Three Ideas To Enrich Water Play

Babies and toddlers are intuitively drawn towards water and experimenting with it – it is after all one of our most vital and fundamental resources.  Introduce a water tray to a toddler group and they will gather round it like magnets!

You will notice that children become very absorbed in what they are doing when playing with water, even those who normally don’t seem to have great concentration spans.  You can be absolutely sure that this is because they are in charge of their own learning experiences and conducting their own experiments.

Children who are new to a group or particularly shy also benefit from this sort of play activity as they are able to join in play on their own terms, rather than been forced to interact with adults or other children. In this way their first experiences of playing with others is comfortable and enjoyable and affords the opportunity to slowly build confidence. (Sand play and play dough are also good in this situation.)

Although small children will never tire of water, you can ring the changes a little to vary their experiences and enhance their learning.  If you are at home you can experiment with water play in the bath or use an extra large pet litter tray and fill this with water.  Obviously not one that is actually used for that purpose and generally if you can find one that is a light colour or even clear, children can see what is happening with the water more clearly.

Containers, Funnels And Sieves

Ensure that children have a variety of different sized containers which are safe to play with.  Stacking cups are great, with or without holes in the bottom!  Plastic jugs with handles and spouts will test their manual dexterity and strength!  Be aware that a litre jug of water weighs a kilo, not bad for building little muscles while they are absorbed in Eureka moments.   Funnels are an extra incentive for children to use both hands and coordinate movements.  Sieves add an air of mystery to how water moves!

Cool Water Play

Why not introduce ice cubes to the water tray?  Children will be fascinated, help them to talk about and articulate this new experience. How does the ice feel? Where does the ice disappear to?


These days you can buy ice cube trays in all sort of shapes – we found some lovely fish shaped ones in Ikea once.  Whatever the shape, give the children a sieve to ‘catch’ the ice cubes.  You can take this a step further by introducing an ‘ice hand’. Carefully fill a washing-up glove with water (colored if you like!) and seal tightly with rubber bands and freeze.  You will have to prop it up at first to stop the water leaking but as it begins to freeze you can move the water around a bit more to make sure the fingers are filled. Another idea is to borrow the ice balloon from one of our Raising Sparks experiments for older kids.

Small World Play In The Ocean

As children get older they increasingly like to introduce role-play into their games.  Role play is a fantastic way of developing language and social skills and should be encouraged at every opportunity.  Acting out scenes with small figures (referred to as small world play by childcare professionals) is a great way to stimulate role play.  Turn the water tray into an ocean for the day.  Dye the water blue with coloring just for a change.  Introduce plastic animals – sharks, octopuses and boats.  Better still if they make their own boats out of construction toys or paper.  Never be afraid to mix things up!  You can even add sand, shells or sunken treasure.

Safety Awareness!

Never leave children unattended when playing with water.  Inevitably water will spill everywhere – this is not a problem out on the grass on a warm sunny day, but if indoors have materials for mopping up to hand to avoid slips and falls.  Make sure children have dry clothes to change into if necessary.


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