Updated December 23, 2023
Water activities are a wonderful way for babies and toddlers to explore and learn about their world. These sensory-rich experiences support development while fostering creativity and cognitive skills in the early years. Below are some of my favorite tested activities from my time as a toddler teacher.
#1 Sponge Squish
Explore textures with wet sponges in water play. Babies and toddlers can squeeze and squish sponges. Each sponge will have a unique texture and hold water in different ways.
- Soft foam sponges
- Plastic kitchen sponges
- Plastic loofahs
- Natural loofahs
- Painting sponges
#2 What’s the Temp?
Water play is a safe way for toddlers to explore different temperatures. I’m sharing three different temperature-themed setups.
A. Pouring Station
- Set up a pouring station using multiple empty containers like cups, bowls, or plastic containers.
- Fill cups or small pitchers with different temperatures, including warm, cool, and ice water.
- Depending on child’s abilities, encourage them to touch, dump, or pour the water.
- Talk about how the water temperature feels when the water mixes.
B. Ice Melt
- 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 child to explore as the temperature changes.
C. Floating Bottles
- Fill a sensory bin with cool/cold water.
- Offer sealed water bottles filled with warm water for children to place into the bin.
- Reverse the activity and fill the sensory bin with warm water and the sealed bottles with cold water.
#3 Mixing Colors
Fill a water table with water and a few drops of food coloring or liquid watercolor. For a baby-friendly option, fill water bottles, add a few drops of color, secure the lids, and let babies shake bottles to mix new colors.
- Food coloring or liquid water color
- Clear water bottles
#4 Icy Investigations
Fill a tray with water and freeze it overnight. In the morning, offer different tools to explore the ice. They can use their hands, hammers, paintbrushes, or droppers of warm water.
- Add food color or liquid watercolors before freezing for a colorful twist.
- Freeze water in different molds like pie pans, unique-shaped ice cube molds, or cylindrical trays.
- Freeze small treasures or toys inside the ice cubes.
Discover over 100 ice play ideas!
#5 Monochrome Water Bins
Create a water play twist on the classic treasure basket.
- Collect 5 to 10 objects, all of the same color.
- Add water to a sensory bin.
- Set out the objects for your baby or toddler to explore.
- Offer tongs or spoons for toddlers to use.
#6 Water + Glowstick Sensory Bin
Elevate water play with a light and shadow twist, perfect as a standalone activity or to enhance any sensory bin play.
- Lower the lights or close the curtains.
- Fill a sensory bin with water.
- Add glowsticks to the bin.
#7 Water Taste Test
Turn a snack or meal into an engaging water play activity.
- Serve wedges of oranges, lime, or lemon to squeeze into your child’s water cup.
- Serve frozen berries to stir into the water.
- Serve crushed ice or ice chips in a bowl with a spoon.
Talk about the flavors and textures your baby or toddler experiences during this fun taste test.
#8 The Water + Chalk Experience
Adding water to sidewalk chalk transforms colors and textures. Toddlers can explore using spray bottles and paintbrushes, while babies will delight in patting the water, banging the chalk, and watching the colors swirl.
#9 Splash Patterns
This activity could also be called “splashing with purpose.” Model how to dip a paintbrush into water and use a flinging motion to create water splashes. Encourage toddlers to explore different-sized paintbrushes, discussing how the splashes look for each brush.
Babies will enjoy shaking or banging the paintbrush, experiencing the sensation of dripping and splashing water.
- Container filled with water
- Paintbrushes of various sizes
- A large surface such as a sidewalk to splash water on
#10 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, adjusting space as needed.
- Offer your toddler a container.
- Encourage them to scoop water from the large bin.
- Walk or run to each container to pour the water out. You may need to model the activity!
- Continue the activity until all the containers are full.
Add a floating toy to each container. Your toddler can “save” the toy as it floats to the top.
#11 Sponge Walk
This sensory-rich water activity tests balance and coordination, stimulating your toddler’s vestibular system.
- Collect 5 to 10 sponges of different varieties.
- Dunk the sponges in water.
- Line up the sponges.
- Encourage your toddler to walk across the sponges, squeezing the water out with their feet.
#12 Spray + Squeeze Bottles
Challenge fine motor and investigation skills with this outdoor water play activity.
- Fill small spray bottles and cleaned-out squeeze bottles (ketchup, shampoo, lotion) with water.
- Encourage toddlers to spray or squeeze the bottles to soak the sidewalk, outdoor toys, or outdoor furniture with water.
Let babies enjoy the sensation of shaking water in different containers. Spray and squeeze water for them to reach and touch.
#13 Water Paint with Rollers
Let your toddler use paint rollers and brushes to “paint” with water, fostering creativity and imagination through process art. This activity also allows toddlers to explore the characteristics of water. Discuss what your toddler observes as the water dries.
- Paint rollers
- Tray of water
- Hard surface outdoors such as a porch, sidewalk, or driveway
#14 Water the Flowers
Explore nature and nurture a love for the environment with water-rich nature play activity:
- Provide your toddler with a watering can.
- Take a walk, allowing your toddler to water various plants or even rocks!
Toddlers can connect with nature, fostering a sense of care and responsibility for flowers, trees, and plants.
Benefits of Water Activities
Water play activities have incredible benefits across all learning domains. Manipulating water toys builds hand strength and dexterity, while water can help children emotionally regulate. Learn more in my post The Surprising Benefits of Water Play.
Tips for Water Activities
While children love water activities, they can feel very chaotic and stressful for parents and teachers. Check out my guide to manageable water play for my best tips and tricks. Tip #6 will transform water play; don’t miss it!