Indoor water play is an important sensory and developmental activity for kids of all ages, and it is also a fun way to keep them entertained. Whether you use water toys, go swimming indoors, or even enjoy an indoor water park, your child will greatly benefit from indoor water play.
What Age to Begin Water Play with Kids
Play. Learn. Thrive.™ only endorses products we authentically love and use. Some of the product links in this post may be affiliate links. That means that if you click them and make a purchase, this site makes a commission. Play. Learn. Thrive.™ is also an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. It will have no impact on the price you pay or the experience of your purchase.
It is important to begin water play with your child at a young age. Not only does it help with their sensory development, but it also helps them become comfortable around water. Most pediatricians recommend that water play begins when a child is around 6 months old, or when they can hold their head up completely on their own.
How Do I Introduce My Child to Playing in the Water?
If your baby or toddler is going to experience water play for the first time, you will want to start with something simple. The easiest route to take is to put a little water in a bowl and give them items like measuring cups or plastic spoons and let them start to play with them.
Start with small amounts and you can eventually add more. With this activity, you may want to keep extra water on hand because your child will probably splash it out pretty quickly.
Make sure that you have a change of clothes for them afterward so that they learn that they do not have to stay in wet, uncomfortable clothing. You may have to provide hand-over-hand assistance at first to show them that it is okay to splash and play.
Why is Water Play Important?
Water play is an important part of early childhood development. It helps your child’s coordination, balance, and even social skills. It also introduces them to water safety at an early age.
Water Play Helps Your Child’s Coordination
Playing in the water helps improve your child’s strength and motor skills. Kicking in the water can build up leg strength and coordination. This also helps them learn to coordinate each side of their body. Whether they are dancing, playing, or even just throwing toys in the water, they are learning coordination skills.
Water Play Helps with Balance
When playing in the water, children can jump and splash around without the fear of falling and getting hurt on a hard surface. This helps them gain control of their body and start developing balance, even if it looks like they are just bouncing around and playing in the water. It also helps them build strength, as there is more resistance in the water than there is in the air.
Water Play Helps with Social Skills
Letting your child play in the water with a sibling or a friend is a great way for them to begin building social skills. They learn how to interact and communicate with other children. It also teaches them to share and play together. It also helps them learn about personal space and how their actions affect others.
Water safety is an important thing to develop at a young age. Not only do you want your young child or toddler to feel comfortable around water, but to also know how to be safe around it. By exposing them early to water play, you are able to start developing these water safety skills.
Sensory Water Activities for Kids
Sensory skills are especially important during a child’s toddler years. It is important to incorporate sensory activities into their everyday routine, and indoor sensory water activities are a fun way to do that.
Water beads are one of my favorite water activities to do with kids, especially indoors because you don’t have to worry about water spilling. Water beads are little beads that start out hard, but once they have soaked in the water for several hours, they soften.
They feel wet to the touch, but your child’s hands will actually stay dry. I like to wet a large batch of them and let my kids play with them in a small bin. They love the feeling of them and just running their hands through them.
Click here to get my favorite water beads. They come with enough that you can divide the pack into smaller portions and wet them over time.
Water tables are one of the most popular sensory water play activities for kids. These are basically just small tables that you can pour a little bit of water in and they have toys attached, like water pouring buckets, spinning wheels, etc. You can even find themed water tables, such as frogs or ocean animals. These can be used indoors or outdoors. These tables allow your children to splash around and experiment with water in a fun and safe way.
There are a ton of good options for water tables, but this one is probably my favorite. It comes with 13 accessory attachments, so it has plenty of options to keep your little one entertained and busy in the water.
Okay, so I know that you don’t literally want your toddler to wash dishes, but this is a fun play activity. Simply put a little water and bubble bath in a small container, give them a sponge, and drop their plastic toy dishes into the container. Show them how to wipe them off with the sponge and put them back in the water or even lay them out to dry.
This set of plastic dishes is perfect for this activity. Your child will love the fun colors and it comes with 27 pieces for them to play with and “wash”.
Playing with Sponges
Sponge play is a great sensory activity for toddlers, and it can be done indoors. You can do this in the bathtub, over the sink, or on the kitchen counter with containers. Just wet some sponges and let your child squeeze the water out and wet them again. They will have so much fun while also having a sensory experience.
This set of 30 sponges will make this activity even more fun for your toddlers. They come in fun shapes like butterflies, cars, and even feet.
Toy Car Wash
This one is especially fun for little ones. Similar to washing the plastic dishes, just put their toy cars (the ones that are water safe) in a bin of water and bubble bath and let them scrub away. I’ve even let my kids use a spare toothbrush to scrub off the cars. This kept them entertained for hours and was an easy activity to clean up.
These soft rubber cars are safe for toddlers to use and are water safe.
This is a fun way for your kids to begin to realize that ice is frozen water. Use an ice cube tray that has fun shapes and once it has hardened, take them out and let your little ones play with the cubes in a bin until they melt. They will have a great time!
These silicone molds make fun forest animal shapes that your kids will love.
Water Transfer Activities
Water transfer is the simple act of pouring water from one container into another, and kids love it! You can use all sorts of containers – buckets, cups, bowls – and even give them plastic shovels or plastic spoons that they can use to scoop the water. Water transfer is a fun sensory activity for kids, and will also help their coordination skills.
This can be done with containers from your kitchen or even with the plastic dishes set above. I also like this set that comes with droppers so your child can work on their fine motor skills.
Swimming Indoors with Kids
When you think of swimming with your kids, your mind probably goes straight to an outdoor pool, but you can also swim indoors with your kids. Make sure that you have safety in mind when doing this. Your child should be at an appropriate age to go into the water, wear a flotation device, and you should always remain within arm's reach of them, especially while they are in or around the water.
Kiddie Pools Indoors
This may seem silly to do indoors, but my kids love having a little splash pool in the house during the winter. I like to use the hard-sided round pool and just put a little bit of water in it. I use warm water, especially during the colder months, so that they are comfortable playing in it.
I either put it on the kitchen floor or in the bathroom, where the floors will be okay if they get a little water on them. You can put in a little bit of water and a few toys and your kids will have a blast! This is also something that you can do during the warmer summer months on a screened-in porch so your little one is safe from the sun. This is a fun indoor activity on a rainy day.
You can find one of these pools at major retailers (think Target or Walmart), but I’ve also seen this one online and it has great reviews.
Local Indoor Pools
Many communities have indoor pools that are available. If you are unfamiliar with one near you, try reaching out to local health clubs or activity centers to see if they have one that would be included in the membership. Many of these locations also offer swim lessons for kids.
If you do not find a pool, you can try an indoor water park. Many of these have pools that are appropriate for toddlers, such as The Kartrite Indoor Water Park in New York. Some of these options even have indoor kiddie slides and will let you bring along your own water toys. Indoor swimming is a great way to get your child to play in the water without having to worry about the harmful effects of the sun.
I know that this is not technically swimming, but playing in the bathtub is another sensory activity in the water that can benefit your child’s development. There are all sorts of games and activities that your kids can do in the bathtub. Most of the activities that I mentioned above as sensory indoor water activities can be done in the bathtub has a lot of fun bathtime toys for little ones.
Some of my favorites are these precious little animal rattles. They also have a variety of bath bombs, which make this water play extra fun. There are also many educational bathtub water games, like foam letters and even bathtub paint. This is a fun way to get your child playing in the water.
Indoor Water Parks with Kids
Indoor water parks are such a fun way to have indoor water play with children of all ages. Most of these parks have special areas for toddlers, and they are always family-friendly. Your family, kids included, will love spending time at an indoor water park.
The Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark is our top pick for an indoor waterpark. This Indoor Water Park Resort is located in New York’s Sullivan Catskills. Not only can you play at this water park, but they also have a resort so you can extend your time there. It's set in a gorgeous wooded park and is perfect for all seasons.
They have 6 water slides that your older kids can enjoy -just be sure to check the height requirements so you can manage expectations if one of your kiddos doesn't meet the requirement for a particular area of the park.
For your little ones, they can enjoy Later Gator Crossing. This is a fun rope bridge across the “alligator-infested” waters. They will also enjoy playing on Kartrite Island, the indoor splash pad which is full of interactive water features. There are over 100 water activities to explore in this area, and they even have dump buckets
For your littlest ones, they have a Puddle Ducks area. In this space, they can play on water slides (including tube slides) and with water features that are just their size. If you just want to hang out at a pool with your family, be sure to stop by Affinity Springs. You can even rent a cabana for a day. We did this and it was a great way to have a comfortable place for the baby to rest and for us to re-group as needed.
Great Wolf Lodge is a chain of indoor water parks throughout North America. While not quite as many square feet as The Kartrite, Great Wolf Lodge does still have indoor water options for all ages. Each of these locations has different activities and areas, but some of the most common is an indoor playground with water features and Crooked Creek.
The indoor playground is fun for kids of all ages. Crooked Creek is the lazy river at Great Wolf Lodge and is a great family option when you want to relax and float. Every location also has toddler-friendly, smaller water slides. Your family will enjoy their time doing indoor water play at Great Wolf Lodge, regardless of which location.
Indoor Water Park with Kids Tips
While going to an indoor water park with kids, especially toddlers, is fun, it can also be challenging unless you are prepared. One tip that I learned before going to The Katrite was to bring swim shoes. These are very helpful when your little ones are running around! You will also want to remember to bring extra swim diapers.
Even if you are staying in the resort, keep some extra ones on hand so that you won’t have to go all the way back to your room. Most of these water parks have tasty dining options for meals, but you can also keep some snacks on hand. You will also want to make sure that you bring extra towels and extra dry clothes.
Whether you want to spend time at an indoor waterpark like The Kartrite or you want to play with sponges and cups at home, there are plenty of water play activities for kids of all ages to enjoy.
It is important to remember that water play is important for a child’s development, and can also contribute to their sensory skills, coordination, balance, and even social skills. It is something fun and beneficial to work into your child’s weekly routine.