Water activities for sink play - how to keep little kids busy in the kitchen!
Earlier in the year, I wrote an article for Montessori Shop and I thought you might find it useful too! We spend so much time in the kitchen and when we have young children it can be difficult to get anything done. Some children are happy to work, cook or clean alongside us and others are just not interested! Most young children, however, do like water play. I've compiled a list of activities to keep young children busy while learning and playing at the kitchen sink. In Montessori our aim is never just to 'keep the children busy' but in reality setting up a few activities may be better than putting the child in front of the television.
Set Up. The child needs to safely reach the kitchen sink. A Learning Tower or child's kitchen stand is ideal (we use the FunPod). A stool can work if it is stable. Keep knives, breakable materials and other hazards (pots of hot water) out of reach. You may want your child to wear an apron (a toweling apron is a good option) and a towel on the floor may help too.
Transferring or Pipetting. Teach your child to transfer water or simply play with a pipette. Plastic pipettes are often found in the art section in stores or even a large kitchen baster can work well. The fine motor movement of the child using the pipette can help prepare their hand for writing (develop pincer grip). The large baster uses whole-of-hand movements and really strengthens the hand muscles. As much as possible ensure the child keeps the water in the sink, if this is too much responsibility I would offer another activity.
Scrubbing. Scrub vegetables with a small vegetable brush. I used to buy unwashed potatoes from the market because I knew how much my toddler loved to scrub them. If you have fresh vegetables from the garden such as carrots or other root vegetables invite your child to clean them, it's a good way for them to contribute to the meal.
Rinsing. Rinse vegetables or salad for dinner. Children can pull apart leafy vegetables such as lettuce and rinse them in their colander or how about in a salad spinner? Children can rinse salad items such as tomatoes, celery or beans. Or they can rinse fruit before consuming them. If anything needs rinsing you can invite your child to help.
Washing. Provide a small squeeze bottle containing dishwashing detergent (so it's no problem if they use it all) and a small dishwashing brush. Allow your child to wash a few small, manageable dishes. If you have a double sink allow them to rinse the dishes clean. Young children often enjoy this work and don't see it as a chore.
Making Bubbles. Provide a small squeeze bottle of washing detergent and a small whisk. You can put some water in the sink or fill a bowl in the sink (as pictured in top image), demonstrate to the child how to whisk the water with the detergent to make bubbles. You can also add a drop or two of food colouring to make it more interesting! The hand movement of whisking takes a little practice but it is great for strengthing the hand and arm muscles and for coordination.
Transferring. Allow your child to play and transfer water with measuring cups, a plastic measuring jug or even measuring spoons or a ladle.
Sink or Float Activity. Find various kitchen materials (think spoon, plug, kitchen sponge, cork, wooden spoon) and ask your child "do you think this will sink or float". See if they can guess. An older child may be able to sort the items into two groups, perhaps put two bowls to the side for sorting.
Crocodile Activity. My kids loved this (pictured below)! Cut up some small pieces (10-15 pieces) of sponge and put them in a bowl in the sink or in a sink full of water (supervise carefully). The sponge will float. Give the child a small pair of tongs or mini tongs (similar to sugar tongs). Put an empty bowl to the side of the sink. Have the child play the 'crocodile' and use the tongs to snap up all the pieces of sponge. As each sponge piece is snapped up by the 'crocodile' put it in the spare bowl. This is great for fine motor skills and developing coordination.
I personally would avoid putting toys in the sink. Although many of these ideas are play ideas, we want our children to know that the sink is for food preparation and washing. I hope these ideas help you in the kitchen!