Boat and Water Play: Setting Sail with Your Preschooler

March 8, 2018

On one particularly hot summer afternoon, I set up a Slip-N-Slide in our backyard for my sons. After taking turns running and sliding down it, another activity took over for the rest of the afternoon. And what was that? My four-year-old found a sunflower that had gone by, and he decided to pluck the seeds out of its center. Once he had a good handful, he took them back over to the Slip-N-Slide and one-by-one sent them down the stream of water. Watching their progression down the slide filled them both with fascination and joy. It was then that I realized boats, water and floating could keep my children's imagination at play for hours.

Here are some points to consider while setting sail with your preschooler.


Children are continuously fascinated by what floats and where it floats to. A favorite game in my household is the "Sink or Swim" game. Fill up a tub or backyard pool, gather as many objects as you can and try and guess which things float or sink. You too might even be surprised by what sinks and floats.


Your child may already have an arsenal of plastic toy boats at home that he or she plays with. However, creating your own paper boat can mean hours of creative fun too. And if it sinks or gets lost, there is no harm done since another one can be made very easily. Be sure to explain that sinking is a possibility beforehand to avoid much heartbreak, however.

Also, boats can be created out of many objects found at home: egg crates, sponges, milk cartons, water bottles and more. Designing one with your child can make for your own game of "Sink or Float" as you both consider its sea-worthiness.

For more crafty families (perhaps with older children) who are willing to invest more time, boats carved with balsa wood float very well and certainly last longer. 

We would suggest that you tie a long, lightweight string to any boat your child is particularly attached to if you are playing near a larger body of water. That way you will be sure to rescue it before it strays too far.

Spots to Set Sail

Finally, it is important to consider where you would like your floating items or boats to test the waters. Small lakes, backyard pools, calm surf at a beach, bathtubs or a large basin of water can all act as terrific bodies of water for this kind of play. Any moving water works very well for boats or floatables too. Children are forever fascinated with the route items take while floating downstream. Simply dropping leaves or sticks from a bridge into a slow moving creek will keep your preschooler thrilled and very well entertained.

Whether you set sail in your backyard or at a park stream, boat play allows your preschooler to be creative, scientific and imaginative. Plus, this sort of play in the summer months is guaranteed to cool you off as you and your child are bound to get splashed eventually.

Bon voyage!

From the Parents

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