Some Float, Some Don’t

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When you’re toddler gets older, there will be no shortage of flotation experiments to try for early lessons on density. But for younger toddlers, you can simply introduce the concept of flotation with this simple game of observation. Some things go ker-plunk to the bottom of the water and some things float, and for now that’s all that matters!

I set out a shallow tray of water with a towel underneath for easy clean-up, and then pulled out a variety of objects.

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Of course Veronika was immediately interested in everything in the pile, including a spoon, a clothespin, a plastic animal toy, a piece of sponge, a key, a wooden block, a comb, shredded paper, and more.

One by one, we dropped the items in the water.

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“Will it sink or float?” I asked for each one. “It sinks!” I would say happily. Or, conversely, “It floats!” She parroted both these statements back to me, even though it was brand new vocab. But this is precisely how kids learn!

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Then it was time just to let her explore the objects in the water. She loved squeezing the sponge pieces.

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And crumpling the paper between her fingers until it disintegrated into our water.

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The clothespin was fun to scoot around like a little boat.

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And when she was done, I dumped the water in the sink and wiped the floor dry, and the game was complete!

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Tracing on a Wet Chalkboard

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Toddlers love to paint with water, and parents love this activity, too; kids think they are making a masterpiece, but there’s zero mess to clean up. Today, I added a slight twist to the activity. Veronika has painted directly on pavement and sidewalks, but this time I pulled out our chalkboard for a new canvas.

I started out with a shape learning twist, and drew four shapes for her in chalk: a triangle, circle, square, and heart.

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I showed her how to dip the paintbrush in a cup of water and follow along the lines of the shapes, a precursor to tracing!

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The mechanics of this (and the importance of it) were beyond her of course, but she loved seeing how the wet lines she made with the paintbrush could make chalk lines disappear. It was like a magical eraser!

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After that there was just the fun of painting on the chalkboard, watching the water swirl and make patterns, and turn the surface of the chalkboard darker.

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Eventually she upended one of the water cups over the chalkboard surface, and then there was lots of water to swish about with her brush.

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Or splash her hands! So the activity was a joy from start to finish.

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Straw Fountain

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Here’s a quick STEM experiment that will technically teach your kids about centrifugal force (i.e. the same technology used in commercial water pumps, such as a laundry machine when it’s draining). But even the science is too advanced for your child, there’s the pure fun of spraying water!

To put together the “fountain”, cut a straw to about 2/3 of its length. Snip two holes at even intervals, sniping into but not through the straw, so it now has three segments.

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Poke a hole in the middle of the center segment with a needle, and then insert a skewer. Fold the other two segments down toward the tip of the skewer; you now have a triangle. Tape it all in place.

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Fill a glass with water and head some place where it’s okay to get wet! Our patio was perfect. To activate the fountain, just roll the skewer between your palms.

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Unfortunately it was really hard to capture photos of the fountain in motion, because Travis couldn’t quite master the trick of rolling the skewer quickly enough to make the triangle spin. When I showed him how to do it, on the other hand, our fountain worked fantastic but Travis kept stepping back to avoid getting wet and didn’t take any pictures!

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Still, it was well worth the effort to make this craft. The D.I.Y. “sprinkler” was just right for a warm spring morning!

Water Wheel Kiwi Crate

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One of my favorite memories with Travis is a trip we took to an old saw mill when he was in preschool. I reminded him of the moment when his latest kit from Kiwi CoKiwi CoKiwi Coarrived, all about the Water Wheel! There was great STEM learning here about the power of water, all of which led to great play.

First up: the Water Wheel and Boat. To make the wheel involved slotting plastic paddles into the circular side pieces and holding it all in place with elastics. More and more with each crate, I sit back and let Travis handle the dexterity of all this.

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We then inserted the frame pieces into a foam base and again held it all together with elastics. A funnel goes on top, and can slide along on a foam donut.

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To make the “boat” simply involved inserting three corks into a foam frame, a good refresher on buoyancy and how cork is a material that floats.

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We inflated the provided water basin and placed the boat and water wheel inside.

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As Travis poured water into the funnel, the rope tugs the boat a little closer to the wheel each time. It required a little trial and error, but eventually our boat was taut against the wheel.

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We took our Water Wheel outside for a few additional experiments. First, we tested what would happen if the boat dangled over an edge, rather than floating in water. Even against the power of gravity, the boat rose upward!

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Then Travis tested filling the funnel with sand instead of water; I think ideally this would have worked, but he poured the sand in so fast that the funnel clogged, and we didn’t have great results.

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His Explore magazine also suggested testing the boat out in soapy water, though I’m unclear why. Was the soap supposed to hinder or help? In our results, it worked better, the fastest wind-up yet. Then we untied the boat and just had fun playing with the wheel as a water toy. Travis could test the power of the current that the wheel generates by floating other bath toys around it.

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The final project in this crate was Splash Art. Travis used the provided penguin background for his first try.  Add a generous squirt of the provided blue paint, then use the provided straw to blow.

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He was nervous at first that he would inhale the paint, so we practiced blowing air against our palms.

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Now he was brave enough, and I was so proud of him! There’s enough extra paper to make a few designs of your child’s own, and Travis loved adding lots of blue paint to these and blowing all over the surface.

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Have fun varying your method, including blowing hard or soft, or varying the angle of the straw. Just be careful: this one is messy!

Before wrapping up, we did a quick experiment to test the power of a vortex. First, fill an empty 2 litre bottle with water and pour it out normally over a bucket. Set a timer and see how long it takes! Ours emptied in 16 seconds.

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Refill it, but this time place your hand over the opening, turn the bottle upside down, and begin spinning in a circular motion; you’re creating a vortex. When you remove your hand, the water will whoosh out! I’d estimate it emptied in half the time.

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To make this more visible, first we added red food coloring, and then glitter. Travis was in charge of the camera, so unfortunately the pictures didn’t come out great!

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We ended the fun with two reads about water: Hi, Water by Antoinette Portis and National Geographic Kids’ Water.

Pom Pom Squeeze Water Play

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Here was the perfect game to play on the patio with Veronika while big brother had “recess” today. It not only involves great sensory elements, but also builds fine motor skills from squeezing.

I first laid down a towel, both for comfort and to absorb any spilled water as we played, then I set out a shallow tray filled with pom poms. Because Veronika still puts small objects in her mouth at times, I used only large ones. Use a variety of pom pom sizes for older toddlers!

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First I just let her play with the dry fluffy pom poms, because she loves them. Then I filled the tray with a little warm water (use cold water if it’s a hot day!). The pom poms will almost immediately become saturated.

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I pointed out to her that they felt differently now, and then I showed her how to squeeze out the pom poms over a cup.

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“Squeeze!” I said, and she echoed me and clenched her fists around a few of them.

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She also of course loved splashing her hands in the warm water.

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She sometimes squeezed the pom poms over the cup, and sometimes just tossed them in.

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Older toddlers and preschoolers will really enjoy the challenge of squeezing out water until the cup is filled to the brim! It turns out pom poms can hold a lot of water.

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Then there’s the fun of pouring the water back out of the cup and starting over.

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Or the fun of transferring pom poms from one cup to another.


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Or just swishing all those pom poms around in the shallow tray endlessly. In sum, this one is sure to keep your toddler busy!

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Water Painting

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With sunshine on our back patio, Veronika had some water fun outside today after a morning cooped up for home schooling! This was the perfect game to occupy her during big brother’s “recess”.

I sat Veronika down on a soft blanket and presented her with a bucket full of water, paint brushes, and brown paper bags. The bags were to be her canvas, and my little artist went to work!

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She was fascinated watching her “paint” appear on the brown bags, instantly making dark marks, even though she also knew this was just water.

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We tested out the way the water made everything darker, whether the patio next to her…

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…or a rock from the yard. The rock was particularly fascinating, and she loved “painting” it for quite some time.

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I showed her that she could get her hand wet and make prints on the bags.

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After which she wanted to paint water on her hand for a while!

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She also loved watching big droplets of water drip from the brush if she held it up in the air. These made fun runnels of water over the brown paper bags.

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At one point we made a big puddle on the patio, and watched how quickly the sun turned the color to normal again. You can have fun doing this with shapes and letters for your little one, too; it’s the original invisible ink!

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Chances are your big kids might want to join in on this one, too.

Splish, Splash

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The next time your toddler takes a bath, take a moment to focus not on the feel of the water, but on the sounds that you can make with water. This is a great opportunity for some auditory sensory play.

First, I filled the tub with warm water and got Veronika in her bathing suit for a little added element of difference and fun.

Turn the tap on very lightly and allow just a trickle of water to come out. We listened to the light plip plop sound this made, and Veronika reached curious fingers under the stream.

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I paused before I turned the tap on to a full roar. I thought this might alarm her, but she stared at it, mesmerized. Encourage your child to run a hand under this strong stream, too, as you listen to the roar and whoosh.

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Finally, I turned the tap off and helped her discover other ways we could listen to the water. Tapping the surface made a delightful slapping sound.

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And pouring water from a cup made a lovely splish splash.

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Have fun using lots of onomatopoeia as you play! In sum, this was an auditory delight. If you want to continue the fun outside of the tub, consider playing soothing water sounds on the computer while your child plays.

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Toys Play Hide and Seek

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Veronika is old enough now to enjoy games of hide and seek. Tonight, I put a fun spin on the game by taking it to the water!

Toss a variety of container lids into the tub at bath time. Ideally these would all be opaque with an older toddler, but with my one-year-old I didn’t worry that some were see-through. The lids themselves are half the fun of the game, since they will make excellent bath toys.

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While she was watching, I put a rubber frog under one of the lids.

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“Where’s frog?” I asked. She didn’t get it at first, reaching around for other lids. But I showed her how to lift the correct lid and declared, “There’s frog!”

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Now she was interested. I hid him under another lid, and this time she proudly looked around, then reached under.

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There’s frog!

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Needless to say, the lids and frogs made for a great bath time.

Splash Zone

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Yes you can have water play in the kitchen without too much mess. These splashy games kept Veronika super-engaged while I prepped school lunches, and are a fun way to continue water play even as summer heads into fall. And clean-up was a breeze.

First, I sat her down on a towel with a shallow tub of water. I placed just a few bath toys in it, encouraging her to grab them as I made them float by.

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She loved scooping the toys up and out of the water, and just dipping in her little fingers.

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For added ease, I dressed her in a bathing suit. If it’s warm enough, there’s nothing wrong with doing the game in just a diaper!

Next, we got even splashier. I sat her up in the highchair, and carefully poured a small stream of water onto the high chair tray. This alone was delightful.

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She tested it out…

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…then discovered it was fantastic for splashing!

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Yes there were splatters, but the towel underneath caught almost all of it, and a quick wipe with a paper towel got the rest. And then up we went to change out of her bathing suit!

Surface Tension Experiment

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This is one of those experiments that Travis and I couldn’t get quite right, whoops! But we tried and had fun in the process, which is sometimes all that counts.

The science behind the activity is that water molecules hold with strong bonds, so much so that they’ll fill the holes of a mesh bag even when tipped upside-down.

First, Travis checked out our mesh bag. It sure didn’t look like it would hold water!

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We put it over a mason jar and secured with an elastic. Fill the jar about 3/4 full with water.

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Place an index card on top and flip over. No water leaking yet.

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Now the idea is to remove the index card – slooowly. According to the internet, sometimes it can just fall off, which works even better. Either way, the water should hold!

However, I think because every time we slid the index card out it wiggled the mesh bag, our experiment didn’t work.

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We tried altering several variables. Securing the elastic tighter around the mesh didn’t make things work any better, nor did using a second, smaller-mouthed glass jar.

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But you’ll notice from the giggles hat Travis wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. In fact, I think he liked the experiment better with the mess!

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Did you get your water to hold? Please share in the comments!