Sink or Swim?


  • Plastic tub or large bowl
  • Miscellaneous utensils (e.g., plastic tweezers, chip clips, salad tongs, spoons, measuring cups)
  • Small objects (like animal figures, bathtub toys, foam shapes)
  • One or more of the following: dried beans (pinto, black-eyed, lima, etc.), uncooked rice, uncooked pasta, Easter grass, popping corn kernels, shredded paper, water beads, wild birdseed. Or use water with food coloring, scented extracts, and/or soap.

Note: Do not mix wet and dry ingredients. Use one or the other.

Prep Time:

  • 10 minutes to gather and prep the play space

Recipe for Fun!

Put a sheet or tablecloth under the tub for easier clean up. Add sensory material (e.g. dried beans) to the tub and then hide small objects in the tub. Children can reach in and search with their hands to find the objects. Have them look at and identify the object. Alternately, say the name of an object and have the children find it by feel.

If using water, add food coloring, scented extracts, and/or soap to the tub. Have children scoop and dump the water with their hands or using the utensils. Then make predictions with each object before they place it in the tub – will it sink or float? Encourage children to talk about their observations.


  • Tactile exploration helps develop fine motor and coordination skills and encourages creative, open-ended play.
  • Kids learn, retain, and recall more information when multiple senses are engaged.
  • Fundamental early learning skills can be incorporated into play (e.g., math and language)
  • The water version provides an early introduction to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) activities with making predictions, hypotheses, and observations.


  • For children who are tactilely defensive, have them wear gloves to provide a barrier to their skin.
  • For children who startle easily, use only soft materials in the tub, like craft pom poms, Easter grass, or cotton balls.
  • For children who are visually impaired or blind, add scented extracts or objects and tools with unique shapes.