Water is a fantastic sensory learning experience for toddlers and young kids to enjoy year round. Below, discover the best water toys for toddlers broken into two sections: outdoor and indoor water play. The indoor water toys work in the bath or offer a lower mess option for inside play; but can all be used outdoors in the backyard, pool, or at the beach too!
Best Outdoor Water Toys For Toddlers
Splash Pad or Inflatable pool
For brevity sake I’m lumping splash pads and inflatable pools in one section. The big deciding factor is really just space, prefered use, and ease. You can also check out my complete review of the best splash pads for toddlers here which covers both in more detail.
A splash pad is one of our personal favorite outdoor water toys to cool off on sunny days. You simply inflate, connect a hose, and you’re guaranteed hours of backyard fun in just 5 minutes!
Inflatable pools take longer to set up (we typically leave ours up for a few weeks at a time then cycle it out for another big backyard toy), but they do offer a tiny “swimming pool” experience for littles and don’t require a hose on the entire time to enjoy.
With that said, most are essentially an inflatable play center with lots of different features like a water slide between two pool levels, built in games, and even a “sprinkler” feature with a connected hose (shown here).
While a splash pad creates a pool of water that’s only a few inches deep, and typically has some “sprinkler” effect when you connect a garden hose. The rim of these are typically filled with water from the hose, so every use it needs to be emptied and dried out to avoid mold. Additionally, they require your hose to be on the entire time of use.
You can’t go wrong with either; and in our experience having both isn’t overkill either! We rotate them out to mix things up for a different backyard experience. Click here for a detailed breakdown of the top splash pads and inflatable pools too!
But here are some of my favorites:
Nothing screams backyard summer water toy like running through the sprinklers!
Personally, my kids enjoyed the wide spray fan of the classic style, and we found it to be sturdier and longer lasting too. For smaller backyards, the ones that twirl have a smaller spray zone and may be a better choice. Either option s a ton of fun though and they provide a different experience if you want to get both.
Mud Kitchen‘s are one of the BEST outdoor toys in general. They are a great, and often overlooked, water toy providing hours of fun.
Some mud kitchens include a pail with spigot, like the one shown here, to act as the “sink.” Other’s you’ll just need to provide buckets of water. And lastly, some option actually use a working sink with a hose connection.
In this post on the best mud kitchens for kids, I share all the different types, including how to DIY a working sink onto your mud kitchen, and ways to play. But at a glance here are some of my favorites:
We recently got this bounce house which is quickly our new favorite water toy! It’s like a splash pad/inflatable pool meets bounce house, that can be used throughout the seasons as the base can convert to a ball pit.
The top portion features a sprinkler type spray over the slides, where kids splash and crash into the little pool. It’s a complete blast and suitable for kids up to about 80 lbs.
Set up is super simple, just attach the pump, plug it in, and turn on. You can also use it indoors during the winter.
We discovered this water toy during my daughters swim class last year and shockingly it’s a favorite amongst kids and the whole family. Everytime we turn around at the pool, some random kid is borrowing it.
For new swimmers, it definitely builds up their strength, and can act as a “safety raft” while building confidence in the middle of a pool. My kids and I also love to sit on it and balance, or pretend “surf.”
Parents will also love the price tag and fact you can use it too for a nice workout.
Please note, only buy this type, do not get the character one’s without handles!! They are way too difficult for kids and they end up clinging to them like a raft instead of actually using them to kick.
There’s no shortage of diving toys out there but I do want to bring your attention to a few in particular.
First are these mermaids which kids LOVE. If you’re toddler isn’t ready to dive to the bottom of the pool yet, they are creative enough for open ended pretend play on the water’s surface.
Now once your kid is really getting under water, we are huge fans of this set which includes basically everything you need to challenge your little swimmer.
The diving toys are all pretty basic and standard, so what makes this pack great are the rings. They basically float in the middle of the water, and provide an added challenge of swimming through them.
Kids also love to hold them like hoops and flip through them.
Truthfully, water guns have come SUCH a long way since we were kids that I just had to include them on the list to share all the new variations for toddlers and even older kids:
I personally like these because they are easy enough for little toddler hands, and if they get used inside they don’t make a huge mess.
Just beware: toddlers LOVE to suck on these and “drink” out of them so make sure you don’t leave them sitting around for a few days!
Alternatively, these are also easier for little hands to manage on their own, but do make a slightly bigger mess so I’d reserve them for outdoors only.
Next, I want to note these new pool floats with built in water guns! Seriously, if you have a hesitant swimmer, this is a ton of fun for them to feel in the action at family pool days or beach days, even if they can’t technically keep up with the big kids.
Lastly, there are now water gun backpacks! I’d personally save this for older toddlers, preschoolers, and bigger kids, but do want to bring it to your attention if you’re looking to buy something your toddler can grow into or something that can keep up with the big kid’s super soakers. Plus they come in great themes like pretend firefighter and characters like Paw Patrol:
Water balloons are a TON of fun and can serve as a great learning tool for toddlers.
You can play catch or toss them in buckets to teach gentleness and cause and effect. You can use them in a sink or float activity. You can even put toys inside of them (or just water) and hang them from a tree for a fun twist on pinata.
Additionally you can use them in a water obstacle course, sensory bin, or even have kids paint them with shaving cream, markers, or bath paint.
And if you haven’t shopped for water balloons since you were a kid, you’ll love the knew quick fill design! Just attach to your sink faucet or hose, place a bucket underneath, and as they fill to max capacity they fall off the sticks (or you can take them off manually).
Water tables are another beloved water toy for toddlers. These come in a huge selection with Little Tikes and Step2 Play water tables being the top picks generally.
One of my personal favorites is the Little Tikes 3-in-1 Splash ‘n Grow Water Table. It comes with an optional splash pad you can place underneath the table, and two sections of the water table which allow for two kids, or dry and wet play.
It’s truly a brilliant multi-use design, and the table can sit on the floor or be raised up depending on the age and height of your kids.
With that said, finding the best one will be unique to each of you, so I suggest reading my review of the best water tables for toddlers here!
But for quick reference there are two styles: water activity tables with smart and multi-use designs and then playful splash water tables that are more close ended.
The former option allows for dry or wet play, so you can use it indoors or out, and often can be used for a ton of different activities you set up yourselves. Here are some of my favorites for quick reference (but I do recommend reading this post):
The latter option still technically encourages open ended play, but the features of the water table are a bit more close ended. Meaning these typically have a ton of functionality or toys included – so there isn’t room to set up dry and wet sensory learning experiences or other activities beyond the actual intended open play of what it came with. Here are some examples:
A water table is awesome, and in this post I dive into how to choose the best one for your family, ones that feature easy storage, a hard surface, drain plugs, a water wall and water house, and my top picks for hot summer days!
Best Indoor Water Toys For Toddlers
Bath blocks are a ton of fun! These are basically foam blocks you can use in water. When wet, the foam essentially “magnetizes” to other surfaces.
This allows them to stack (and stay put) together when placed on a platform base, or you can stick them on a bath or shower wall.
There are no holes for mold to grow inside, but we do suggest setting them out after use so they can dry out fully and no mold grows on the outside.
Additionally, since they are foam they float and these come in a ton of different sets with tug boats, emergency vehicles, castles, and more for pretend play.
Boat and Cars
Truth, what kid doesn’t love playing with cars? And since we are talking water, we’ll obviously need some boats too! Personally I love this set because it’s so affordable, and kind of includes everything you’ll need; though this set is definitely comparable with the added bonus of a wind up water wheel to propel the boat (which is better suited for older kids and not a huge hit if I’m honest).
We have both so the kids don’t fight over them and the kids love them just the same. But I prefer this one because it’s a bit smaller/easier to manage.
These work great during bath time or at the beach.
We also love this one, which is great because it fills up with water and can be used to wash the other boats and cars, or used while washing hair to rinse the soap out. It also comes in a few different colors:
With that said, you can find a ton of other floating boat options with slightly different functionality; some pour, some paddle. I want to give an honorable mention to this affordable set of 6 in bright colors which can be used for color sorting, counting, and multiple kids as well as this wooden one for eco-conscious montessori families. Here are some more of my favorites:
We’ve all seen these before, the little pouring station with a spinner and the water comes through. Kids love them but I will say these are NOT all created equal. My kids really dislike the basic ones that come in bundle packs of beach toys. They are usually small and flimsy in our experience.
Instead, they’ve much preferred playing with bigger one’s that feature fun characters or dynamic water paths like these:
These should be no brainer, but obviously kids LOVE squirt toys – I mean the rubber ducky has stood the test of time for a reason!
Beyond that, they are great for working hand strength, coordination, refining motor skills, and teaching cause and effect.
We use ours in the bath, backyard, pool, and even the beach! They are actually GREAT for the beach and teaching kids about tides and rip currents!
Even better? You can get these in literally every theme or character based off your child’s interests. Here are some of our favorites and popular ones:
While there are a lot of fishing toys on the market, Munchkin’s deep sea fishin’ toy is one of my favorites.
It includes a boat that floats, with a holder for the “fishing rod” and two decent sized fishes that are safe for 24 months and up.
The 4 piece set comes in at a great price and the pieces are fun individually or together.
However if you want some other options, here are some of my favorites:
I love this little bath play set by Munchkin.
It comes with a few of the boats I mentioned earlier, plus a rubber ducky that reveals the word “hot” if the water is too hot for littles, plus a little scuba diver toy that swims around the water.
The bath toy bundle is super cute and makes a great little starter water toy set for babies and young toddlers.
Play sinks are probably the most popular water toy for indoors. They are relatively low mess and don’t run up the water bill like the regular sink.
Toddlers love copying what mom and dad do, so the sink gives them a chance to practice. This surprisingly simple toy provides hours of entertainment for most kids and is one of the most loved toys on this list.
NOTE: Play sinks come in a ton of colors and accessory options. The one we have is from Lovevery, but if you don’t get Lovevery play kits, I personally like this one because if the faucet ever stops working, you can always get a replacement which is much cheaper than buying a whole new one.
I’ve shared about how these simple toys are one of the greatest toys before! They are incredibly versatile, work with or without water, indoors or outdoors, and are some of our favorite summer toys, road trip toys, and toys for year round fun! You can do a ton of activities with them and kids use them endlessly in open-ended play.
You can use them as mini pool noodles that you blow water of out or as a water pouring station (shown).
The ends can snap together, so you can make a boat that floats, create a ring to toss balls or diving toys in while swimming, or make them into pretend jewelry.
You can also connect them together for a ball run that you tape to a wall inside on a rainy summer afternoon.
My daughter pretends it’s a baby bottle for her babies.
Honestly you’ll be shocked at how your toddler ends up using these in open-ended play. I love how affordable they are and they make great “random” little gifts for kids of all ages.
Honey sticks has two products that are great for water play: color drops and bath crayons. You can purchase them together, or separately.
While these are on the pricier end, they do offer much cleaner ingredients than Crayola’s bath paint for sensitive skin; though the latter is much more affordable.
With that said there are a couple things to note with the bath crayons. First, if you leave the paper on the crayon, you do increase your risk of mold growth, so definitely remove that. Second, these are washable and very easy to clean in my experience, however I’ve heard some nightmare stories. I’m not sure if it has to do with having hard vs. soft water or what, but definitely test these out on your bathtub set up before giving them to your kid.
For that reason, here’s some other water art supplies to consider:
I don’t know what else to call this section, other than just calling them swimmers and sharing a few of our favorites. These are toys that “swim” around the water. Some do this via a pull string, others via a wind up mechanism, and others via batteries:
At the beach the other week, a friend had this swimming shark and it was a HUGE hit with ALL the kids. It’s battery powered, but you don’t have to turn it on/off. Basically when the sensors are covered, it automatically started swimming. The toddlers were mesmerized with it and had so much fun racing it around.
Really you can’t go wrong with any option though. The shark has the most “magical” effect, while teaching the least. The pull string and wind up toys work some additional motor skills.
Stacking cups are a no brainer for water toys; just make sure you get the one’s that drain at the base. We own 3 different sets, but our favorite are these; though we tend to bring cheaper one’s like these to the beach.
We use them for SO many things. They are one of the best bath toys. The kids use them for pouring water, as “ice cream” cups (using bubbles as the ice cream), as boats for other toys, and so much more.
At the beach, we use them to scoop sand, make “cupcakes”, make sand castles, stack, and pour.
While most people only think of these as a baby toy, the truth is they last for YEARS and are one of our favorite toys whether for the water or just everyday activities.
Aqua drawing mats are a really fun low mess water toy. Basically kids get a water pen to color on the mat which reveals different colors. This covers two areas: mess free coloring and light water exposure.
With that said, I did debate adding this to the list, as it’s probably not what we think of when we think “water toy” however some of these do include sponges or stencils (and if it doesn’t include a sponge, just set out a bowl of water with a sponge) which creates a low-mess sensory learning experience.
When the mats dry the “art” disappears and you can re-use it over and over again. We personally use a slightly different option (easier for travel), I share more no mess coloring options for toddlers here; but have tested Aqua mats like this at friends and they work great!
FAQs about water toys for toddlers
How do you choose the best water toys for toddlers?
When selecting water toys for toddlers think about two things:
- indoor or outdoor use
- child’s interests/skills
All of the indoor toys on this list can be used outside too. Though it is noteworthy, if you plan to use some of the boats or cars at the beach, they can retain sand. This may or may not matter to you, but if you do take one of the smaller “indoor” toys outside, keep the ease of cleaning in mind.
While the outdoor toys tend to be bigger and are better suited if you want the kids to engage in some outdoor play and are having are hard time getting them to stay out there.
Second, think about where your child is at and their interests. If you want them to work on some fine motor skill refinement, a boat option like this or fishing toy may be a great choice. If your child is getting into swimming, having them chase a swimmer toy can be a ton of fun and when they are ready to level up, you can opt for some diving toys like these.
What are the benefits of using water toys for toddlers?
Using water toys for toddlers can provide several benefits, including:
- Sensory stimulation: Water toys can provide a unique sensory experience for toddlers, stimulating their sense of touch, sight, and sound.
- Development of gross motor skills: Playing with water toys can help toddlers develop gross motor skills. Depending on the water toy and activity it can help with various proprioceptive inputs and jumping, balance, swimming, and so much more.
- Development of fine motor skills: Water toys that require manipulation with fingers and hands can help toddlers develop fine motor skills such as reaching, grasping, and pouring.
- Encouragement of imagination and creativity: Water toys can be used in imaginative play, encouraging creativity and imagination in toddlers.
- Development of social skills: Playing with water toys with others can help toddlers learn to take turns, share, and cooperate with others.
- Introduction to basic scientific concepts: Water toys can introduce toddlers to basic scientific concepts, such as cause and effect, and buoyancy.
- Relaxation and stress relief: Playing with water can be a calming and relaxing activity for toddlers, providing a way to release stress and tension.
Overall, using water toys for toddlers can provide numerous physical, cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.
What types of water toys are best for different ages of toddlers?
The types of water toys that are best for toddlers may vary depending on their age and developmental stage. Here are some suggestions:
- For infants (6-12 months): Soft rubber or plastic bath toys that can be easily grasped and squeezed are appropriate for infants at this age. These can include toys that squirt water, rattles, and floating toys.
- For toddlers (12-24 months): At this age, toddlers can use simple pouring cups, floating toys, and balls in the bathtub or kiddie pool. They may also enjoy toys that require filling and dumping, like buckets or watering cans.
- For toddlers (2-3 years): Toddlers at this age may be ready for more complex water toys, like water slides, water tables, and inflatable pools. They can also enjoy toys that promote imaginative play, like toy boats or toy fishing sets.
- For preschoolers (3-5 years): Preschoolers can enjoy a wider variety of water toys, such as sprinklers, water guns, and water blasters. They may also enjoy toys that encourage cooperative play with others, like a water basketball hoop or volleyball net.
When selecting water toys for toddlers, it is important to consider their age, developmental stage, and safety. Always supervise young children when they are playing with water toys, and make sure the toys are age-appropriate and safe.
Can water toys help with the development of certain skills in toddlers?
Yes, water toys can help with the development of several skills in toddlers, including:
- Gross motor skills: Water toys that require movement, such as swimming, splashing, and jumping, can help toddlers develop gross motor skills. These skills involve the large muscles of the body, and practicing them through water play can help strengthen and refine them.
- Fine motor skills: Water toys that require manipulation, such as squeezing, grasping, and pouring, can help toddlers develop fine motor skills. These skills involve the small muscles of the body, and practicing them through water play can help improve hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and precision.
- Hand-eye coordination: Water toys that require aiming, such as water guns and squirting toys, can help toddlers develop hand-eye coordination. This skill involves the ability to coordinate the movements of the hands and eyes, and practicing it through water play can help improve accuracy and control.
- Social skills: Water play with toys can also help toddlers develop social skills, such as sharing, taking turns, and cooperating with others. Playing with water toys with siblings, friends, or parents can provide opportunities for toddlers to practice these skills in a fun and relaxed environment.
How can parents ensure the safety of their toddlers while playing with water toys?
Water play can be a fun and engaging activity for toddlers, but it is important to ensure their safety while they are playing. Here are some tips to help parents ensure the safety of their toddlers while playing with water toys:
- Supervision: Always supervise young children while they are playing with water toys. This means being within arm’s reach of the child at all times.
- Choose age-appropriate toys: Select water toys that are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental stage. Avoid toys with small parts or that could pose a choking hazard.
- Teach water safety: Teach your child basic water safety rules, such as not running near water, never going near water without an adult present, and not going near deep water without a flotation device.
- Consider using a life jacket: If your child is playing in a pool, lake, or other body of water, consider using a properly fitting life jacket or flotation device.
- Check the water temperature: Before allowing your child to play in the water, check the water temperature to ensure it is not too hot or cold.
- Use sunscreen: Protect your child’s skin from the sun by applying sunscreen before they go outside to play in the water.
- Empty water toys after use: After your child is done playing with water toys, empty them and store them in a safe and dry place.
By following these safety tips, parents can help ensure a safe and enjoyable water play experience for their toddlers.
How can parents properly clean and maintain water toys for their toddlers?
Properly cleaning and maintaining water toys is important for keeping them safe and prolonging their lifespan. Here are some tips for parents to follow:
- Rinse after use: Rinse off water toys with clean water after each use to remove any dirt or debris.
- Dry completely: Allow water toys to dry completely before storing them to prevent mold or mildew from forming.
- Disinfect: Use a disinfectant to clean water toys periodically, especially if they have been used in a public pool or other shared water source.
- Check for damage: Inspect water toys regularly for any signs of wear or damage, such as cracks or punctures. If a toy is damaged, discard it and replace it with a new one.
- Store properly: Store water toys in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight to prevent fading and deterioration.
- Maintain pool chemistry: If using water toys in a pool, maintain proper pool chemistry by regularly testing the water and adjusting chemicals as needed to prevent the growth of algae and bacteria.
By following these tips, parents can keep water toys clean and safe for their toddlers to use. It is important to note that different types of water toys may require different cleaning methods, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific guidance.
What are some affordable options for water toys for toddlers?
Our favorite affordable water toys for toddlers are stacking cups, tubes, boats, and squirters like these:
How can water toys be incorporated into a toddler’s play routine?
Water toys can be a great addition to a toddler’s play routine and can help promote learning and development in many ways. Here are some ways to incorporate water toys into a toddler’s play routine:
- Sensory play: Water toys can be used for sensory play, which helps toddlers explore and learn about the world around them. Fill a container with water and add toys that float or sink, such as rubber ducks or balls, and let your toddler play with them.
- Imaginative play: Water toys can be used for imaginative play, such as pretending to go fishing or playing with toy boats. Encourage your toddler to use their imagination and create their own games and stories with the toys.
- Water games: Water toys can be used for simple games like catch or water balloon toss. This can be a fun way to get your toddler moving and active.
- Learning about cause and effect: Water toys can be used to teach toddlers about cause and effect. For example, pouring water from a cup into a container and watching the water level rise.
- Practice fine motor skills: Water toys can be used to help toddlers practice their fine motor skills. For example, using a spray bottle to water plants or squirting water from a water gun.
- Early academic concepts: You can use water toys for color recognition, sorting, language development, counting, and more.
It is important to supervise your toddler while playing with water toys and to always follow basic water safety rules. With a little creativity and imagination, water toys can be a fun and educational addition to your toddler’s play routine.
What are the best pool toys for toddlers?
For water hesitant kids, the pouring station was recommended by our swim instructors.
What to buy for a toddlers pool?
Since toddler pools tend to be shallow, any of the indoor water toy options on this list are likely a solid pick.
What are three toys to use in the water?
All of these may seem incredibly basic, but they really do stand the test of time for a reason.
Why does my toddler like to play with water?
Playing in water can be an enjoyable experience for toddlers for a few reasons. Firstly, water is a sensory experience for young children, and they love to explore the world around them through touch, sound, and sight. Water provides a tactile sensation that can be soothing, and it’s also visually stimulating, with its shimmering and reflective qualities.
Additionally, water play is an opportunity for toddlers to learn and develop new skills. They can practice hand-eye coordination by pouring water from one container to another, and they can develop fine motor skills by using toys that require squeezing or grasping. Water play also provides an opportunity for social interaction, as children can play with each other or with parents or caregivers.
Lastly, playing in water can be a great way for toddlers to cool off on a hot day, which can be especially appealing during the summer months. Overall, playing in water is a fun and beneficial activity for young children.
Final thoughts on water toys
Our top 3 toys to use in the water are stacking cups and tubes because they are so versatile, and squirt toys like rubber ducks. These are affordable, and stand the test of time. Each is so open ended for limitless play and can be used indoors or outdoors.
For backyard outdoor water toys we love a good mud kitchen, water table, or this bounce house with water features. The mud kitchen is nice because you can use it without water for a longer period of the year. Water tables are a ton of fun, and you can’t beat the gross motor and energetic output from the bounce house which covers your splash pad/kiddie pool.