Water play and other types of sensory play are great for toddlers — what 3-year-old doesn’t love splashing around with buckets and plastic toys? Offering hours of rich, valuable experiences, these activities can help cultivate creativity and imagination. They’re also shown to provide a range of benefits that aid in physical and social development.
What is water play for toddlers?
Water play involves (duh) water and includes toys like buckets or containers — anything that allows kids to splash, carry, pour, and submerge.
Early-learning settings usually incorporate a water table or large tub that’s safe for children to stand in. Kids, in turn, participate in a social experience as they splash around, having a ball.
The Benefits of Sensory Play Activities for Kids
There’s no better time to try water play than summer — it’s a great way to get children outside and keep them active.
When toddlers engage in sensory play, there’s a lot more happening than meets the eye. These activities encourage children to explore the world through the “scientific method,” which involves forming hypotheses, experimentation, and drawing conclusions.
1. Helps Develop Motor Skills
Water play and other sensory activities like sandboxes help children develop fine and gross motor skills across a range of ages. Hand-eye coordination improves through pouring, squirting, stirring, and squeezing.
Water play also introduces different temperatures and textures, and helps with gripping, a critical skill that will eventually be used to hold utensils at mealtimes and pencils at school.
2. Exercises Their Problem-Solving Skills
Water play allows children to explore a different substance — water — and make new discoveries about it. They’ll see firsthand whether things sink or float, and question why or why not it’s happening — one of the best ways out there to spark imagination and creativity.
3. Aids in Language Development
Water play opens new avenues for conversations; you can chat with your toddler about what they’re doing, feeling, and seeing. They’ll pick up a wide variety of new words, including “bucket,” “splash,” and “drip.” At preschool, teachers are trained to ask questions to encourage children to think and offer the chance to recall things from memory.
4. Engaging in Social-Emotional Growth
Water play can improve a toddler’s ability to focus on one activity by encouraging repetitive motions like scooping and pouring. The gentle, soothing cadence can help put children’s minds at ease.
Sensory play also inspires role play and crucial social skills like sharing and cooperation. Toddlers will learn to work with their peers, take turns and share the space and toys.
5. Building Blocks for Science and Mathematics Learning
Water play helps build a basic understanding of mathematics and science. Children will learn terms like “full,” “empty,” “half,” and “less.” Volume can be measured and motion can be observed — concepts that will help in preschool and offer a head-start for kindergarten.
Top 15 Water Play Activities for Toddlers
Try these sensory, water-based play ideas at home:
1. Ocean Sensory Table Play
Using nets and toy sea creatures, create a simple sensory bin for your child to explore. Toddlers love scooping out the animals, grasping them with their hands ,and making them swim. Be sure to ask questions: Which animal is their favorite? What color are they? Which is the biggest?
2. Nature Soup
Spruce up your water table with rocks, sticks, grass, leaves, and dirt. Include bowls, scoops, and other tools, and let your toddler experiment.
3. Foam Bubble Activities
Foam is easy to make at home: Just combine dish soap and water in a blender. To take it up another notch, incorporate food coloring.
4. Paint With Water
Fill some buckets or paint trays with water, then grab some paint brushes (or paint rollers) and let the kids go to town on the sidewalk. After all, they love playing with “grown up tools,” and paint rollers can help cultivate gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
5. Water Balloons
Water balloons, which can be thrown, squished, and squeezed, are another great sensory activity for toddlers. Use regular balloons, which don’t break as easily, or go for the more fragile water balloons.
6. Wash the Dishes
Grab a few toy or plastic dishes, soap, water, and sponges and let your toddler practice “cleaning up.” (With any luck, they’ll learn to love it.)
7. Feed the Ducks
Grab some rubber duckies, water, wine corks (for pretend food), and slotted spoons. Then throw the ducks into the water bin and show your children how to “feed” them by tossing in the corks.
8. Sink and Float Experiments
This is a great beginner science experiment that teaches toddlers about object density and buoyancy: Fill a bin with water, then add toys or common objects. Observe what sinks and floats.
9. DIY Water Slide
Make a homemade slide from a camping tarp, the garden hose, and a bottle of inexpensive soap: Spread out the tarp, set your hose to a fine mist, and prop it up so it provides continuous water. Then drizzle the soap over the tarp to make it slippery.
10. Fish Sensory Bin
Grab some colorful toy fish, bowls, and nets then have your toddler scoop up the fish and place them into the bowls.
11. Lemon Water Play
Introduce into your water bin some lemon and lime slices, along with tools like scoops and bowls.
12. Pom Pom Water Fun
Create a new sensory experience by throwing pom-poms into the water bin.
13. Underwater Alphabet Search
Grab some small aquatic-animal toys, shells, a marker, some blue food coloring, and a water bin. Write a letter on each shell with a permanent marker, then dump everything into the bin.
Toddlers can flip over the shells to reveal the letters. Ask your child to search for different letters, and then talk about the words that start with the letters they find.
14. Dive For LEGO
Add some LEGO pieces and kitchen utensils into a water bin and let your toddler freely scoop and mix the contents.
15. Shaving Foam Car Wash
Set up three stations: a bin filled with shaving cream, another filled with water, another with toy cars. Toddlers will love “cleaning” the cars and washing them off.
At Vivvi, we believe in an inquiry-based learning model that helps toddlers grow through interacting with the world around them. By engaging in activities that include sensory play, scientific inquiry, literacy, and more, toddlers will develop the skills they need to progress in kindergarten and beyond.