Sand & Water Fun for Infants and Toddlers

As an Early Care and Education Consultant and Trainer, I am asked to conduct workshops on a variety of topics for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  My main goal in presenting at conferences and trainings (and also in writing this blog) is to share ideas and activities to use with the children in your care.  I have been asked to present my workshop, “NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE! Extending the Curriculum Outdoors” for Infant and Toddler Teachers.  The program coordinator specifically asked me to focus on the sand and water table and the sensory materials that can be included for this age group.

Is your sand and water table buzzing with activity or is it stagnant like the water you always seem to have in it?  Perhaps your sand and water table is closed because you think it creates a mess.  Whether you need to rekindle interest in your sand and water table or remind yourself about the value of sensory play…read on to discover the sensory learning opportunities found in the sand and water table.

The sand and water table can be equipped with two basins or tubs side by side or it can be one large table.  Whatever the configuration, most of these tables can be used inside or outdoors. Sensory play, sometimes known as “messy play,” happens in the sand and water table.  It is a center for exploring with your senses, experimenting, scooping, and pouring, squeezing and smushing (building fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination for handwriting), sharing and turn taking.  Children can watch chemical reactions, mix colors, repeat observed phenomenon, and try new things.  Sensory play promotes spatial awareness, mathematical thinking, and scientific exploration and discovery.  It also is simply a great way for children to relieve their stress.  Sensory play can be very soothing and relaxing to a young child.

Ideally, the items in the sand and water table should be switched out every week, though there are some materials (i.e., water) that need to be emptied daily. What you can and cannot include in your sand and water table depends on the children and the different policies of your program about the use of food during play and explorations, as well as concerns about children’s food allergies and sanitation.  Some of the items listed may be problematic for toddlers and those children who insist on putting everything in their mouth, ears or nose.  Provide close supervision and use only larger items for the very young.

Materials, Ideas & Activities for the Sand & Water Table:

Depending on the contents of the sand and water table, add small shovels, rakes, sand and water mills, small watering cans, squeeze bottles, sifters, sand molds, buckets, plastic or rubber animals, small people, boats, vehicles, kitchen utensils (wire whisks, slotted spoons, scoops, tongs, tweezers, funnels, mixing cups, basters, ladles, muffin tins, plastic cookie cutters, ice cube trays, sieves) and a variety of containers to foster complex sensory play.

I think it’s important to have two sand and water tables—one for inside and one for outside.  That way, depending on the weather and your setup, some kind of sensory activity can be available for the children to explore.  Infants and toddlers rely on sensory input to learn about their environment. Sensory play helps build neural connections that support thought, learning, and creativity.  It supports language development, cognitive growth, fine/gross motor skills, problem solving/reasoning, and social interaction.  Sensory experiences are like food for the brain.  With a little bit of planning, sensory play in the sand and water table can happen everyday!

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table and Lid (SWTAB, SWTABL)
Neptune Sand and Water Table with Lid (NEPTUNE)
Sand & Water Buckets (BUCKSET)
32 Ounce Bubble Solution (BUB32)
Bubble Wands (BUBWNDS)
Small Shovels (SMSHOV24)
Watering Can (WCAN)
Colorations® Easy-Grip Dough Cutters (EGCUTTER)
Sand & Water Mills (MILLSET3)
Pour and Measure Play Set (POURPACK)
Funnels (FUNNELS)
Excellerations® Fun Foam Fishing Set (REELFUN)
Sailboats (SAILS)
Sturdy Scoops (FUNSCOOP)
Super Classroom Sand Set (SDSET)
Sandtastik® White Play Sand (PLAYSAND)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Sea Creatures (BABYSEA)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Wild Animals (BABYZOO)
Soft Touch Cute Baby Farm Animals (BABYFARM)
Soft Multicultural Career Figures (HELPER)
Small Multicultural Career Figures (PEOPLE)
Bathing Dolls (BATHSET)
Primary Toddler Dish Set (DISHSET)
Magic Nuudles™ (ALLNU)
Kinetic Sand ™ (KINSAND)
Colored Play Sand (CSANDALL)
Sparkling Sculpture Sand (BLINGSET)
Shape it!™ Sand (MOONSNST)
Small Gotcha Nets (NETS)
Gator Grabber Tweezers (GATGRABS)
Medium Insects & Spiders (INSECTS)
Foam Wooden Blocks (WDFMBLK)
Foam Tabletop Unit Blocks (FOBL)
Tree Blocks with Bark (TRBLK)
Tree Blocks without Bark (TRBLKNB)
Chubby Land, Sea & Air Vehicles (CHUBBY)
Fun Dough Scissors (DSCISSOR)
Colorations® Tissue Paper Grass (TGRASS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Liquid Watercolor Classic Colors (13LW)
Colorations® No-Drip Foam Paint (BFP)
Colored Macaroni (SMAC)
Colored Rice (RRIC)
Colorations® Washable Finger Paint (CWFPS)
Colorations® Sensory Sand Finger Paint (SANSET)
Fabric Squares (FAB)
Jumbo 2” Pom-Poms (LGPOMS)
Craft Fluffs (FLUFFPK)
Wood Craft Rounds (WOOD50)

Stick Yarn Bombing

Sharron Stick Yarn 6

It all started with the children’s picture book, “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen.  It’s a story about a young girl named Annabelle who happens to find a box filled with multicolored yarn.  She does what you might expect–knits a sweater for herself.  But there is extra yarn, so she knits one for her dog, only to discover that there is still more yarn.  She then knits sweaters for others–her classmates and teacher and even animals.  Still–more yarn.  She begins to cover her entire cold, drab town in rainbow knitwear–including buildings and trees and even a pickup truck.  Before long, an archduke, who has heard about the magic box of never-ending yarn, arrives and offers Annabelle riches in exchange for the box.  When she refuses, the archduke has it stolen.  But it is for naught–he finds the box empty and angrily tosses it in the sea, where it eventually returns to Annabelle.  This warm tale teaches a lesson and everyone can interpret it differently…but the moral is that good things happen to those who do good things.

Sharron Stick Yarn 1

As my good friend, Isabel Baker of The Book Vine for Children  says, “This book begs to be extended!”  She asked me to collaborate with her on ways that we could integrate this wonderful story into the classroom. Of course, there is knitting and crocheting and the sharing of things that are made of yarn (hats, sweaters, scarfs, blankets, etc.).  Many art activities come to mind – gluing yarn on paper, painting with yarn and Colorations® Liquid Watercolor, cutting yarn and sticking pieces on clear contact paper.  And then I remembered one winter day at my house with some of the grandchildren and providing them with skeins of bright colorful yarn.  And from the pictures below, you can obviously see the active, fun-filled, and collaborative “art” that they created on the stair railings.

Sharron Stick Yarn 2

Sharron Stick Yarn 3

I have come to learn that yarn bombing is a type of graffiti or street art that employs colorful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.  Often undercover and often at night, yarn bombing involves crafters and artists knitting works of art made of yarn onto civic structures and into the fabric of public spaces.  Signs of the yarn bombing movement have shown up in cities across the world.  Bombers have knit turtleneck sweaters for trees in Seattle and covered subway seats in Philadelphia.  The third International Yarn Bombing Day was celebrated on June 8, 2013.  On this day, yarn enthusiasts from around the globe shared their passion with the world by “tagging” their neighborhood–covering bike racks, trees, park benches to even just wrapping a pole or lamp post with yarn–creating a happy spring experience for the members of the community.

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Isabel was presenting her very popular workshop, “The Best New Books For Preschoolers”  at the recent NAEYC Professional Development Institute and wanted to extend this story.  I thought, why not yarn bomb a stick–the oldest and possibly the best toy in the world–natural and free.  So I collected 150 sticks from my neighborhood and brought them with me to the Institute taking place at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.  I asked the attendees to pick a stick that “speaks to you,” (thank you Karen Lombard from Dayton Public Schools).  After I read the story, “Extra Yarn,” I passed around little black boxes of yarn and, of course, the yarn bombing began and no one wanted to stop!  Then I did this with my grandchildren at our family gathering in Lake Tahoe, reading the story, collecting sticks on our nature walks, and providing the magical box of yarn and the “yarn bombing” began and they didn’t want to stop!  Look at what they did with their wrapped sticks: they made geometric shapes, “writing” the initials of their first and last name, to even making hearts.  We love STICK YARN BOMBING!

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Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Jumbo Roving Yarn (ROVING)

Colorations® Acrylic Yarn – set of 12 (YARN)
Yarn Dispensing Box – 16 colors (YARNBOX)
White Sulfite Paper – 500 sheets (P9SU)
Colorations® Crystal Clear Cover (SSAP)
Colorations® Washable School Glue – 4 oz (PMCWG)
Colorations® 5” Blunt Tip Craft Scissors (CBS)
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor Paint – set of 18 (LW18)

Keep Cool! Ice Play In the Water Table


Materials Needed:
Ice—cubes, blocks, etc.
Table salt
Rock salt
Kosher salt (optional)
Eye droppers or pipettes
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ or food coloring (red, yellow, blue)
Sensory tub or water/sand table
Small containers/cups to hold the salt and coloring


  1. Freeze water in a variety of sizes and shapes of empty containers—plastic bowls, jello molds, cardboard milk containers, ice cube trays, etc.
  2. Empty the ice shapes and ice cubes into the sensory tub or water table,
  3. Place small cups of salt and rock salt in the tub.
  4. Place small cups of Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ in tub.  Add a pipette or eye dropper to each cup.
  5. Have children sprinkle salt and rock salt on the ice shapes. Encourage them to add ice cubes to the larger ice shapes.  As the salt melts the ice, the ice cubes and ice pieces will stick to each other creating a unique “sculpture.”
  6. Children then use the pipettes to drop the Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ into the cracks and holes created by the rock salt and salt.
  7. Remember to take a photo of the ice sculpture before it melts away!


Learning Outcomes/Desired Results

  1. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect–as you discuss the chemical reaction that ice has when salt is sprinkled on it.  Salt lowers the freezing point of ice, causing it to melt.
  2. Cognitive Development–Science—Cause and Effect—solids transforming into liquids.
  3. Cognitive Development—Science—Cause and Effect—mixing primary colors  (red, yellow, blue) you make the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple).
  4. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—using small muscles (pincher grasp) in fingers to squeeze the bulb of the pipette or eye dropper and to pick up grains of salt and chunks of rock salt.
  5. Physical Development—Fine Motor Skills—hand-eye coordination—hands and eyes working together to accomplish a task—using fingers to manipulate pipette with color and squirting colors into salt crevices.
  6. Cognitive Development—Problem Solving and Critical Thinking—some children will have difficulty in figuring out how to get the color into the pipette and then onto the ice.  Handling the eye dropper will be a challenge, so they should be shown how to use it and encouraged to keep trying until they succeed.
  7. Language Development–Speaking–as children talk excitedly about what they see happening.
  8. Encourages creativity and persistence.
  9. Social/Emotional Development–is fostered as this is an open-ended activity with no right or wrong way to do this activity.  It promotes children’s self-esteem.

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ – set of 18 8 0z bottles (LW18)
Six Paint Cups in a Base (PNTCPS)
Super Safe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Plastic Eyedroppers – set of 12 (EYEDROP1)
Medium Best Value Sand & Water Activity Table (LWTAB)
Sand & Water Activity Tubs – set of 4 (TUBS)

Angels in the Snow

Growing up in the Midwest, snowy days provided us with winter fun and entertainment in the form of making “snow angels” or “snow fairies.”

A snow angel is created by lying down on your back in powdery snow and moving your outstretched arms on the snow, going from head to waist in a sweeping motion while also moving your legs apart as far as they will go and then bringing them back together.

Keep repeating these motions (it’s like doing jumping jacks while lying on your back) until a large enough indentation has been made. You’ll see the shape of an angel or fairy (a body with a skirt and wings) when you stand up. We would try to make several angels in the snow, always looking for the perfect angel (one without foot prints or handprints in the middle of it).

I didn’t grow up having Liquid Watercolor but wouldn’t it be fun to put some Liquid Watercolor™ into a spray bottle and spray the finished angels different colors to make them stand out?

Making snow angels can be great fun for the kids in your care. Mastery of angel-making in the snow is a fine example of building physical coordination (parts of the body moving smoothly together.)

The best news is that kids don’t have to live in snow country in order to make snow angels/fairies. These can be made on tall grass, in sand, and invisible ones can even be made on classroom or home carpets or on tumbling mat . Making snow angels can be a good cool-down activity to conduct after active play as it helps the heart and body to return to its normal resting state. To create a calm and relaxed mood, a teacher or caregiver can put a CD such as Putamayo “Dreamland” CD in the CD Player. As the soothing music plays, lead the children in the activity of angels in the snow.

For the developing young child, this activity may be harder to do than it looks.

Provide direction and guidance by following this procedure:
1.Child lies down on back.
2.Staying in contact with the surface of the floor, mat, snow, ground
or carpet, the child opens and closes legs. Arms are kept down to sides of body.
3.Child practices opening and closing legs, keeping legs in contact with floor.
4.Once a smooth, sustained legs-apart, legs-together movement is mastered, instruct the child to move arms away from sides of body to shoulder height and then return them to side of body, keeping arms in constant contact with floor.
5.Now instruct the child to open and close legs while moving arms.
6.Emphasize that the arms and legs stay in touch with the surface of the floor while there is movement.