Toddler Inside Water Play Activity

Sep 8, 2013

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My toddler, like many, has a real fascination with water and will happily play with anything involving water for quite some time. Water play is fabulous when the weather is hot and especially when you can get outside, but living in Melbourne, Australia, this is certainly not the case all the time so I have to come up with ways that we can still play and investigate with water, whilst inside, without making a huge mess!

Here is a fun sensory Invitation to Play with water inside that encourages skills such as pouring, transferring and scooping whilst investigating size, depth, width, absorbency, capacity and more.

Ages: 12 months +
(N is currently 22 months old here. See the handy tips at the bottom to Simplify and Extend to suit your child's needs) 

As I didn't want water from one side of the house to the other, we only used about 2 cups of water in total. I lightly coloured the water with a couple of drops of food colouring so that it was slightly more visible but wouldn't stain or leave marks wherever little droplets landed. 

Gather your supplies from around the house and lay out on a small child-sized table. On the floor you should use some old towels to catch the water that will inevitably spill off the table. I do not recommend using plastic sheeting on the floor as it won't absorb the water spills and will in turn make the floor around the table slippery.

The Invitation to Play

Above you can see how I presented the Invitation to Play for my son and the materials I set out for him to explore.

The problem solving begins. The neck of this bottle is too narrow to fit the measuring spoon!

Trying to figure out how to use the pipette to transfer water and using fine-motor skills.

Pouring and transferring. The water is nearing the top!

Watching children of this age play like this is really fascinating. They play (work!) with such purpose and intensity. 

Moving water from one container to another was repeated again and again and again and I was impressed with his concentration and coordination.

There were spills but that was part of the learning process.

Using a little table like this meant that he could move freely around and easily access all the materials.

At one point the frogs found a new home.

And we discovered that if you have a spill, there are ways to reclaim your water! 
(But you have to be quick!)

Discovering the absorbency of the sponge was helpful with the spills

And squeezing the sponge gave new access to water again!

Really testing the absorbency now! Not quite absorbent enough for a whole cup of water.

But it sure does make a squidgy, squishy water pad just perfect for the frogs to live on. Pressing down on them squeezes water back out!

The aftermath. For inside water play with a toddler under 2 years old, this is pretty good! 

He was busy for probably around 40 mins which is a long time for an under-2-year-old to be focused for.
The pack-up was as quick and easy as the set-up, with the towels underneath making quick work to dry any remaining water spills.

Handy Tips

Simplify this activity by providing a few less cups and containers and leaving out items such as the pipette and little syringe as they need well practiced fine motor skills. At 22 months, my son is just starting to grasp the concept of these objects and whilst he can't use them efficiently, I like to still provide them for learning opportunities.

Extend this activity by:
  • Using a couple of different colours of water to practice colour mixing as well
  • Using a variety of measuring tools to encourge more formal capacity and volume learning
  • Challenging children to transfer the water from one cup to another without lifting up the cups at all
  • Recording (writing down) the amount of water you start with and then measuring the amount of water you have left at the end of play
  • Investigating how the same amount of water looks like different amounts depending on the size and shape of the container it's tipped into.

Mix it up with a variety of different types of containers and measuring cups or by substituting water with other transferable materials like rice or barley or flour.

- Use descriptive language that goes with this experience to help develop your child's vocabulary. Eg "pour, absorbent, soak, wet, dry, squeeze, drip, splash" etc.

-  Invitations to Play are a favourite way of mine to set up an activity. Here are a few more we've shared: 

Happy playing,
Debs :)

We like to play here as well. Come play with us :)
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  1. I'm going to be keeping this activity in mind for the winter. Even though my daughter is 4, I still think she'll have fun! I love the colored water, though I'm always nervous about using food coloring. Adorable how he experimented with the sponge!

    1. When my 4 year old returned from preschool to see the fun her little brother had been having, she insisted on doing the same activity herself, so I'm sure she would love it! I really did only use the tiniest bit of food colouring in the water as I didn't want any blue marks all over the place. Diluted to that amount, there is no problems :)

  2. When I taught I used to have a special water table for the kids to use. It was the favorite center and I'll bet you can get one to use for your home

    1. We do own a couple of water tables actually Faige, but to really investigate in this way, I decided the flat surface of the table was best instead of the tubs of the water table. It's also nice to mix it up a bit and present things in different ways, even if it's the same activity and materials, as the children will find new and different ways to explore and engage. :)

  3. I thought I was an awesome mum when I plonked a bowl of water and a tea towel on the floor for my kid LOL Your water play kicks butt! Great ideas, thanks :)

    1. haha, you are an awesome mum! Now you just have some extra things to add to it next time. :)

  4. What a great set up! He really is concentrating isn't he. Fun!

    1. Thanks Danya. It really is so simple to just grab bits and bobs to use with it and so easy to mix it up each time :)

  5. Great break down! And people wonder why sensory is so important. ;)

    1. haha, cheers Heather. It's why all play is so important! :)

  6. My daughter will LOVE this activity. Thanks so much for sharing such great pictures of all the details. I can't wait to try it. Feel free to check out our activities at I'm sure you'll see this one highlighted within the next month or two with a link back to your site.

  7. Thank you so much for this Deb. My son loves water and I'm just going to go and set this up for him now while he is sleeping. He is almost 22 months and I know this will be great.

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