For toddlers learning about water is all about playing with water, and toddlers love playing with water, whether it's in the bath, in the sink, with a hose pipe, a sprinkler system, in a paddling pool or by a stream.
Indoor Water Play Activities
For learning about water inside the house, make use of a sink, bath or baby bath filled with water and have plenty of mops and towels available.
For water play toys use everyday items such as empty plastic cool drink bottles and yogurt tubs, a plastic funnel, an old teapot, jugs, a small watering can, nested plastic beakers, sponges, a whisk, a strainer and an array of plastic containers.
You could also consider a specially made water play table.
Also, have a set of wooden blocks, corks, metal, plastic and wooden spoons, some small stones, little twigs, plastic ducks, toy boats and other floating and non-floating items or toys to experiment with.
Then let you toddler loose to experiment, play and learn. Encourage the learning with some of the following activities:
What Floats and What Sinks? Gather your various floating and non-floating items and let your toddler find out which float and which sink.
What Dissolves and What Doesn't? Have clear plastic beakers or bottles with water and see which substances completely dissolve. You could use salt, sugar, sand, flour, milk, instant coffee, olive oil.
Bucket Emptying and Filling Have two equal sized buckets, one filled with water and one empty set a few feet apart. Provide containers to be filled from the full bucket, carried and poured into the empty bucket.
For older toddlers explain it has to be done with no spills and with as few carries as possible. This activity highlights the concepts of volume and weight.
Playing Washing Dishes Provide some warm water, washing up liquid, plastic beakers, cloths and sponges and let the soapy play begin!
Ice and Water Freeze a small yogurt tub full of water. When frozen, cut away the plastic and set the large piece of ice floating in a container of warm water. Let your toddler feel and play with the ice as it melts.
Fish for Treats Put sealed small plastic bags filled with treats such as jelly beans into a baby bath and let your toddler fish for them with a small aquarium fishing net.
Outdoor Water Play Activities
For learning about water outside, toddler water play can be on a grander scale with small paddling pools, sprinklers, hoses, pump squirters and water pistols.
The toddler water toys can again be everyday items like small buckets, sponges, paint brushes, a small watering can and empty cool drink bottles of all sizes.
A few ideas for some outdoor water activities are:
Car Washing A hose, sponge and car shampoo is all that's needed for this activity. It will be messy but enjoyed immensely.
Pretend Painting Provide a small bucket of water and a broad paint brush and let your walls and fences be painted with water. Toddlers love doing adult things and pretend painting is a favorite.
Watering Plants A small watering can that can be filled easily and carried by your toddler will be a prized possession. You will have a more than willing helper to water your plants.
Washing Clothes This is a good activity for teaching about dry & wet and water evaporation. A few small items of clothes can be washed and hung out to dry. If you can set up a toddler height washing line even better.
Bottle Bashing Line up some large cool drink bottles and knock them over with a pump squirter or a hose with an adjustable nozzle. Great fun!
The Learning and Development Opportunities
When learning about water through playing with water, toddlers have the opportunity, with your guidance, to observe, learn and understand the following concepts:
Volume and the concepts of full, empty, shallow and deep.
Weight and the terms heavy and light.
Bouyancy and the terms float, sink and submerge.
Cleaning and the states of clean and dirty, dry and wet, and the concept of evaporation.
Water's Characteristics in terms of it being a liquid that can be poured, spilt, splashed, trickled and squirted.
The Water Cycle by learning about water in terms of rain, evaporation, condensation and clouds. That water can be snow as well as ice.
They also develop their fine motor skills and hand eye co-ordination, by pouring water through funnels, from beaker to beaker, by fishing for things in water and carrying water without spilling.
The Safety Aspects
Although playing with water is a great way to learn and develop, safety is of utmost importance. Toddlers can drown in the smallest amounts of water and should be supervised and kept within easy reach at all times.
All water play toys should be thoroughly cleaned after play to ensure they stay free of harmful bacteria.
All small objects can cause choking so be especially vigilant.
And toddlers should be taught not to drink the water they play with. If they need a drink they should go to where they get their drinking water in the normal way.