A Water Tray is not just for Water!

When we think about extending the water tray we often think about adding things to water – buckets, shells, bubbles or tubes, but when we took out the water we couldn’t believe what happened!

All of a sudden, our water tray became a container of endless possibilities – limited only by our imagination.

Our experimenting began during ‘Our Senses’ theme, so initially we thought we would concentrate on touch and hopefully  get some great opportunities for learning.

Wibbly Wobbly Jelly in the tray

We started by making a large quantity of jelly in any shape of container we could get our hands on. Then, thinking about ways to stimulate the senses further … would it be fun to add items into the jelly? YES! – so we added lentils to the orange, pasta to the lime, cut up little pieces of gold tinsel to the lemon, silver glitter to the raspberry and we left the blackcurrant plain.

When we brought the containers into the playroom, the children couldn’t wait to see what was hiding in the collection of containers.


Giggles as the jelly ‘plopped’ out of the containers – “Is that jelly?”  “Really?” “Why?” “Wow!” “Did you just see it whoosh out?” “ Can we actually play with it?”

Closer inspection revealed the ‘treasure’ inside – “real gold?” “Fairy sparkles?”  “Is that basghetti cos my mummy makes that!”

Curiosity got the better of some of the children, who wouldn’t normally play in the water tray and tentatively came over to have a “wee look”.

The usual ‘mess dodgers’ gave it a wide berth – but soon there was a steady stream of children who couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

A staff member stayed beside the activity, joining in when invited to by the children – she watched as the children explored and investigated – the giggles and laughter told the story – the children were having great fun, unaware that they were developing their:

Descriptive language – “it’s really squishy”
Imagination – “it’s a volcano and the red jelly is the lava!”
Collaboration with others – “Can I use that cup when you’re finished?”
Fine motor skills “If I squeeze it really hard, it pops!”
Mathematical language – “Why is the purple jelly taller than the yellow one?”
Creativity “The orange jelly is the island, let’s put the wee man there, and this wee lid can be his bed”
Early exploration “Is the jelly melting cos it’s too warm?”

It was obvious, by the interest shown, that the activity was a great success – particularly the next morning, when the children rushed over to the water tray – “what’s in the water tray today?”

Suddenly our minds began working overtime and in our planning session, we decided to expand on this further.  What did we already have that we could use?

If wallpaper could talk!IMG_4808

Our next experiment was with wallpaper paste – the ‘mess dodgers’ definitely didn’t want to be a
part of that!  We made the paste up with warm water, so it was warm and oozy.  Again, this led to lots of questions – “will the boat float on it?”, “look the wee man is at the bottom and we can still see him”, “it’s really sticky and yucky” – admittedly, the clean up took a bit longer!

Where have you bean?

In full flow now (and because of an abundance of tins of baked beans in the kitchen!), we decided baked beans was the way to go – This was definitely a Marmite idea! – The overwhelming smell of tomato sauce proved to be a bit much, (for some staff members as well), although I didn’t mind at all, and spent all morning with the children, as they poured them, squished them and tried to mould them!











Things are getting murky!

Our final activity, took us in the deep, dark swamp – a real science experiment!  We made gloop using cornflour, water and brown paint, added in a few logs and twigs from the garden and finally, our collection of safari animals, people and vehicles.


The gloop was AMAZING – and provoked all kinds of questions and statements – “What is it?”, “is that real mud?”, “why can’t I make it into a ball?”, “it keeps melting in my hand”, “let’s pour it over the tree and it will drip down, like mud rain”, “will it wash off my hands?”


The water tray is so much more than a water tray, it is a vehicle to convey children’s ideas and imagination – it can be anything they want – a world, a pond, a swamp, the ocean or even a cooking pot for a Giant!

What did the children learn? – Easier to say what they didn’t learn – they covered all 6 areas of the curriculum, developing and expanding their skills and knowledge!

What did I learn? – Use better floor protection next time, maybe a plastic shower curtain – the children’s enthusiasm (and mess!) spread further than I anticipated!  Having a staff member at the activity demonstrated permission (it’s ok to get messy!) and I was able to join in the play, when invited! (“You hold out your hand and we can fill it up with the mud until it overflows!”).  Don’t be afraid of the clean up – the more mess, the more fun and the more learning outcomes!

Will I do it again? – Absolutely!