My toddler now enjoys the sensory box for about five minutes at a time, but as my older son grew he started enjoying it for up to thirty minutes in one sitting. This would allow me to get the dishes done or cook a dinner.
We started the sensory box with noodles. I took one afternoon and dyed some of the noodles just for fun.
Then we added rice to the sensory box. My oldest son really liked driving his cars through the rice and making mountains for his construction workers.
We've also tried soapy water. This is fun to pour from container to container or drive boats around. I also poke holes in the bottom of some of the containers so the water leaks through.
Some other sensory items we've tried at playgroups are oatmeal, beans, play dough, and a cornstarch/water mixture.
For easy cleanup, I always put an old towel under the box. When playtime is over, I simply shake the towel in the box, and then sweep the floor. I store everything we use in plastic bags inside the box.
What kind of things have you used in a sensory table/box?