When the weather is hot, you need water play ideas that build skills…and make Summer memories! These water sensory bin ideas are perfect for HOT Summer days while incorporating sensory and motor skills. Use these water sensory bin activities in therapy or in the backyard to help kids build skills this Summer…and cool off!
Water Sensory Bin
Now, you may be wondering what is a water sensory bin??!! A water sensory bin is a sensory play experience that uses water as a medium for holding various textures designed to promote sensory motor play and learning.
A water sensory bin inspires motor skill development through the use of materials presented in water and the manipulation of tools to scoop, pour, and manipulate water and themed items.
Water sensory bins inspire creative play, exposure to various textures, and motor skill opportunities such as laterality, bilateral coordination, grasp, precision, manipulation, grip and pinch strength, and others.
And best of all, water sensory bins are a fun way to play and explore!
Water Sensory Table
Similar to a sensory water bin, a sensory water table is a sensory play experience using water and other materials in a water table. Water tables can be great for child development for toddlers and preschoolers as they are the perfect height for standing and moving around during play.
Water sensory tables, like water sensory bins, can be created in a variety of themes, designed for creative play or for learning specific skills or concepts. While aquatic therapy is often thought of as a gross motor therapy tool (using water or a swimming pool as a therapy medium for whole body movements, balance, and gross motor coordination), water bins and water tables involve water therapy play into a smaller scale of aquatic therapy. With a small pool of water, kids can develop and refine so many skills!
In therapy, water tables and water bins can be used to focus on specific skills, including functional tasks. Let’s take a look at different ways that water bins and water tables can be used in therapy:
Functional Skills in Aquatic Therapy
Water therapy can be used to help kids refine and develop functional skills…making water a resistive surface that provides proprioceptive feedback, turn-taking, and self-confidence. Functional skills that can be addressed in water play in therapy include:
- washing hands
- drying hands
- wiping spills
- pouring water (liquids)
- using cups and pitchers or scoops (tool use)
- measuring liquids for cooking tasks
- washing dishes
Sensory Benefits of Water Therapy
Aquatic therapy involves the sensory systems and on a small scale, water bins and water tables are a powerful therapy tool. You can focus on refined sensory input on a small scale through play using water tables in therapy.
- Proprioceptive input
- Tactile exploration
- Mixed textures
- Temperature tolerances
- Warm water temperature as a calming sensory input
- Cold water temperatures as alerting sensory input
- Reduces stress through calming sensory input
- Visual processing benefits- visual scanning, visual tracking, visual discrimination, eye-hand coordination, visual closure
Fine Motor benefits of water therapy
On a small scale, water tables and water bins offer many motor skills opportunities for kids to develop fine motor skills! Fine motor skills abound in aquatic therapy!
- Pincer grasp
- Hand strength (tong or tweezer use, squeezing water squeeze toys, syringes, spray bottles)
- Eye-hand coordination (scooping, pouring, dumping water)
- Water resistance
Gross Motor Skill Benefits of water therapy
Even on a small scale, there are gross motor benefits of using water tables and water bins to help with gross motor skill development. Consider these strategies for developing skills using water play:
- Core strengthening by playing in a water bin on the ground: crouching, squatting, getting up and down from the ground
- Upper body support through the arm and shoulder for developing strength and stability
- Sitting crisscross apple sauce with extended reach in all directions
- Weighted containers to pour, mix, and dump water
- Coordination skills
- Motor planning
- Heavy work to dump and move water
- Crossing midline to pour or scoop water, reach for objects in the water
- Bilateral coordination to support and manipulate items
- Standing with reach at a water table
- Mobilizing along a supported surface with head and arm movements
How to use a water sensory bin in aquatic therapy
Kids will love these water bin play ideas listed below! Adding sensory play into a water bin is an easy way to explore the senses, challenge tactile and sensory systems, and encourage development of skills such as fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, crossing midline, visual motor skills, coordination, confidence, and language. Kids love so many sensory activities when you simply add water.
Water sensory bins and tables use any basic water table or can be set up with just a large tote bin, a small food casserole dish, storage bins, or any container that will hold water. The nice thing about these water play ideas is that you can create any theme or use any type of manipulative to the water to engage kids attention and interest. Place the bin on the floor for floor play and core strengthening or position the bin on a table surface for a table set-up.
Water play is so great for little kids to experience and enjoy. The sensory aspect of getting their hands in the water and manipulating objects is great for brain development and sensory integration. They are improving their fine motor skills, bilateral hand coordination, language development, problem solving, creative development, and even self-confidence!
The open-endedness of water play enables learning in endless varieties. Consider adding math or letter concepts to a bin of water. The child is enthralled by the sensory experience and learning happens! Just think, all you have to do is add water and there is so much learning to experience!
To encourage movement, heavy work input, fine motor skill development, try adding these materials to water sensory play experiences:
- Measuring cups
- Watering can
- Marble run
- Water dropper
- Spray bottle
- Squeeze toys
- Floating toys or foam
- Cut pool noodles
- Balls or ping pong balls (any ball that floats)
- Small animal toys or figures
- Water beads
- Food coloring or water paints
- Paint brushes
Water Sensory Play Ideas
Below are are fun water bin sensory play ideas for kids that can be used to address a variety of skills or concepts. Scroll on to find some creative ways to encourage play and development of skills with simple water bins.
Kids of all ages will love these water play ideas…even the big kids! When the weather is hot (Or not…bring these water bin ideas indoors for more fun and sensory play!) you can add any type of learning, cause and effect, and even STEM activities, using some water and some added materials.
- Colors/Fine Motor/Sensory Water Play– Work on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning, precision, and proximal stability as well as tool use in this color water sensory bin.
- Calming Sensory Water Bin– This water sensory bin uses scented water and fun colors to create a calming sensory water bin.
- Relaxing Lavender Water Bin– Use lavender scented water for calming sensory play.
- Island Luau Water Party Water Bin – Use small scoops and island themed items to work on fine motor skills, scooping, pouring, and fine motor strengthening.
- Swamp Water Bin – Explore textures in this swamp themed water bin.
- Pool Noodles Water Bin -Incorporate cut pool noodles for fine motor work, core strengthening, and gross motor skills.
- Color Match Water Bin – Use colors and letters to work on visual scanning, visual motor skills, visual discrimination, and learning colors and letters.
- Rainy Summer Day: Ice Muffins Water Play – Freeze letter magnets or foam letters into ice cubes for sensory motor learning experiences. Kids can chip the alphabet letters from the ice cubes and explore letters while strengthening visual perceptual skills and fine motor strength.
- Colors, Fine Motor, Sensory Water Play -Work on hand strength, grasp, coordination, visual perceptual skills and more with simple materials you already have in the home.
- Ping Pong Ball Water Play for Toddlers– Work on eye-hand coordination, visual scanning, tracking, coordination, crossing midline and more.
We are so excited to start playing away the summer with our water bins. We’re hoping you are inspired…we are inspired, too!
And here are links to the fun water bins over at Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails:
Week 1: Lavender/Purple Water Bin by FSPDT
Week 2: Beach Luau Water Bin by FSPDT
Week 3: Swamp Water Bin by FSPDT
Week 4: Pool Noodle Water Bin by FSPDT
Week 5: Color Match Water Bin by FSPDT
more Sensory water bins
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.