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Water Play: 7 Fun Water Activities to Try This Summer

May 16th, 2023 | by Nicole Mayo, MS, OTR/L

Nicole Mayo, MS, OTR/L

May 16th, 2023

It’s a hot summer day, what better way to cool off than with some water play!  Water play is a great open-ended, sensory rich experience for children of all ages. Whether your toddler loves playing with water by happily stirring and scooping with water tools, or loves to play in the water and get soaked from head to toe, these fun water activities are sure to be a blast! 

What is Water Play?

Water play is any activity that allows a child to explore and learn about water. From water tables to splash pads, all water play will help foster sensory exploration, imagination and development.   

Water Play Fosters Sensory Development

Your child uses their senses (taste, touch, hearing, smell, sight, vestibular and proprioceptive) to explore within their daily environment in order to learn, grow and develop.  They use the same senses to explore the different properties of water during water play activities.  With the sensory experience water provides, water play targets multiple sensory systems. 

  • Taste: For the water activities that are safe to taste, allow your child to explore with their taste buds!   
  • Touch: There are various ways your toddler can explore water.  Through temperature, your child will experience how water feels in addition to feeling their pruned fingers and slippery water toys.  
  • Hearing: Toddlers can hear the splashing, bubbling, pouring, and swirling sounds of water.  Help your toddler differentiate between the sounds during your water play activity!  
  • Smell: Water play is associated with summertime, right?  So, help your toddler associate the other smells of summer, like sunscreen or rubber floating toys.    
  • Sight: Your toddler will be able to observe many different things through water play, like seeing bubbles or reflections in the water. Help them distinguish between wet vs dry, deep vs shallow water, and sinking vs floating.  
  • Vestibular: Because the vestibular system helps us with head movements in space and how we balance, there are different water play activities that can assist with stimulating this sense, which include: running through a sprinkler, leaning over a water bin, and floating in a kiddie pool.   
  • Proprioceptive: Proprioception helps us determine where our bodies are in space, in addition to our own strength. Some water play activities that can assist your toddler with stimulating this sense include pouring water, squeezing sponges, and splashing.  


Additional Benefits of Water Play

Fun water activities are an imaginative type of play that can also foster:

7 Fun Water Play Activities for Toddlers and Kids

1. Spray and Squeeze Bottles

Having your toddler squeeze bottles filled with water is a great water play idea to help fine motor skills!

This outdoor fun water activity will test your toddler’s fine motor and investigation skills! Clean out empty bottles (I.e., ketchup, shampoo, lotion) and fill with water.  Offer the containers to your toddler and encourage him/her to spray or squeeze the bottles to soak the driveway, outdoor toys, or outdoor furniture with water!  

2. Mixing Colors

Toddlers love experimenting! Explore mixing colors into your toddler’s water play activities by adding drops of food coloring or liquid watercolor to water containers. 

  • Materials that may be needed for this activity include:  
    • Measuring cups and spoons  
    • Eyedroppers  
    • Empty ice cube tray  
    • Clear water bottles   


3. Kiddie Pool

Kiddie pools are the water play fun water activity for kids!

Fill up a kiddie pool and let your child splash and play on a hot summer’s day!  One of our favorite water play ideas for a kiddie pool is the sink and float activity. Use items from nature, like sticks, leaves, flowers, and rocks and make guesses as to what will happen. It is never too early to explore the concept of buoyancy!

4. Sensory Water Bin

Take an empty bin and fill it with water. Use water tools and add items that your child can scoop out with a spoon, or dump/pour into buckets!  

  • Materials that may be needed for this activity include:  
    • Bin  
    • Water toys: scoop, small cup  
    • Motivating items for your child to retrieve  


5. Lemon Sensory Bin

Lemon sensory bins are a fun water activity to try at home with your toddler or child this summer!

Fill up a bin with water, ice and lemon, and allow your toddler to scoop and transfer.  This water transferring activity is a great way to incorporate the senses of touch, smell, and taste!  


6. Sponge Walk

Collect 5-10 sponges of various sizes. Dunk the sponges in water, and line them up outside on a hard surface, like the driveway.  Encourage your toddler to walk across the sponges to squeeze the water out with their feet!  

7. Watering Flowers

If you're looking for a way to engage your toddler or preschooler in water play activities, encourage them to help you water the flowers!

Have your toddler help you water the garden!  This is a fun way to teach your child about how flowers grow, while keeping cool at the same time!  

Bonus Video: Incorporating Self Help Skills Into Water Play

Looking for More NAPA Fun? Check Out These Related Blog Posts:

About the Author 

Nicole Mayo is a pediatric occupational therapist at the NAPA Center Boston.  She loves providing the necessary tools and strategies to help each child reach their fullest potential.  Outside of the clinic, Nicole enjoys spending time with her family and exploring the outdoors. 

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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