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Sink and Float Water Play with Natural Materials

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Water play is a perfect outdoor activity for toddlers on warm summer days. Add materials gathered in nature to a simple sink or float activity to provide some awesome hands on learning and sensory play.

Sink and float toddler activity with materials from nature

Sink and Float Water Play with Natural Materials

This activity combines a nature walk or scavenger hunt with water play. Gather some leaves, rocks, twigs or other natural materials with your toddler. It's' a great play based math activity too.  

Allow your young adventurer time to examine objects in natural surroundings, and fill your pockets with interesting treasures!

We would love to see some pics of your seashells sensory bin setup – share them in our Facebook Group or over on Instagram (follow @myboredtoddler and use #myboredtoddler so we can all see!). 

Sink and float sensory play with water and natural materials

Water play is easy to provide with just a small tub of water and items to add to the water. Place the natural materials you collected to one side of the tub. You can use any kind of container - I like one like THIS that stores easily under the bed! 

Provide different textures, colors, and sizes in your supply of materials. Include leaves, flowers, twigs, stones, or other items you find in nature.

Nature theme water play for toddlers

Place items one at a time in the water and observe whether each item sinks or floats.

Water play is a child-led activity, which means it invites kids to participate with few instructions. But it’s helpful to engage with early learners as they interact with the materials to support opportunities for learning through play.

Sink and float water play for toddlers

One important way to engage is with meaningful conversation: naming colors; counting items; drawing attention to specific details or events.  

What will happen if we put a twig or rock on the leaf?

How many twigs are floating in the water?

Your green leaf looks like a boat.

Splashing with rocks, twigs and leaves in summer themed water play

Along with sink and float there are lots of other ways to play in the water tub.

  1. Drop materials into the water from above the tub to see if they make a splash.
  2. Swirl the water with your hands to see which materials move around.
  3. Sort the materilas according to which ones sink or float, as well as by size, from smallest to biggest.

Sink and float water play with natural materials

Water play is a simple activity to provide for your toddler, but a valuable opportunity to support early literacy, fine motor skills, and math skills.

You can bring the fun indoors with a little preparation in the form of drop cloths and protective clothing.

Indoors or outdoors, water play is fun sensory play that will result in lots of giggles – and splashes! – for you and your toddler.

We would love to see some pics of your seashells sensory bin setup – share them in our Facebook Group or over on Instagram (follow @myboredtoddler and use #myboredtoddler so we can all see!). 

Some more toddler activities you might enjoy are: 

Water Play for Babies & Toddlers 

water play ideas for babies and toddlers featureSensory Bins for Toddlers 

sensory bins for 1 2 and 3 year olds toddlers preschoolers


About the Author 

Heather is a former preschool teacher and founder of, a website providing early learning resources for teachers and parents. She focuses on creating fun crafts and activities that engage developmental skills while promoting hands-on learning through play. Follow her on FacebookPinterestTwitterInstagram and Google+




Wednesday 15th of July 2020

What a fun experiment