Is it as hot where you live today? It is here! To beat the heat, I want to give you some ideas for water play for toddlers from my therapy manual Let’s Talk About Talking.
In this activity, a child learns to respond and include you in a toddler favorite – water play! Use these activities at bath time, outside in the baby pool, or even indoors using water in large, shallow plastic container. My favorite container for this purpose is one that’s made for storage under the bed. Because water play is so much fun for most young children, I use water play all year long and in every possible setting. There are enough fun ideas for water play with toddlers to fill an entire book, but I’m including my simplest ones here that are like magic for teaching a child to respond and connect.
How to Play and What to Say:
The most consistent way to elicit a toddler’s attention and response with water is also the easiest and requires no equipment beyond the water, the child, and you:
When a child is in the tub, pool, or seated beside the plastic container, wait until he is quiet and alert. Get face-to-face with the child and lean toward him with the most mischievous and playful facial expressions possible. Build anticipation with your voice as you say something like, “I’m… going… to… SPLASH YOU!” Then slap your hand on the water’s surface to create a splash. Try your best not to get his face wet at first, unless you know he won’t mind. Be sure to laugh with the child and splash around together for 30 seconds or so before you become very quiet and still. Wait a little bit to see what a child will do. When there’s a slight break in his actions, begin your routine again.
Your goal here is for him to begin to anticipate your splash and to respond with belly laughs and great eye contact. Most toddlers will try to splash too, which is an early form of imitation (skill #9) and turn taking (skill #11).
Squeezing Water from a Cloth
When a child is relatively quiet, alert, and likely to watch you, say something like, “Look!” or “Watch me!” Make a big deal about holding up a wash cloth and dramatically sinking it into the water. Swirl the cloth around to keep the child’s attention for a few seconds. Then pick up the cloth, hold it up so the child can see it, and use both hands to squeeze the water out of the cloth while you excitedly yell, “Squeeeeeeeze!”
Toddlers usually become very excited with this super simple activity and laugh, smile, and give you sustained eye contact. If you’re fun enough, and if they enjoy water, they will probably want to repeat this water play routine again and again. Help them by offering a turn with the cloth and any assistance to lift or squeeze the cloth. Be sure to repeat your key word “SQUEEZE” every time you squeeze the cloth. Many toddlers will try to imitate this silly word after a few times, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen just yet.
This activity is another great segue into imitating (skill #9), as many toddlers will want to try to squeeze the water out of the cloth themselves.
Filling and Dumping
When a toddler is relatively quiet and alert, get his attention by saying something like, “Watch Mommy!” or “Look!” Dramatically hold up a cup, dip it in the water, bring it back up high, and then pour out the water saying something like, “Cup! Let’s get some water. Watch… me… POUR!” Yell as you pour the water out into the tub or container.
You could also keep your words more general, and say something like “Ready… Set… Go” or “1…2…3!” or even simple words like “Water! Water in! Water out!!” Always yell as you pour the water. Many children will begin to yell along with you, which is purposefully vocalizing (skill #8) and early imitating (skill #9).
This ridiculously easy activity creates so much excitement and, usually, sheer joy for a toddler when an adult uses their voice and facial expressions to woo a child to attend and participate. Repeat the play routine as long as a child remains interested.
Offer the child another cup and repeat this routine together. Invite him to join you by cheerfully saying, “Your turn! In!” as you continue to model filling and dumping water. Try to match his rate of filling and dumping as closely as you can. This is another activity that promotes early imitating (skill #9) and turn taking (skill #11). Filling and dumping are also great examples of early functional play (skill #6).
Knocking Items Down in the Water
Set a few plastic toys on the side of the tub, pool, or container. Use your facial expressions and voice to build anticipation, saying something like, “Ooooh! Get ready! Get set! Go!” and then push the items one at a time in the water. Yell, “Boom,” “Uh oh!” or “Oh no!” as each item falls into the water. Or make a crashing noise as each toy hits the water. After you’ve both enjoyed a good laugh, begin the routine again.
When the child is familiar with the routine, place the toys up on the side and then pause and look at the child expectantly. Point to the toys to cue him and say something like, “Push!” Wait to see if he will push the toys in to the water himself. If he doesn’t try to do this on his own, gently provide some hand-over-hand assistance to help him. If he resists, continue to play and push the items yourself, keeping your overall tone fun and playful.
I hope these ideas for water play for toddlers work as well for you as they do for me! For more therapy activities, check out my therapy manual Let’s Talk About Talking!