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Kids' Sensory Playtime

I don’t know about your kids, but mine are not big fans of the heat during the summer. In fact, the heat kind of makes my family cranky (not my husband, though; he loves the heat). To top it all off, I don’t have air conditioning, so I needed to figure out some alternative ways of keeping my family cool. If there’s anything in the world that will brighten up (and cool off) your young kids’ day, it’s water play. Water is seriously magical and will keep your young ones and their friends happy and engaged.

Paint ice cubes. I know it sounds odd, but it’s a great way to entertain young kids. Empty your ice cube maker into a large storage container and you have a cold sensory/art bin for the kids to use. Grab some washable liquid tempera paint and paint brushes and let your kids paint the ice. They will be entertained for a long time, sitting and painting and decorating. If the paint is thin enough, it will freeze as it hits the ice. If the paint is thick enough, it will drip and move in the water. Bottom line: Painting ice cubes is so much fun that I bet you’ll get in on the action, too!

Spritz bottle and water guns. Yes, you can fill these with water and your kids can spray themselves, their siblings, and maybe you, too (if you’re lucky). But don’t stop there. Another fun way to use water spritzers or water guns is to fill them half with water and half with tempera paint. Take some large white paper and lay it on the ground or tape the white paper to a wall and have at it! Spray the paper with the paint. Make an underwater painting or a forest or a beach or just an abstract, messy concoction and call it ‘art.’

Water table. A water table is a great way to experience sensory play and stay cool. There are endless ways to play with a water table. When my son was younger, he loved to build boats out of Legos and see which ones floated. Make the water table part water and part sand and voila, your kids have their own beach! Or grab some cooking utensils like ladles and spoons, bowls, cups, and an egg beater, for sure! Throw some nickels, beads, or pebbles in the sand and let your kids scoop them up with the cooking utensils. There are so many variations on bead soup or a wishing well that can appear on a whim.

Alphabet soup. Take a giant bucket of water or a kiddie pool and toss those plastic letters into the water. Let the kids scoop them up with spoons or smaller bowls. See if they can name the letters as they pull them out. You could even have them grab a certain amount and see if they can spell a word or spell the sound of a word! Note: Always supervise young children around water.

Water balloons. There are endless ways to use water balloons and nearly all of them are fun (other than perhaps a few tears when a sibling throws one too hard at another). In addition to tossing water balloons at each other, I suggest filling the kiddie pool with them and place it between some targets. For instance, if you have a short basketball hoop, that’s perfect. Let the kids stand wherever they want based on age and size and let them rip. Ready, aim, fire right into the basketball hoop. No basketball hoop? No problem. Get a big bucket or plastic rings you can put on the ground. Let’s face it, toddlers are likely to just toss the balloons up and let ‘em splash at their feet. Anything goes.

Car wash. If you are brave enough, have your kids wash your car. If you are smart enough, give them buckets, water, sponges, and a hose and put them to work washing their own toy car. I recommend wearing bathing suits for this activity - everyone, not just the kids!

Rainbow ice cubes. This activity is messy, but super fun and easy. Fill ice cube trays with liquid watercolors and freeze them overnight. In the morning, grab lots of paper or a huge sheet of fabric and put it on a table, preferably outside (no table? Lay the paper or sheet of fabric on your grass or driveway), fill a bowl with the ice cubes, and let the kids go! As the cubes melt, the fabric gets covered in colors. This sensory play is great for kids and what’s more, they don’t just paint with the ice. They will stack it, make rainbows with it, and hoard and stockpile the different colors. In the end, you can hang up the sheet to dry and have a lovely place to hide behind.

Ice cold treats. After all of their playing, the kids will surely need to cool off with a chilly treat. Make snack time hands-on with easy food-based activities and ideas! Create your own popsicles with fruit juice or even Jell-O; use Kool-Aid to make a syrup to put over crushed ice for a do-it-yourself snow cone or stick with the art theme and decorate your own ice cream using natural food coloring, sprinkles, syrup, and colored sugar. Yum!

Whether you’ve got a water bug in your family or a budding artist on your hands, there’s a lot of exciting ways to keep cool in scorching hot heat! Try out a few of these ideas with your young kids and let me know how they liked them.

Dana E. Baker offers coaching and parenting advice from the trenches: a non-judgmental ear and tips/feedback based on the science, psychology, and reality of parenting. Her writing has been published by Huffington Post, TODAY parents, Your Teen Magazine, ADDitude Magazine, Scary Mommy, and others. Reach her at








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