Water play promises a range of developmental benefits for any child, and you really don’t need much to get started. So long as you have a container to hold the water in, which might be a paddling pool, a water table, a washing up bowl or your bath, and some pouring containers, bath toys and household items, then you’re ready to go. If you’re stuck for ideas, then here are some of our favourite water play games and activities.
5 Little Ducks
If you have ducks for the bath, then these can easily be incorporated into your next nursery rhyme session. The combination of props and storytelling is engaging for children and helps to introduce mathematical skills such as counting backwards from 5 to 1. Use signs as the mummy duck says ‘quack, quack, quack’ and you’ll be amazed how quickly the children pick this up.
Painting with water
If you have any spare paintbrushes or rollers lying around your garage, then put your kids to work and get them painting the patio, grass or garden wall, but with water, not paint! On a hot day, your children will be amazed by how quickly their water marks vanish into thin air. With older pre-schoolers, this is also a brilliant way to practise letter formation.
If your children love playing with toy cars, then grab a Hot Wheels track and create a ramp which plunges down into a washing up bowl, water bin or table to create your very own car wash. Let your cars pick up a little mud in the garden first, then race them down the ramp into the car wash where your little ones can scrub them clean again with a washing up brush.
Set up an underwater scene
A small container can be transformed into an aquatic scene by filling it with different rocks, coloured stones or buttons, shells, and toy boats or fish. If your children enjoy Lego, then they might enjoy constructing a lighthouse or pier too.
Grab some socks or flannels and let your little ones wash them in warm, soapy water. They can scrub and wring out the water to their heart’s content before pegging them to the washing line to dry out.
Give your dolls a bath
Children love pretend play and getting to be a grown-up bathing their very own dolly is an important part of understanding how the world works, as well as firing up their imaginative play. Let your kids practise bath-time by washing dolly’s hair, brushing her teeth and then wrapping her in a towel afterwards to dry off.
Make fairy soup
Add a few petals, some glitter and shells or colourful stones to a container of water to create your own fairy soup. This is a great supervised activity if you allow the children to use their cutting skills to snip off the petals and enhance their fine motor skills to carefully hold and shake the glitter into the concoction too. They can then enjoy ‘serving’ the soup in a variety of different bowls and containers, mixing with spoons and ladles too. You might even want to make a fairy wish before pretending to drink it!
This is a fun way to introduce children to the different states of water, including ice! Simply add a collection of small dinosaur toys to a container filled with water and place it in the freezer until it turns to ice. In a separate container, add blue food colouring to some salt and get your little ones to shake this over the ice block along with cups of warm water to melt the ice and excavate the dinosaurs.
A fun way to encourage the little ones to learn their letters is to add letter magnets to the water. You then call out a letter and ask them to look for it and splash their hand down on it. Your children will be progressing their phonics journey without even realising it.
This is one of the most basic activities, but all kids love spending time filling one container then pouring it into the next. This is an important way to introduce them to mathematical language such as ‘more’, ‘less’, ‘empty’ and ‘full’. They will also use problem-solving skills to work out what happens when they pour the contents of a larger container into a smaller one. Will they stop pouring or let it overflow?
Perhaps an activity to confine to the garden or outdoor area, but there’s nothing more fun than water balloons. Simply fill up a balloon then watch with glee as your little ones throw them up and shriek as they splash open when they hit the ground. You might make this game even more fun by hanging the balloons on a washing line and hitting them with tennis racquets. Get the whole family involved, it’s the perfect way to cool down when the temperature soars.
Raid your baking supplies to find food colouring in the primary shades of red, blue, and yellow. From here, you can add each to a separate water-filled container which will quickly become your chosen colour. But what happens when you mix red and blue? Or blue and yellow? Ask the children to name the different colours and see if they can remember the different combinations needed to make purple, orange and green. What happens if you add more of one colour than another? How can you make the colours darker? This activity has so much scope for discussion and scientific exploration.
Make a water xylophone
Line up a series of glass containers and pour different amounts of water into each of them, going from least to most full. Try to avoid using plastic for this activity as it just doesn’t produce the same quality of sound. You’ll also need a metal implement such as a spoon to strike the glass and notice the different notes made by the water xylophone. For the more adventurous, you might even try to play a simple tune such as ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and enjoy the music together.
These are just a few water play ideas for you to explore, but once you get started, you’ll be amazed how many more games are invented spontaneously. Let your children lead the way and embrace the developmental opportunities created by this fantastic sensory activity.