Water play is a fantastic way for toddlers to explore and learn about their world. These sensory-rich experiences help support toddler development. Water play activities are also open-ended, so there is plenty of time for creativity and imagination!
#1 Sponge Squish + Squash
Offer your toddler different types of sponges to explore. Each sponge will have a unique texture and hold water in different ways.
Different sponges you could use:
- Soft foam sponges
- Plastic kitchen sponges
- Plastic loofahs
- Natural loofahs
- Painting sponges
#2 What’s the Water Temp?
Water play is a safe way for toddlers to explore different temperatures.
Here are a few different ways to set up a temperature exploration water activity:
Water Temp. Pouring Station:
- Set up a pouring station outdoors or in a sensory bin.
- The station will have multiple empty containers like cups, bowls, or plastic containers.
- Fill several small pitchers with different water temperatures, including warm water, cool water, and ice water.
- Encourage your toddler to pour the pitchers into containers. Talk about how the water temperature feels when the water mixes.
- Add ice cubes and a small amount of cool water into a sensory bin.
- Offer pitchers or cups of warm water to pour over the ice.
- Encourage your toddler to explore the water as the temperature changes.
- Fill a sensory bin with cool/cold water.
- Offer sealed water bottles filled with hot water for your toddler to place into the bin.
You can also do this activity in reverse. Fill the sensory bin with warm water and the sealed bottles with cold or ice water.
#3 Mixing Colors
Toddlers can explore mixing colors during water play. Start by adding drops of food coloring or liquid watercolor to water containers.
Possible materials for color mixing play:
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Empty ice cube tray
- Small pitchers
- Clear water bottles
#4 Icy Investigations
Fill a tray with water and let it freeze overnight. In the morning, offer your toddler different tools to explore the ice. They can use their hands, hammers, or eyedroppers of warm water.
- Add food color or liquid watercolors to the water before freezing to turn this ice activity into a color mixing one.
- Freeze water in different molds such as pie pans, ice cube molds with different shapes, or cylindrical ice cube trays
- Freeze tiny treasures or toys inside the ice cubs
Discover over 100 ice play ideas!
#5 Monochrome Water Bins
This is a water play twist on a treasure basket.
- Collect 5 to 10 objects, all of the same color.
- Add water to a sensory bin or plastic tote.
- Set out the objects.
- Set out tongs or a serving spoon for your toddler to use.
- Invite your toddler to explore the items.
#6 Water + Glowstick Sensory Bin
This water play activity can be standalone or used to enhance any sensory bin play.
Lower the lights or close the curtains during this water play activity. Fill a sensory bin with water and add glowsticks to the bin.
#7 Water Taste Test
Turn a snack or meal into a water play activity.
- Serve wedges of oranges, lime, or lemon to squeeze into their water cup
- Serve frozen berries to stir into the water
- Serve crushed ice or ice chips in a bowl with a spoon
Take time to discuss the flavors and textures your toddler is experiencing during this activity.
#8 Sidewalk Chalk + Spray Bottles
- Set up sidewalk chalk for your toddler to draw on a sidewalk or driveway.
- Give your toddler spray water over the chalk to watch the colors run.
- Once the surface is wet, your toddler can keep drawing with chalk and investigate how bright and vivid the colors are.
#9 Water Bucket Relay
This outdoor activity is perfect for toddlers with boundless energy.
- Fill a large bucket or tote with water.
- Line up bowls, containers, or small pails, extending out from the water bin. Put as much or as little space between each container as you choose.
- Offer your toddler a cup or a pail.
- Encourage your toddler to scoop water from the large bin.
- Then your toddler will walk or run to each container to pour the water out.
- Continue the activity until all the containers are full.
Alternative: Add a floating toy to each container. Your toddler can help “save” each toy as it floats to the top of the containers.
#10 Sponge Walk
This sensory-rich water play activity is a perfect way to work on balance and coordination!
- Collect 5 to 10 sponges of different varieties
- Dunk the sponges in water
- Line up the sponges up outside on a hard surface
- Encourage your toddler to walk across the sponges, squeezing the water out with their feet.
#11 Spray + Squeeze Bottles
This outdoor water play activity will test your toddler’s fine motor and investigation skills.
- Fill small spray bottles and cleaned-out squeeze bottles (ketchup, shampoo, lotion) with water.
- Offer the containers to your toddler.
- Encourage your toddler to spray or squeeze the bottles to soak the sidewalk, outdoor toys, or outdoor furniture with water.
#12 Water Paint with Rollers
- Paint rollers
- Tray of water
- Hard surface outdoors such as a porch, sidewalk, or driveway
Your toddler can use the paint rollers and brushes to “paint” with water. This water play activity encourages creativity and imagination via process art, but your toddler can also explore the characterics of water too. Talk about what your toddler is observing as the water dries.
#13 Splash Patterns
This activity could also be called “splashing with purpose.”
- Container filled with water
- Paintbrushes of various sizes
- A large surface such as a sidewalk or driveway to splash water on
Model how to dip a paintbrush into water and then use a flinging motion to cause water to spray across the sidewalk or driveway.
Encourage your toddler to explore different-sized paintbrushes and talk about how the splashes look for each brush.
#14 Water the Flowers
Your toddler can fill a watering can and take a stroll, watering the various plants (or rocks!). This is a golden opportunity for your toddler to explore nature. The activity also inspires your toddler to nurture and care for flowers, trees, and plants.
#15 Kiddie Pool Activities
Popular Questions about Water Play for Toddlers
What is a water play activity?
Let’s start with the basics.
A water play activity is any activity that allows toddlers to explore and learn about water. Activities can range from splashing in a kiddie pool to exploring how ice melts.
Why is water play good for toddlers?
Water play has many benefits for toddler learning and development. Through water play, toddlers investigate and begin to make sense of the world around them.
Water play is a sensory-rich activity that can stimulate multiple sensory systems. The activities I share in this post are play-based and open-ended. This lets toddlers explore their creativity and imagination while they play.
Some benefits of water play include:
- building cognitive skills like problem-solving, curiosity, and memory
- improving fine motor and gross motor skills
- sensory play can help children regulate their emotions
- open-ended play encourages social and language development among peers
How do you make water fun for toddlers?
Water play doesn’t have to be complicated! Each toddler will have their own comfort level with water play. Use the list of activities in this post to find the perfect activity to meet the needs and interests of your toddler.
Some toddlers will love the full-body experience of being soaked head-to-toe. Other toddlers will be happy staying dry while stirring or scooping water with tools.
What Materials Do You Need for Water Play
Honestly, the only material you need is water. But here are some ideas to inspire more water play for toddlers.
- Water balloons
- Splash pads
- Slip + Slides
- Kiddie pool
- Water table
- Water guns
- Splash balls
- Toy boats
- Floating toys
- Jumbo eyedroppers
- Food coloring or liquid watercolor
- Child-safe soap for suds and bubbles
Loose Parts for Water Play
Here are some water play materials from the loose parts material guide.
- Strainers + Sieves
- Kitchen utensils
- Scoops or shovels
- Small buckets
- Spray bottles
- Squeeze bottles
- Silicone cupcake liners
- Reusable ice cubes
- Plastic straws
- Plastic lids + bottle caps
- Leaves + flowers
Tips for Less Messy Water Play
- Do activities in the bathtub
- Offer only a little water at a time into buckets or sensory bins
- Spreads towels or a table cloth under sensory bins
- Keep an easy-to-grab stack of dry towels nearby
- Take water play outdoors
Sensory Skills & Water Play
Is playing with water sensory play?
Water play is definitely a sensory-rich activity! Toddlers will love exploring the different properties of water through their senses.
Not every water play activity is taste-safe, but I include activities on this list that encourage taste exploration.
Here is where the sensory goodness of water play truly shines. Think of all the different ways toddlers can explore how water feels or makes other objects feel.
- Different temperatures
- Saturated vs. damp vs. dry
- Pruned fingers
- Slippery toys
- Sensations of splashing, swishing, pouring
Toddlers can explore the sounds of water gurgling, bubbling, swishing, pouring, splashing, and more.
Let’s think of some typical smells associated with water play like sunscreen, soap, bubble solutions, rubber floating toys, and other outdoor scents. Caregivers can also naturally enhance water play by adding drops of citrus juices or flower petals to the water.
Typical sights that toddlers will be able to observe through water play:
- Wet vs. dry
- Damp vs. saturated
- Deep vs. shallow
- Shadows created by light
- Reflections in the water
- Sinking vs. floating
- Foam and bubbles
The vestibular system helps us balance and to understand how fast we are moving.
Water play activities that stimulate this system include:
- Floating in a kiddie pool
- Squatting to play
- Leaning over sensory bin
- Running through sprinkler
- Moving while carrying objects
The proprioceptive system lets us know where our bodies are in space. It is also responsible for letting us know our own strength.
Water play activities that stimulate this system include:
- Squeezing spongers
- Pouring water
- Running hands through water
Thank you for reading! I hope this list has plenty of ideas to get you started with water play for toddlers. Use these ideas for inspiration to keep extending water play as your toddler’s interest and skill levels grow. You’ll be impressed to see how water play can become part of more complex play for preschoolers and beyond.
Be sure to comment and let me know how these ideas worked for you and your toddler.