Water Play and Sensory Bins for Summer Fun

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I feel like I come alive in the summer!  The sunshine, patio dinners, and playing outside with my daughter! I love creating activities for my daughter that involve exploration. It is also a plus when I can utilize my creative side. I think that’s why I love making sensory bins not only for my daughter but my students. During warm hot days, I love incorporating water into sensory play! To honest, in the colder months, water play is strictly limited to bath time in our household. Below are my favorite water sensory bins!!

Water Play Set-Up:

Two large bowls

First thing first, we have to set up our water bins! I like to switch it up! Sometimes I will use different pots, big steel bowls, or even Tupperware. 

I am currently 30 weeks pregnant, and carrying bowls full of water and managing a toddler was getting a bit tricky. I splurged and bought a water table. Life is difficult, make it easy when you can! The one we purchased is out of stoke but this one is close! Ours is a bit smaller. I have also seen cheaper options at Aldi’s and Costco! 

So sometimes I will use bowls and sometimes I will fill up the water table and bring different manipulative and ideas. 

Spoons and Kitchen Galore!

A variety of spoons and measuring cups

My go-to! From toddler to preschool, to early elementary, love scooping, stirring, and mixing with random things in your kitchen is a hit. Set up is super easy and they can be thrown in the dishwasher when your down! I will use these with the water table or large bowls! Sometimes if I am feeling fancy I will bring out the little salad mixer or strainer /funnels for extra enjoyment! 

Boba Beads!

I work with an amazing family and water beads were not an option for the family. The water beads posed a choking risk and not a  good option for students/children who frequently put items in their mouths. Check out this article about one family’s scary encounter with water beads.

Boba beads, or tapioca pearls, are basically the same concept as water beads and edible! There are a ton of options on amazon ranging from prices to flavor. They still pose a choking risk so as always provide supervision. The benefit of boba beads over water beads is there is no risk of expansion in the intestinal tract.

Dump them on your water table or in a few large bowls with spoons and different things to scoop and pour. The texture provides that tactile sensory input and the spoons incorporate bilateral coordination and hand manipulation along with ROM of the wrist and upper extremities. 


Talking about Boba beads brings me to my next point, produce! Sensory aversions to food and restrictive diets is very complex. Always reach out to your child’s pediatrician or therapist specializing in these areas!

I love using food in play. Food has so many sensory components to it: visual, tactile, olfactory, and taste. Sometimes I find when it is in a play format, the pressure to try and taste, etc. is taken away. Children are able to explore and have more autonomy in play schemes. I always offer ‘tools’ when there’s food or a different tactile experience. This way children can explore and engage without having to physically touch. It gives a child more say in their play and overall control.

I’ve set it up a few different ways for water play!

1. Create a little ‘market’:

I set it up with one large bowl that has different produce items and the other bowl that has water. I’ll have some little wash clothes or brushes along with a few large spoons. I have used carrots, peppers, broccoli, snap peas; you name it it has been in a bucket on our porch! Always double-check with families to see if their child has a food allergy. If you are nervous about using produce, you could also use plastic play food if it doesn’t have a hole on the bottom (I personally don’t like when I have to shake all the water out and the possibility of mold).

2. I put slices of fruit/produce directly in the water

When my husband takes my daughter grocery shopping, they always come home with weird citrus fruits. When we lived near Whole Foods, sometimes I wasn’t even sure what it was! We always offer the fruit slices to my daughter that she picked out, but they are not a hit more times than not. I didn’t want to throw them away so I have been using them in sensory bins!! I’ll slice them up so they float and offer different spoons, tongs, and buckets! I personally do not put highly preffered food items in the water bins because I want to encourage more exploration vs scooping for her snack.

Icecubes for Water Play

Painted icecubes with a tray of paint to the right

My daughter finds icecubes mesmerizing!! She enjoys them in the table and buckets, straight out of the icebox, but I’ve been trying to explore some other options! If I remember, the night before, I will drop a few drops of food coloring in the tray, add the water, and freeze up! When they melt in the water, it looks like a swirling rainbow! I have also tried, adding blueberries and peas to the icecube tray for different visual input. You can put small toys/manipulatives if your child doesn’t mouth nonedibles. 

Ice-cube Painting

Little girl with paint brush painting icecubes

A new favorite one is painting icecubes!!! My daughter has really been into exploring paints!! First fill up a large bowl with icecubes and offer paint on the side. I put some paint in an egg carton so she had a few options and then i could just throw away the carton when she was done.  

What are your favorite ways to incoperate water play into your child’s or student’s day? Do you have a favorite ‘theme’? Comment below!!

Check out my Simply Special Ed blog on Sensory Bins on a Budget for a few ideas!

Signature of author: Taylor
Water Play and sensory Bins for Summer Fun Pin featuring a bowl of icecubes and paint

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