Water Works

An everyday element that kids can't resist, water provides exciting learning opportunities and extended investigations.



Five-year-old Evan was eagerly anticipating his bath while he helped his dad pour in the bubble-bath powder. As he felt the cool, dry crystals spill over his hands, he wondered where the bubbles were. These grains didn't feel or look like bubbles. But when the water poured out of the tap, everything changed. Right before his eyes, the powder started to dissolve and disappear, and as the water level rose, bubbles appeared!

Evan discovered that water is a great mixer, mover, and changer. Along the way, he used the basic steps of the scientific method as he observed, wondered (hypothesized), and experimented with the effects of the water on the crystals. You and your child can take the same steps together by engaging in warm-weather "please-touch" activities that encourage your child to explore the properties of water.

Most children have a deep affinity for water. They are fascinated by how it moves, feels, and even tastes. But perhaps its strongest draw is the chance if offers to experience the "science of change." Just watch a child play with a stick and a puddle, and you will see the science of change in action! Water has the unique effect of changing almost everything it comes in contact with. The following water-based activities are perfect for finding out "What will happen if...?"

  • Water-and-Chalk Art: You can do this activity outside, or inside on a tray. Invite your child to draw with colored chalk on paper (heavy paper works best). Then provide a small cup of water and a brush. Ask, What will happen if you paint water on your chalk picture? As your child adds the water to his work, encourage him to describe the changes he notices. Set the picture out to dry in a sunny spot and watch what happens. How did your picture change? Extend this activity by painting water over drawings made with washable marker, crayons, or other materials. Does the water react differently to different materials? 
  • Puddle Patterns: After a rainfall, take a puddle walk. Ask your child to notice where the rain collected into puddles. Why does she think the rain settled in those places? Were there puddles here yesterday? What will happen if the sun comes out? You can introduce the concept of evaporation by observing the "shrinking" of the puddles. Draw a circle around the outside edge of the puddle with chalk. Visit the puddle later to see if it is smaller than the circle you drew. Your child can then mark the size of the new puddle. By the time the puddle is gone, your child will have a map of concentric puddle circles.
  • Squishy Sponge Toss: This watery game is perfect for a hot day! Fill containers with clean water and big sponges, and choose a simple target, such as a fence or patio chair. Invite your child to throw the sponges. What happens when a sponge hits the target? He will be using important hand-eye coordination skills, while seeing a refreshing example of cause and effect. 

    Squeeze more science out of your sponges by demonstrating rainmaking. Pretend a dry sponge is a cloud in the sky. Ask your child to squeeze the dry sponge. Does anything come out? Put the sponge in water. How is it different? The sponge is now a dark storm cloud that has filled with water and is starting to drip rain; the more water in the clouds (and the sponge), the more rain.

  • Ice Is Nice: Ice and a hot day make for a splendid experiment. Begin by making ice with your child. (It's important for children to participate in the process of transforming water into ice because they may not realize that ice is actually frozen water.) Place the ice in a glass of juice. Do a taste test to compare juice with and without ice. How did the ice change the juice? Next, experiment with melting the ice back to water. Invite your child to place ice-filled paper cups in different places — in the sun and shade, inside and outside. Ask her to predict which cups of ice will melt fastest and which slowest. What will happen if we put this cup of ice in the sun? What if we keep a cup in the refrigerator?
  • Blowing Bubbles: Bath time is a fine time for this activity. Using a tub of soapy water, experiment with using different household objects as bubble blowers (slotted spoons, strainers, and sieves work well). Dip each item into the soapy water and blow through it. Which ones make the best bubbles? Why? Your child may notice that the objects with smaller holes make smaller bubbles, and he will be seeing the effect of air on soap and water.
Science & Nature Activities
Hand-Eye Coordination
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Science and Technology
Early Science
Sand and Water Play
States of Matter
Water Cycle
Arts and Crafts