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Water Play: The Ultimate Sensory Experience for Kids

Mar 31st, 2022 | by Nicole Mayo

Nicole Mayo

March 31st, 2022

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 getting soaked from head to toe, or happily stirs and scoops with water tools, water will help decrease the heat for everyone!  

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.  

Why is Water Play Good for Children?

With the sensory experience water provides, water play targets multiple sensory systems. It is an imaginative type of play that can foster problem solving skills, improvements within fine and gross motor skills, regulation of emotions, and encouragement of social and language development.   

Water Sensory Play: How to Provide A Sensory Rich Experience

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.  

  • 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.  

Indoor Water Play Activities

1. Mixing Colors:

Toddlers love experimenting! Explore mixing colors during water play 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  

2. 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  

3. Lemon Sensory Bin:

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

Outdoor Water Play Activities

1. 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!  

2. Watering 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!  

3. Spray and Squeeze Bottles:

This outdoor 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!  

4. Kiddie Pool:

Fill up a kiddie pool and let your child splash and play on a hot summer’s day!  

Sink or Float Activity: It is never too early to explore the concept of buoyancy! Use items from nature, like sticks, leaves, flowers, and rocks and make guesses as to what will happen!  

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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