Last Updated on December 8, 2021 by admin
When my son’s preschool closed at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, his Waldorf teacher tried her best to impart all the knowledge she could about their daily schedule and activities. One of the tips she gave us to occupy the little kiddos was to simply let them play in the mud. Something about their age, she said, made them fascinated with squishing mud and experiencing those sensations on their hands.
I love to let my kids get muddy, even though the cleanup is a headache. But if you’re looking for something a little more contained and less messy, you might want to consider a water toy.
For more tactile toy suggestions, including play dough and mud kitchens, check out our full post on tactile and sensory toys. But if you’re looking specifically for a way to help kids cool off in the summer or experience tactile fun without the risk of sand-in-eyes or play-dough-in-mouth, you’re in the right place.
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Yes, there’s yet another option for an activity “table” for toddlers. (As I mentioned in my post about toddler activity tables, modern parents can choose from art tables, sensory tables, Lego tables, train tables, and more for their toddlers.)
But this outdoor-friendly, water-specific type of toy still deserves attention. Water tables are a little different from “sensory tables” in that they come with tons of water features such as spouts, slides and waterfalls that can keep kids interested.
It’s not easy to tell from the photo, but this toy is two feet tall! It’s an ideal height for toddlers to pour water into the top and watch as it cascades in various ways all the way down to the bottom. Older kids will enjoy re-arranging the pieces to make new paths for the water. Heads up: Reviews were overall positive for this toy, but there were some complaints about the water not cascading properly until drainage holes were manually modified.
There are other “waterfall” style toys on Amazon, too, that stick to the side of the tub with suction cups so kids can watch the water cascade down a series of tubes. (We had one suction cup toy that my kids ignored, but other people seem to like them.)
This is one of those toys that I wish had been available when my kids were toddlers. We had the ubiquitous plastic “kiddie pool” that immediately got very warm in the summer and cracked easily. This would have been a better option: More dynamic, stays cool, and no drowning risk. (Plus, easy to pack back up and store when not in use!) The splash pad pictured here comes with waterproof “flash cards” so that kids can play a kind of “seek and find” game for letters as they’re playing on the splash pad.
The former Waldorf/Montessori preschool mom in me would prefer that kids manipulate actual food and utensils instead of toy replicas. However, I can see how this type of toy could be a hit.
Essentially, you could just put this play sink over a towel on top of a child-sized table instead of bothering with one of the more expensive water tables or kitchen helpers.
Make sure to check the reviews before you buy to make sure you don’t buy one that breaks right away, which seems to be an issue with these. (They’re battery-powered and always getting wet, which seems like a tricky combination.)
There are plenty of toy boats available for sale that toddlers should love during water play. These toys can be fun for the bath but can also work on water tables. I liked these HABA boats because they’re simple and easy to store. Stacking is a fun activity for toddlers, but so are funneling and filling and pouring — and they can do it all with these boats.
Water Buckets and Pails
This post is technically about water and not sand, but a sturdy pail is a great water toy, and combining it with a shovel is a great idea that will ensure it gets tons of use throughout a childhood.
Green Toys is a great brand that produces really durable plastic toys from recycled milk jugs. You can even put these toys in the dishwasher when they need a good wash.
A Note on Bath Toys
I’d suggest skipping the squeezy-squirty bath style toys, which tend to get pretty yucky inside after a while. (No one wants to see their toddler squeeze a stream of black water from a toy into their clean bath.) Washcloths, plastic drinking cups, and measuring cups are all great accessories for toddlers to use in the bath or in a water table without sand, and they have the added benefit of potentially being useful for other things, too.
Other Options for Water Play
In my gift guide for mess-loving toddlers, I also suggest the possibility of a “kitchen helper” that will help toddlers safely reach the kitchen sink. This is an easy way to give them access to water play without adding yet another big ol’ piece of plastic to your life. Kitchen helpers also allow toddlers to “help” you as you prep food, and many of them convert to tables or slides to make them more versatile.