We bought Hollie this Little Tikes Builders Bay Sand and Water Table for her fourth birthday last year, at the time it cost £145 but it has now reduced in price to around the £100 mark if you're prepared to shop around. For us it's been well worth the money as Hollie absolutely loves it; the table was played with on a daily basis throughout last summer and autumn, even over the winter during dry periods!
First things first. It comes in a huge and very heavy box - you really need two people to manoeuvre it successfully, mine was delivered by possibly the most useless courier ever and after realising he was going to leave it outside my front door (even though he could see I had a baby in my arms and the box was as tall as me!) I had to call my neighbour over to drag it into the house for me! Once you've got the table out of the box it's relatively easy to put together; the legs were EXTREMELY fiddly due to the fact that you need to screw in a completely inaccessible place, but overall it was a fairly straightforward job (for Mark) to get done.
Once erected it's a very sturdy table thanks to the chunky legs and also the fact that the table is very well balanced, especially when filled with sand! Initially we used it as it was intended, filling one half of the table with water and the other half with sand. Big disaster. Within minutes Hollie had slopped water all over the sand, and less than half an hour later both sections were filled with a sand/water sludge as the two were repeatedly mixed and stirred into a right mess. After letting her get a little dirtier (was this possible?) I set about the arduous task of scooping and scraping the sludge out ready for replacing, I decided halfway through this heavy and awkward job that I was never going to allow water and sand to mix again so I sent Mark off to Argos for a few extra bags of play sand to turn this into purely a sand table.
It takes four or five standard sized bags of play sand to fill both compartments, but in all honesty I'd rather the cost of extra sand than dealing with a Hollie-made mess! There are various play accessories included with the table including dumper trucks, mini traffic cones and various construction pieces to enable the playing kiddies to create bridges and gates to enhance their sand play activities. I must admit, most of these accessories are left at the side of the table when Hollie is playing as she has her own selection of sand toys - she plays with the trucks occasionally but has never shown much interest in making bridges for them to drive over, or indeed driving them through gates or lanes made of tiny cones.
The one attachment she does like is the large crane that is attached to the side of what is the designated sand half, it has a decent sized scoop attached and has been perfectly positioned so that the scoop won't drop sand outside of the table - this aspect works reasonably well, although when I look down at the piles of sand that litter the garden after Hollie has been playing I honestly wonder why I'm bothering... I thought she'd get bored of the crane quickly, but she loves to move it backwards and forwards and pull the little lever that drops the scoop and allows the sand to stream out.
Being a Little Tikes product, the table is made of their trademark thick chunky plastic with absolutely no sharp or hard edges where a child could injure themselves. The recommended minimum age is two years, which I think is about right - there's no way a younger child could reach the table well enough to play in the sand regardless of any safety concerns. It stands just under two feet high, the wide legs mean it's equally stable on grass or concrete - the kidney shape of the table is also handy as if you're pushed for space in the garden it'll fit nicely in a corner, just remember that when filled with 40kg of sand it's not exactly portable so choose your spot carefully as god help your back if you realise you have to move it!
The parasol which fits in the centre of the table is alright, it faded very quickly in last summers sun so is looking tatty now - I'm toying with the idea of replacing it, but what will probably happen is that I'll throw away this parasol when the sun shows it's face again and never get around to buying another. The table won't be made any worse for the parasol being missing; the reason for it being there is obviously to protect the children from the sun, but as Hollie always wears a hat outside in the summer (plus the all-important sun cream) this isn't really a big issue.
Each side of the table has its own separate fitted cover, both of which simply 'sit' on top of the table with no fiddling whatsoever. These are surprisingly good at keeping the weather at bay, the sand has remained dry during rain and neither of the covers have become dislodged even in the very high winds we had over the winter. The only thing I've noticed is that if it rains heavily the covers start sinking slightly in the middle, this doesn't hinder their effectiveness but allows grubby puddles of water to collect and this doesn't look nice at all! I give the table a clean with the hose occasionally, but it doesn't really get dirty at all - in fact, despite it's size, I'd say it's possibly the most low maintenance item in our garden!