A preschooler can enjoy water play as part of a small group or independantly. As a group, children use time at the water table to socialize, communicate, interact, and role play. For the child who enjoys a little alone time, the water table can be a relaxing and soothing experience.
The water table presents opportunities for exploring science, math, language, texture, fine motor development, and social skills. Preschoolers can discover the difference between what sinks and what floats, warm versus cold, or they can explore how water flows and pours. Additional learning opportunties will depend on what you add to the water table. See a list of items below that you can rotate into the water table to foster a variety of growth and learning opportunties.
Any container will do
If you don’t have a water table, then try using other types of containers such as a large plastic tub or bucket. Preschoolers are not concerned with what the water is stored in, they just want to be able to play in the water.
Let preschoolers help fill it up and empty it out
It is possible to make water play a part of your daily routine and your preschoolers will enjoy helping you fill the water table and drain it. Have a smaller bucket handy and let the children take turns (or choose a water table helper of the day) pouring water to and from the sink. Filling and emptying out the water table is actually as much fun to a preschooler as getting to play in the water.
Draw a small line on the inside edge of the water table or container with a permanent marker to show preschoolers how high the water level can go. When the water reaches the line, then no more buckets of water can be added. You can draw a line inside the filling bucket too so that the bucket isn’t too heavy or full for preschoolers to carry comfortably.
Have towels handy to keep the floor dry and teach your preschoolers how to keep the water inside the table as best as they can. If the floor gets too wet, take a minute to help your preschoolers dry it up a bit so it doesn’t get too slippery.
Rotate what goes in the water table
Plastic toys such as boats, buckets, shovels, and so forth are always popular toys for a water table but consider changing things up a bit.
Consider collecting clean plastic containers such as water bottles, shampoo bottles, and other bottles with unique shapes and lids to add to your water table.
Try adding food color to change the color of the water.
Try adding soap bubbles, dish rags, and plastic dishes to the water table.
How about plastic baby dolls, empty baby shampoo bottles, and baby wash cloths or sponges.
Go fishing with plastic fish and nets
Add measuring bowls, measuring cups, and measuring spoons.
Add a variety of kitchen utensils such as tongs, strainers, and other items that will challenge fine motor skills.
Change the smell of the water by adding a drop or two of scented oil.
Change the temperature of the water by adding snow or ice or warm water.
Rotate plastic animals, cars, blocks, and other toys to keep water play interesting and to foster imaginations.
Watering cans, flowerpots, and plastic flowers are always fun.
Add uncut fruits and vegetables with a few veggie scrubbers.
Rocks, strainers, and other items from the great outdoors can be added as well.
Keep your water table and toys clean and dry when not in use
Just like anything that sits wet too long, it will start to get moldy, scummy, or smelly. Keep the water table clean and dry when not in use. Check with your local licensing to find out if there are any other requirements for keeping water play a safe and healthy experience.
Plan for water play
You can use this “Action Planning Sheet” by NAEYC to brainstorm how best to use a water table in your classroom and to develop an action plan for implementing additional learning opportunties through water play in your classroom.
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