest in because they only serve one purpose) & so that they can play well (i.e. not having all of your kids’ toys in one huge bin so they have to dump out everything to find that one precious toy), but also to attempt to entice our kids to play.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

She talked about setting up little scenes after the children are in bed so that when they wake up, they will be encouraged to play. Although this isn’t something I’ve done a ton yet, the few times I have, it’s been so incredible to stand back & watch what happens. One morning, I set up all of Ruby’s toy automobiles on the fireplace. It was nothing fancy or time-consuming… I just sort of set a scenario. No kidding—the next morning she played with those trucks & planes & cars for over an hour & it was so satisfying to hear all of the creativity that was coming out of her in those moments. I’ve also got more in the habit of setting out her color crayons, paper, scissors, & a few odds & ends like some newspaper, toilet paper rolls, & glue, & let her get messy & create. Her imagination really shines through in moments like these. I think it’s our kids jobs to play, but as parents, it’s our job to help make that happen by allowing it & encouraging it to take place.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Creating an environment to play is where this sand & water table was born. Just about every kid I know loves sand & water, so it seemed natural to invest in this kind of fun experience that will not only encourage Ruby to be outside, but also to use her imagination. I don’t know what it is about sand & water, but it’s completely therapeutic, & I’ve already found how just having her play with it for a few moments brings a kind of peace & calm over her that is incredibly beautiful to watch.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Besides offering Ruby this incredible table, John went one step further & had Ruby help create it (in the ways that she could). She was absolutely giddy about helping cement the rocks into the concrete, as she was about painting the table, or filling it with sand. Now it’s something that she can own & be proud of, as well as entertain her friends, use her imagination, & really play.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Even though it took a lot more time to make this table, I’m so appreciative that John allowed Ruby to help. I still struggle with having her help me in the kitchen sometimes because it’s always so much more messy, takes twice as long, & can often lead to me getting frustrated. But I think these are the kinds of experiences that Ruby will really savor as she gets older—most likely she will not remember all the hours she spent plopped on the couch, watching Despicable Me 2, but she will remember all of the summers where she, & her friends & her brother or sister built sand turtles or sailed stick ships or whatever creative thing they come up with, partly due to this sand & water table.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

John designed this table so that Ruby can work it herself. She can turn the water on & off with the little red knob shown in the above picture. The water flows out of this facet that we picked up from our local Re-Store. She enjoys being able to put just the right amount of water in the table & if for some reason, there’s too much, she can empty it with the drain that John installed.

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

Check out this video, showing how easy it is to turn the water on & off & how sassy my daughter is :) The one below it shows how we empty the water side when it’s not in use (we don’t like to keep water in it all the time).


DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

John also drilled a few additional holes in the side so that if the table were to be filled too much, the water wouldn’t overflow into the sand side, but through these holes out onto the ground.

How do you like to entice your child(ren) to play? Please comment below!

How to build this sand & water table:

  1. First decide how large you want to make your table. We used scrap wood we had in our garage, so we were confined to a 2’ deep by 5’ long by 1’ tall table (each half is about 2’ x 2.5’).  We’ll use the size we made for a template. First, cut a ½” to ¾” piece of plywood down to a 2’ wide by 4’ 10.5” long piece. This will be the ‘floor’ of your table. Make sure your plywood isn’t warped or your table will be.
  2. I had some 4”x 4”x 1’ pieces lying around from when I built our fence, so we used these as legs. Depending on the size of your table, you could probably get away with two 2”x 4”x 1’ pieces forming an ‘L’ shape for each leg. Also, we used 1’ legs because that’s what we had, but you could use taller legs if your kids are older or taller. Secure the legs to the table floor at each of the four corners & at half the length using screws (I used 3” screws). You should now have a plywood table with 6 table legs attached.
  3. To form the walls of the table I used some 1”x 10” pine boards. Cut two 5’ lengths & three 2’ lengths.
  4. I decided to make our table 6” deep. Attach the 5-foot & two of the 2-foot 1”x 10” pieces to the table so that 4 inches of the boards extended below the ‘floor’ & screw these into the table legs using 3” screws. Then take some 1” finishing screws & secure the walls of the table to the plywood as well. You should now have most of the table formed, with the legs & outside walls attached to the plywood floor.
  5. Next, take the last 2-foot 1”x 10” piece & cut 4” off length-wise (leaving you with a 2-foot 1”x 6” piece (you could always just buy a 1”x6” piece as well). This is your center divider. Secure this at the center of your table with wood glue & finishing screws to divide the table into the sand & water portions. If you used ¾” plywood you can probably skip this step.
  6. To keep the water table side from flexing if you move the table around your yard, you’ll want to reinforce the floor on the water half. I had some concrete backer board & cut a 2’ x 2.5’ piece & screwed it to the plywood floor on the water side.
  7. Sand everything down. At this point I also drilled a few ¼” holes in the floor of the sand table side so that if (when) any water gets in that side, it can drain out.
  8. My cuts were not perfect, so I also filled in any gaps I could see with wood filler &/or wood glue & let it dry.
  9. We also had some river rocks & thinset mortar in our garage, so we decided to “tile” the rocks to the floor of the water side of the table. We also bought a used bathroom sink drain from our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. This will let you drain the water away instead of having to tip the table or something.
  10. Drill a hole for the drain & attach it. I cut a couple small pieces of the concrete backer board to use as spacers to make the drain about ½” higher than the floor of the table to make room for the mortar.
  11. To let the water drain, mark lines on the inside of the walls on the water table side about 1” to 1½” above the floor. You’ll be laying your mortar & shaping it to meet these lines & sloping down to the drain, which should be ¼” to ½” above the table floor.
  12. Mix your mortar according to the instructions on the bag. I used a little less water than the instructions asked for, so that it’d be thick enough to not move around too much.
  13. Lay the mortar & shape it to your lines & the drain so the mortar slopes from the walls to the drain.
  14. We took a bunch of river rocks & pushed them into the mortar. The mortar will need some reshaping as the rocks push the mortar around. You’ll want to work fast if you’re doing this outside & in the sun so that the mortar doesn’t dry up before you are finished.
  15. Let the mortar cure for at least 24 hrs.
  16. Now paint the whole table. Ours needed two coats without a primer.
  17. Next, caulk the water table side at all the wall seams & where the mortar meets the walls with clear silicone caulk.
  18. Once the caulk is dry, your table is now ready for sand and water!

I found a sweet old movable shower fixture at the ReStore, so I bought a cheap ball valve that’s intended for a boiler overflow valve, a female-female garden hose adapter, a 2” threaded galvanized steel pipe, & a 1-2’ flexible sink hose. I rigged these up so that the hose could attach to the valve & the water would flow through the shower fixture in to the water table. It definitely wasn’t necessary, but it’s fun to see Ruby work the valve & control the water herself.

I also drilled some overflow holes near the top of the wall on the water side. If the whole table was full, the water would probably overwhelm those 4 little holes, but it lets Ruby know that the table is getting too full if water starts coming out of those holes.

If you’re interested in building a table similar to this & have any questions, please let us know!

DIY Sand & Water Table // The Haas Machine

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Gillian Haas

The Haas Machine is a blog focused on creating simple DIY projects & recipes.
Posted in Kid projects, Life with a gem.

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