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Hands-On Play With Sand and Water Activities for Toddlers

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 8/2/2012

Toddlers and preschoolers love imaginative playtime with special activities like sand and water play, so harness their naturally playful curiosity with these creative ideas. Plan and teach toddler lessons using interactive activities.

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    Sand Table Play

    Dinosaur 

    When children play in sandboxes together, they learn about teamwork and sharing particularly if there is only one sand pail. The tactile experience of this kind of soft play allows them to express feelings they may be too young to verbalize.

    It is an excellent teaching aid for the arts (think sand castles and simple sand art). Manipulating sandbox toys is a superior way to develop hand-eye coordination as well as gross and fine motor skills.

    Try these simple ways to turn activity table centers such as sand play into learning events. Make an inexpensive activity table with plastic wash tubs filled with sand and place them on the classroom activity table or use a commercial sand table.

    Measurement Play

    Provide a variety of sizes of sand toys for measuring objects like sand and water. Sand buckets and shovels are always popular. Encourage the kids to practice filling the sand pails to different levels and guide a discussion about their exploration.

    Discussion Questions

    • How does the dry sand feel in your hand?
    • What happens when we add water to the dry sand?
    • Can you take your finger and make a design in the wet sand?
    • Tell me about your design.
    • Which do you like best: dry or wet sand?

    Sand Activities

    Hide toys such as plastic dinosaurs in the sand and let the kids excavate them. This activity ties in nicely with a dinosaur hunt unit that explains how archaeologists dig for fossils, the care they use to remove found objects and so on.

    Have a show-and-tell day and let the kids bring a favorite toy from home. Since most toddlers will bring a collection of toys such as cars, plastic figures or maybe building toys, encourage then to create a sand table village with their toys.

    Water Table Play

    Water table play and preschoolers is a perfect match. Water and sand play is a fascinating way to teach science and math to any age group. Here are some easy ways to incorporate science and mathematics learning into water table play.

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    Discussion Questions: Water Table Play

    Writing in the sand 

    Use the plastic dinosaurs and ask open-ended questions:

    • Use the dinosaur props from the sand table center and drop them into the water.
    • Will they float?
    • Why or why not?
    • How many dinosaurs can you put into the cup before it overflows?
    • What happens if we drop sand into the water? Will the sand float – why or why not?

    Some naturally playful activity center ideas are:

    • Using drinking straws, invite the toddlers to trace letters or make designs in the wet sand.
    • Build sand castles using the sand toys castle molds. Construct a sand castle village, and then let the kids demolish it.
    • Modeling clay molds and toys can be repurposed into sand toys easily. Ask parents to donate any unused items they may have. Plastic cookie cutters also make fun and safe sand toys.

    While you may prefer to keep sand table and water table play as separate activity centers, there is a natural synergy between kids, sand and water. They will mix the sand and water in spite of your best efforts.

    If space is an issue in the classroom, evaluate the value of having a combined sand and water play area with common toys. Not only is it a space-saving solution, it eliminates the stress of monitoring toddlers who have their own creative play ideas about these activities.

    Safety disclaimer

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