Lots of water play ideas for toddlers! Everything from indoor water play, small space water play, outdoor water play for toddlers and preschoolers. Plus the best water play toy for every budget and space.
Before I became a parent, if someone told me they were looking for water play ideas for their toddler I would have been like, “Huh? Why? What do you mean, just playing with water?” Now that I have an almost-3 year old son, I can totally see the importance of water play for toddlers!
For one, water play keeps my son busy and playing alone quietly for way longer than ANY OTHER ACTIVITY. That alone is reason enough to do water play. My son is playing in the tub now as I sit on a chair in the bathroom and write this post. ‘Nough said.
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Benefits of water play for toddlers
In addition to keeping toddlers entertained, there are many benefits of water play:
- It’s a great sensory activity – toddlers get to explore different textures, from wet toys to squishy sponges to rough loofahs to their wrinkly fingers
- It’s great for fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination, if you add a variety of props to keep your toddler busy (more on that later)
- It can teach gross motor skills – picking up and pouring buckets of water,
- It teaches problem solving skills and stuff that we adults consider “common sense,” like not turning a cup full of water upside down so you can see the bottom
The more ways babies, toddlers, and preschoolers play, the more ways they learn. And the benefits of water sensory play are so important. So why not add water play to the rotation? Keep reading for water play ideas for early years.
When to start water play
You can start introducing water play even before babies are able to sit up. Let your baby feel how a wet bath sponge feels, let them see water being poured out of a cup, let them become fascinated with water. As soon as a baby can sit up independently, you can introduce some of the water play ideas below.
Of course, NEVER EVER leave your baby or toddler unattended around water. Not only do they risk drowning (even in just a few inches of water!), but they can also drink the water, slip in the water, or dunk things in water that do not belong there (like your phone, plant dirt, or books. Don’t ask how I know).
Props for water play
All of the water play ideas below can be enhanced by adding a few strategic props to help your child play, learn, explore, discover, and get creative. And as a bonus, rotating between various props and water toys will keep the water play areas fun and fresh for your child.
Some water play toys and ideas:
- Plastic cups and tupperware containers
- Slotted spoons (use spoons, cups, funnels to transfer water from container to container and learn about gravity)
- Wash cloths
- Old toothbrushes
- Tear-free baby shampoo for bubbles (tip: clean out a foam hand soap dispenser thoroughly and replace with baby shampoo)
- Farm animals or dinosaurs (ask your child to give the animals a bath!)
- Plastic boats
- Beach toys such as buckets and sand molds
- Fishing toys
- Water beads (do NOT give to toddlers who still put things in their mouth, and keep a CLOSE OUT on your child to make sure they don’t eat the water beads)
- Scoopers for fine motor skills development
- Craft pom poms (or squishy sensory play)
Indoor water play for toddlers
Most of us need to resort to indoor water play for most of the year. Even if you have a backyard you might need some ideas for water play in winter. There are many ways to do awesome water play indoors and even with limited space and $0 budget. Indoor water play activities are usually the most convenient because not everyone can play outside all day long. Here are some ideas:
Put your child in the tub with some new toys and let them play. The simplest, easiest way to do water play. Some of our FAVORITE bathtub toys are this fishing toy and this motorized spinning toy. The fishing toy is easy for even young toddlers to play but is still fun for my almost-3 year old toddler. The motorized toy has always been fun for my son but he is only now figuring out how to put the gears together to get them to spin, so this is definitely a toy that a toddler will play with for years. I highly recommend it and the batteries last a WHILE. We only replaced them once in 2 years.
In addition to these toys, simple toys such as stacking cups, rubber duckies, a loofah, or even plastic farm animals are a fun addition to the bath tub. Or you can simply add some plastic cups and food storage containers, a few spoons, and let them play.
Just like with other toys, make sure to rotate them in and out so they feel “new” and your toddler is excited to play in the tub every time.
Kitchen sink fun
Another super simple water play idea that works for older toddlers is to pull up a step stool or a kitchen helper to the kitchen sink and let them play. This one is definitely better for older toddlers who can stand on a stool without falling off. Playing in the sink is a GREAT water activity that allows you to cook and keep an eye on your toddler at the same time. What a life saver!
Just make sure you don’t need the kitchen sink for any foods while your toddler is playing, and make sure the sink is clean (because you never know when they will want to taste the water!). Then add a few measuring cups, measuring spoons, tupperware containers or bowls, and a clean sponge to the sink, add some water, some tear-free baby shampoo to make bubbles, and let your child play. He or she will be busy scooping water, pretending to scrub with the sponge, and splashing the water around.
Toy kitchen sink
This play kitchen sink with real running water is absolutely BRILLIANT. We don’t have one because we just let our son play in the kitchen sink, but I know SO MANY MOMS who rave about this toy. Your toddler will LOVE having their OWN sink to play with, and the faucet is so realistic. This is a great toy to have when your toddler wants to play in the sink but you actually need the sink. It’s inexpensive too, so it’s a total win.
A water table is like the dream toy of all water play toys. If you have space for one, it is absolutely a worthwhile investment. There are small water tables and big ones. There are ones that fling toys across the room (this is the one we have, don’t get that one for an indoor space!) and ones that are a little more harmless.
Our son spends MANY MANY hours playing quietly with the water table. He gives his dinosaurs baths, fills up cups, and just observes how things look under water. But this one might be better for outdoor space, because it flings wet frogs pretty far, which is fun but gets everything wet! Here are some good indoor options:
For indoor water table success, I would recommend putting down some kind of tarp or water-proof table cloth (such as this one) so that your floors are protected from any splashed. Then put down a large towel (or several towels) to make sure that the tarp and floor don’t get slippery, and then place the water table on top.
Do NOT show your child how to open the little stopper that releases water, if your table has one.
And if you don’t want to get a dedicated water table, just get a large but shallow plastic storage bin, fill it with water, and let your kid play. It is a little harder to drain, but it’s doable!
Freeze small toys in ice cube trays and have your kiddo “rescue” the toys from the ice as it melts. You can also freeze craft pom poms, small wildflowers you find – anything that can safely go in water!
Patio or balcony water play ideas
If you have a patio or balcony where you can set up some water play, then you have a few more options!
This is a GREAT option for warm weather. An inflatable pool is so much more than just a way to cool off. Add all the same water toys to it and let your kid play, explore, learn, and touch. This is probably not a good idea for a balcony that is not at ground-level, but works for a patio or first floor balconies… just check your HOA’s guidelines about inflatable pools!
There are a LOT of really cool inflatable pool options for kids nowadays, and they’re really not expensive considering how much kids love splashing around outside.
Bigger water table
You have more options for a bigger or messier toddler water play table if you have more space that can get wet. Here are amazing looking water tables for toddlers:
Outdoor water play ideas
The simplest way to do water play is to go to a playground that has a water playground. Bring a bucket, bring some cups, let your toddler collect water as it splashes out, and run through the sprinkling water.
But it’s also nice to not have to go anywhere to do water play, so here are some ideas for the backyard:
Of course, you can have a giant water table or a inflatable pool outside in your yard. But here are some other ideas.
Simply turn on the sprinklers and let your toddler run around! You can also connect a splash pad to a water hose and let your kids play in there.
Being outside gives you more space to play! Bubbles are always fun. You can get a kit to make giant bubbles, or make your own. You can also do this fun bubble activity from the Dad Lab. I like this bubble activity because you can blow bubbles into containers and then play with the foam.
So whatever space you have (or don’t have) and whatever budget you have (or don’t have), you can make water play happen! I bet it will be the favorite part of your child’s day. And that alone is worth all the set up and clean up!
Looking for more toddler activities? Check out these reader favorites:
- Mud kitchens – the latest must-have play area for a backyard!
- 10 Active Games and Activities for Active Toddlers
- Easy Sensory Activity – Sponge Painting
- Cook with your toddler: Make these Mashed Potato Nuggets
- Cook with your toddler: Make these easy Mini Chicken Quesadillas
- A whole year of sensory activities: 52 Weeks of Sensory
- 12 Educational TV Shows for Toddlers
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