Children love working with water. Whether it’s making bubbles, pouring through a funnel or scrubbing a chair it always captivates and engages. Activities with water in the environment are not only popular with the children, they provide stimulating and enriching opportunities for them to learn about a multitude of things.

Setting up a water area

If you are going to use water regularly, you might want to consider special, well thought out areas assigned to its use both indoors and outdoors, as with all other material in the prepared environment.

Some considerations:

  • What to place the water in. Suggestions are either a large tray on sturdy legs (these are commercially available) or an old baby bath, which works well.
  • Accessibility to the area and space considerations, as typically at least two or three children like to work together on water activities.
  • Provide hooks for aprons and towels.
  • Depending on flooring indoors it may be wise to have a large plastic ground sheet underneath the water table.
  • Having a basket full of interesting objects (which are regularly changed) for activities around sinking/floating or for role play, such as shells, different boats, and underwater creatures.
  • Health and safety issues such as cleaning the water daily, never using boiling water, or if any children have allergies (e.g. eczema) avoid adding washing liquids or soap flakes.


Some classroom activities:

Care of the self/environment

  • Hand-washing – taught early on as an important part of toilet routine, snack and mealtime.
  • Washing and rinsing crockery and cutlery after snack or meal-time.
  • Scrubbing chairs and tables.
  • Washing the practical life cloths. This can be an opportunity to look at washing from a cultural perspective (e.g. Mumbai’s Dhobi Ghats). Mrs Lather’s Laundry by Allan Ahlberg is also a great resource here.
  • Care of teeth – this can be linked to a people in the community project by arranging for a dentist to visit.
  • Depending on the age range you can brainstorm ideas on how to save water (e.g. turning water off when brushing teeth, or collecting rain water to reuse in the garden).


Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy

  • Make containers to collect and measure rainfall. Findings can be recorded by creating simple bar graphs and can be done over a period of two months: predictions can be made as to which month will have the greater amount.
  • Supply children with a wide range of materials to test if they will absorb water. You can have simple cards with pictures of the materials and children can look at them beforehand and try to predict if they will absorb water or not.
  • Use different sized and shaped containers which can be filled with the same capacity of water each time and then ask the children if they think they have the same amount or different amounts of water in each. This begins to give children the idea/experience of conservation of a liquid (i.e. you can change the given arrangement without altering the amount, which is something young children initially find very difficult). Also fill containers with varying amounts and talk about differences using appropriate language such as full, fuller, fullest, or more than, less than.
  • Mark containers with lines and get children to fill them to prescribed lines, developing accuracy and attention to detail, though you can also link it to units of measurement which are part of their daily lives (e.g. a pint or litre of milk).
  • Have a jug and several cups for children to share out water (division) and also learn the language of fractions (half, quarter, etc.).
  • Do a classroom chart which shows how often water is used in their day (can be done as a daily time line – use hours on a clock face for those competent with counting and number recognition to 12)
  • Have discussions about the differences of weight of wet and dry clothes using comparative language such as heavier or lighter.
  • Have a bowl of water and a collection of stones and let children predict how many stones will needed to make the water overflow; again graphs can be made for both predictions and findings.


Knowledge and understanding of the world

Here are just some of the activities that have allowed children to gain a greater understanding of the importance of water to the planet’s survival.

  • Use the sandpaper globe to emphasise just how much of our world’s surface is water.
  • Create landforms with the children and then let them use water to explore their properties
  • In the colour-coded continent folders look at pictures and discuss water in relation to people’s lives: reliance on sea food for sustenance, or small children having to walk miles with pots on their heads to collect water for example. This can also be related to the current crisis of droughts and the fact that water is so crucial to our existence, or the problems of floods and the devastation that they can cause.
  • Explore (with age appropriate children) the human body and how much of it is made up of water. Look at the need to drink more water on warm days and why.
  • Teach about water displacement. Use a see-through container filled with water to a marked level. Drop something heavy into the container and assess the new water level. Talk about the changes. A great book to use here is Mr Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen.
  • Make heading cards for things that dissolve and those that do not and get the children to predict and then carry out the experiment.
  • Another popular activity is sinking/floating. Again header cards can be made or a simple pictorial sheet that children can use. You have pictures of objects to use down the left and then two columns on the right for ‘sinks’ or ‘floats’ and the child simply marks the appropriate column after trying the objects.
  • Explore different states of water, solid (ice), liquid, and gas (steam).
  • Show how valuable water is for things to grow and how water is absorbed through stems/roots. Celery sticks or white carnations placed in different coloured dyes work best.
  • Do colour mixing – fill small jam jars with water and add food colouring (primary colours work well) with a pipette to create new colours.


Links to project work:

  • Look at pond and sea life; you can create your own small scale pond or sea. The sea works well if you add a touch of blue and green to the water and a bit of glitter to reflect the ocean hue then have various sea creatures for children to play with and talk about.
  • Create a swamp or watering hole using the water tray and sand. Have the appropriate animals for children to role play with.
  • Look at seasons and climate and the role that water has in them.
  • Water transport – use boats in the water tray (e.g. sailing boats, rowing boats, submarines and speed boats) to discuss their differences.
  • Celebrate World Water Day – it’s on 22nd March.


Communication, language and literacy

This area is achieved with all water experiences, experiments and projects and is inextricably intertwined with all other areas. There are many wonderful books to use on the topic of water, but here are a few suggestions:

  • A drop of water – Walter Wick
  • All the water in the world – George Ella Lyon
  • The rainy day, On the seashore and Under the sea, all by Anna Milbourne.
  • Wet all over: a book about the water cycle (The magic school bus series) – Pat Relf
  • Water (DK Publishing’s Eye Know series)
  • Water – Frank Asch
  • The commotion in the ocean – Giles Andreae.

You could also:

  • Explore a wide range of poetry, songs and rhymes that are about water.
  • Listen to rain or watch the snow, and ask children to describe what they see and hear.


Creative Development

  • Make bubbles, have a variety of tools to create different sizes.
  • Do bubble art by blowing with a straw to make bubbles rise and placing paper on top.
  • Using old yoghurt pots, insert two small holes on either side and thread string through to make a handle. At the base of the pot pierce small holes and then have water re-cycled from washing up to pour into it. Find a paved area create water patterns.
  • Make colour books by using water and paint.
  • Use wet and dry chalk and talk about the differences.
  • Fill glass bottles to different levels and show children how to strike them to make music.
  • Do dressing up for certain weathers.
  • Singing, e.g. include Rain, rain go away, It ain’t gonna rain no more, It’s raining, its pouring.
  • Use instruments to create water sounds, like rain water, hail, or running taps.


Physical Development

  • Get children involved in activities like washing windows and scrubbing chairs.
  • Swimming –here, you can also talk about paddling pool water, public pool water (which has chlorine) and sea (salt) water.
  • Learn rain dances from other cultures.
  • Use watering cans to water plants outdoors and around the classroom.
  • Go on a nature walk after the rain and have fun jumping in muddy puddles.

What other ideas do you have to use water in the classroom? Let us know!


First published in Montessori International, issue 101