A fine motor water activity for toddlers and preschoolers that’s not only a hand work-out, but brimming with science goodness. Using just colored water and a few tools from around the house, this is an easy indoor activity that kids love. Budding young scientists will be captivated by this simple idea.
My son (3) and I were having a difference of napping opinion yesterday. One of us thought napping was a great idea. The other disagreed. It’s a classic stand off.
Once nap time ended as a total bust, we were left with a difference of attitude opinion. It happens. Not all days go perfectly.
And in moments like these, that’s when I set up a kids activity. I don’t set up activities because I want to be parent of the year. I don’t set up activities to make my life more complicated or to make my life look more pinterest-y.
I set up activities because when things go south (like someone doesn’t nap), it can be hard to recover. A cloud descends, play is difficult, and moods are testy. An activity becomes a bridge, a lifeline.
This is how I hit reset. For this day, I hit reset with a fine motor water activity that was relaxing and engaging.
RELATED: I have so many reset activities like this one to help save bad days. Check out my list of “hero activities.”
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- Empty baby food jars or bowls
- Mini turkey baster
- Storage container to catch spills
- Food coloring
- Ice cube tray
This may look like a lot. Let’s break down EXACTLY what it is: a container to catch drips (this could be a cookie sheet or bath tub). Cups or bowls to hold colored water. A way for kids to transfer water (turkey baster, pipette, old medicine dropper).
You can absolutely twist around the kinds of supplies you use. My party line is always: use what you have at home before you ever go buy something new/extra.
How to set-up a fine motor water activity
In our storage container, I placed three jars of colored water: red, yellow, and blue. I went with primary colors for a very good reason. We’ll get to that.
I placed a turkey baster into the bin with my son and went over how to use it. I use a repeating rhythm to help littles understand how to use these kind of tools: squeeze, open, squeeze.
Next to the colored water, I placed an ice cube tray as the “target” for the water.
This is where the water would be carefully moved to and mixed with the other colors.
RELATED: Looking for other easy indoor activities for kids? Try this fantastic list!
The fine motor skills in the activity
Remember, like I said above, you need to model, model, model how to use a turkey baster. Channel your inner Julia Child and explain the ins and outs of using a baster. This is a tough tool to learn to use.
Using the turkey baster works out kid hands, helps develop grip strength, and hand-eye coordination.
This also makes the activity take longer and move slower than a traditional water mixing activity or indoor pouring station.
RELATED: Activities like this fine motor skills water activity help lay the ground work for future handwriting. Learn more about handwriting and childhood in this post.
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Check out “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” for advice from tabies to big kids
The science in color mixing
There’s a reason I started with primary colors only.
As the activity started: I gave my son a little parameter in this activity to only put a single color in each cube space.
“You can have as many yellow, blue, or red spaces as you want but don’t mix them.” That’s come next…
This made him concentrate so hard!
He was laser focused at slowly and steadily transferring this water. It was amazing to watch him.
Once he finished filling the ice cube tray, I gave him his step 2 instructions.
“Now, pick a new color to mix into each of the colors you transferred.”
So where he had transferred red – now he added yellow and you know what he made.
Coloring mixing in a fine motor water activity
Color mixing is childhood magic.
It’s science disguised as a magic trick.
My son went through slow and steady AGAIN mixing up his secondary colors and was so proud.
He loved experimenting. Seeing light green and dark green come to life was amazing.
After finishing his secondary color mixing, I showed my son how to “suck back up” each slot in the ice cube tray and transfer the water BACK to the jars. And he did this by color.
When all was said and done, he had three jars: purple, orange, and green. We were right back where we started, but with three new colors.
He called them his potions (ironically, we would do potion activities later) and he lined them all up to proudly show his Dad later in the evening.
RELATED: Science is magical for toddlers and preschoolers. Here’s my list of science experiments perfect for little kids.
Frequently Asked Questions
Food coloring “dissolves” in water. In this activity, the concentrated food coloring is so diluted, it doesn’t get on little hands. If you find some on your child’s clothing, set it in cold water for a few hours to let the color “dissolve.” *Always do what you think it best though, I am just some lady on the Internet.
Remember, think “stages not ages.” Instead of judging an activity by age, think about activities like food and whether your child would enjoy it. Ask yourself if they are able to hold a utensil and paint? Do they enjoy painting? Can they sustain focus on a project?
Yes! I love making a coloring mixing station using paint-dyed water, or this one activity using peri bottles (yup, you read that right), or creating a rainbow pouring station.
Susie Allison, M. Ed
Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 2 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.
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