Water Play! 9 Super Easy, Creative Sensory Activities for Toddlers

Guest Blog by Sophie Schillaci of MomNeedsMerlot.com

Summer is here! And even if you’re stuck at home, indoor splish-splashing fun can be way easier than you think. Dress the kids up in cute swimsuits for a sweet Instagram moment, or let them run wild in their diapers -- either way, feel free to grab a frosty glass and kick up your heels because these unbelievably simple activities require minimal effort, are guaranteed to entertain the little ones and, with your Ruggish play rug, wiping up the spills will be a breeze. 

All of these open-ended activities can be done with simple plastic storage bins or buckets, or a multi-use sensory table. (I use this one from IKEA, but don’t forget to add the storage boxes!) 

Sink or Swim

Fill a plastic tub with water, offering a bucket of various toys and household items. This can include anything from bath toys, to paper, to cardboard, to balls, cups, empty bottles, tin foil, ice cubes, kitchen utensils and more. Have the kids experiment to find out which items float and which ones sink. 

Flower Bath

Have a bouquet on its last legs? Or maybe some nearby wildflowers, ready to be picked? Fill a tub with water and let your little ones go to town on the blooms. They can stir the water, pull off petals and leaves to sprinkle them in, or simply dip the flowers in and out to see how the water drips from each petal. Bonus: Add a bit of loose glitter to the water for a more mesmerizing visual experience. 

Water Painting

This is much less messy than it sounds. Simply fill a bowl with water, and gather some paint brushes and construction paper. Show your toddler how to “paint” by using a brush to draw water on the paper. 

Color Mixing

This one can be a bit messy, but is sure to be a crowd pleaser: Fill a series of vessels with water and drop food coloring in each one. You could start with primary colors, or offer the ROYGBIV spectrum. Allow your toddler to see what happens when they pour multiple colors together into another bin. (Fair warning, they will always mix everything together to make brown. It’s all part of the experience.) 

Color Cubes

This one follows the same general idea as Color Mixing, but requires a bit more lead time. Make a batch of ice cubes with food coloring. Fill a bin with water and let your little one pop the colored cubes into the water one by one. They’ll love watching the ice cubes float, naming the colors and seeing what happens as they slowly dissolve into water. 

Ice Age

Freeze small plastic toys inside large ice cubes and pop them on a tray or in a plastic bin. Toddlers will love to identify what’s inside (bonus if little pieces are sticking out of the ice - like a giraffe’s neck or a dinosaur’s tail) and free the toys from the ice blocks. You can also offer a small dish of salt and a paint brush to help break down the ice more quickly. 

Car Wash

Fill a bin with bubbly soap and water, so that littles can “wash” their toy cars. Offer a set of dish towels to dry off the cars once they’re “clean.” 

Soap Foam

Using an electric mixer, combine one part baby soap or shampoo and two parts water with a few drops of food coloring or washable paint. For a slightly more firm texture, drop in a few spoonfuls of flour or cornstarch until you reach the desired consistency. Repeat as needed for multiple colors. 

Water Beads

Literally the only effort this one requires is clicking “Buy Now” on Amazon. Just pour a small handful into a bowl of water and watch them grow. You can also throw in some plastic toys for a mini treasure hunt. 

Sophie Schillaci is an entertainment journalist and mama of two under two. She welcomed her daughter, Everly, in August 2018 and launched the motherhood platform MomNeedsMerlot.com the following year after a decade of reporting for digital, broadcast and print outlets including Entertainment Tonight, the Hollywood Reporter and more.  Through her writing, Sophie aims to connect with and empower fellow new mothers through honest and heartfelt storytelling, while sharing real life tips and tricks that actually work. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids and two rambunctious dogs. They welcomed son Colton in March 2020, smack dab in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While stuck at home with a newborn, sensory play has been a saving grace for Everly (and mama’s sanity). You can follow along on their real-life adventures by subscribing to Sophie’s YouTube channel. 

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