Never trust a quiet toddler… 5 activities for experimenting with filling and pouring!

Today my daughter was playing with play dough at the kitchen table while I was making dinner, every now and then I joined in with her and then went back to cooking. She absolutely loves play dough and I will make sure to cover some play dough ideas soon! But it isn’t about play dough this time; it’s about quietness, the worrying sound of a quiet toddler! Yes, my daughter went quiet, I spun around to see what she was doing with the play dough… but she wasn’t there… never trust a quiet toddler!

So after a dash through the house I found her in the downstairs bathroom filling empty play dough tubs with water and pouring them back out. And in the few minutes that she had been there, she had managed to spray the whole room and herself with water; the walls, the floor, her hair, her dress… all soaking wet!

And it didn’t stop there; another day another mini-flood caused by our littlest! This time at the kitchen table; she was happily pouring two cups of juice from one cup to the other… and all over the table… and all over the floor!

So it is clear that my daughter is experimenting with filling and pouring; when young children repeat something again and again in different contexts, they are working through a schema. Pouring is a trajectory schema; you can read more about schemas on my website by clicking here; it might help you to identify some of the types of play your young children are interested in learning through. When you have identified a schema it is worth giving them lots of opportunities to explore it further; there are some ideas on my website and I will be covering it further on the PlayWorth Blog.

So here are 5 water activities all about filling and pouring for you to try with your children. Even if they are not working through a trajectory schema like my daughter, I’m sure they’ll still enjoy them and learn a lot whilst playing! Don’t forget to use language such as fill, full, pour, empty, more and less, while they are playing.

5 activities for exploring filling and pouring

Outdoor toy wash!

Yes it might be cold outside, but as I said in my blog Cold weather, outdoor play ideas; there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing! So get your little one wrapped up in a warm waterproof puddle suit and wellies, and don’t forget to put your wellies on too if you don’t want wet feet! If your garden is anything like mine by this time of year, the outdoor toys are looking quite grubby; so grab some buckets and sponges and warm soapy water and let your little one wash them! And if you don’t have many outdoor toys or a garden, then let them wash their scooter or bike, or even their wellies!


Yes… spaghetti! Cook some spaghetti and let it cool. You can add some food colouring if you want to make it look extra inviting. Then use a plastic sand pit (without the sand), a water tray, or even a large plastic box without holes in; put in some warm water, the (cooled) spaghetti and some small buckets or plastic cups, even cleaned empty yoghurt pots would work. You could also add a sieve or a colander from the kitchen, so they can see what happens when the water pours through but the spaghetti doesn’t. An apron or a waterproof puddle suit is a must for this one!

Bath Play

Bath time is a great time for learning through play and a lot less messy. You might already have some small bath toys which can be used for filling and pouring. But if you don’t, try add plastic jugs from the kitchen cupboards or empty bubble bath bottles! Who says bath time is just for bed time or morning routines? Bath time is a fun activity for young children any time of the day!

Sink Play

The one that started this! My daughter loves to play in the sink… a little too much! Add a little step if needed, fill with some warm water, a drop of food colouring or some bubbles for added fun and let them play! (Make sure the step is not too high for them and make sure they can’t reach anything dangerous!) Try different sized containers; a plastic cup, a clean plastic food storage box and even a small saucepan!

Painting the fence

No not with actual paint! On a dry day, get them in their waterproof puddle suit again and give them two small buckets or plastic containers filled with warm water. Add a painting brush and ask them to ‘paint’ the fence, or a wall, or the back door with the water! Two containers are important to encourage them to pour and fill.

What are the learning opportunities?

Young children will be learning to repeat actions that have an effect and explore natural materials. 3 and 4 year olds will be learning to use all of their senses in hands-on exploration of natural materials, explore how things work, explore and talk about different forces they can feel, and talk about the differences between materials and changes they notice. Children in Reception will be learning to explore the natural world around them.

Development Matters, 2021, Knowledge and Understanding

So remember; if your toddler is quiet… check on what they are doing! Have you ever had a quiet toddler that you found somewhere at home making a mess? Let me know in the comments!

Play is worth understanding… visit for more information and to find more simple and fun ways to keep young children busy and learning through play.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s