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Play to Learn: Bathtub Pediatric Play Therapy Activities

As a parent, it can be daunting to think of play therapy activities to help your little one develop properly as they grow through the years. It can be tempting to always get the “latest and greatest” developmental toy for your kiddo to keep up with the educational joneses.

But did you know you can boost your little one’s development with toys you may already have? Even better, you can turn common household items into fun ways for your child to learn without even knowing it. As pediatric therapy specialists, we have many creative ways to teach your child new skills while incorporating it into play that we love sharing with families!

This week, we’ll talk about how you can use a play bathtub/sink (or, even better, a real one!) to help your kiddo learn. Bathtub play therapy activities offer many different ways to challenge your kiddo, and we all know anything that includes water makes an activity more fun!

child hand under water faucet with water running

This toy bathtub* is extra fun because it pumps out real water. (Here is the toy sink version!). It can be a great choice to help young children work on their pretend play skills, but it also works for children at all levels of play. You can also use it as an opportunity to model some great language (suggestions listed in parentheses as you read).  

Bathtub Ideas to Promote Simple Children’s Play Therapy 

You can start with encouraging your child to help pour water into the tub. (Water. We’re pouring the water. The water is in the tub.) 

Help them push the pump down and watch the water come out. (I pushed it. The water came out.) 

Splash in the water! (We’re splashing.) Then you can wipe down any drips that came out. (My hand is wet. Now, my hand is dry.) 

All of these play therapy activities are great ways to teach your kiddo cause and effect

Water is also a great sensory tool to use with your child. You can use colder or warmer water to introduce temperatures. Or you can use food coloring (or another safe dye) to change the color of the water!

Small child in bathtub running water play therapy activities

Strategies to Include Combination Play Therapy

Try putting plastic animals in the bathtub and squirt water onto them. (The tiger is in the bathtub. He got wet!)

This can also become a great “put in, take out” activity. You can put all of the plastic animals in the bath together, then encourage your kiddo to take them out one by one! 

You can drop items into the water so they make a big splash. (The elephant jumped in. He splashed the water. It came out of the tub!) 

You can start to introduce a third step to this play by using a towel to dry off the animals when they are taken out of the tub. This is a fun and easy way to introduce a building block to pre-symbolic play for your little one. (The tiger is wet. Now he is dry.)

2 kids playing with wash tub outside play therapy activities

You don’t just have to fill the tub with water. Use your imagination! 

Try dumping small blocks or beans in there, scoop them with a cup or pour between cups, and then dump them back out. (The tub is full. You poured the beans. They’re in the cup.) 

If you have any sand toys, like a sand shovel or rake, you can use those with the beans as well. Encourage your child to rake the beans, or scoop the beans with the shovel and fill up the cup. 

You can also take plastic animals and bury them in the beads, and your little one can try to find them with their hands. 

These activities can develop their fine motor skills. Try introducing new positions while playing with the sink to incorporate gross motor skills:

  • Kneeling
  • Standing
  • Sitting
  • Even lying on their stomach!

How to Promote Pre-Symbolic Play Therapy Activities for Kids

You can show your kiddo how to fill up a cup with the water from the faucet and have an animal pretend to drink. (The lion is drinking.) This can also work if you fill the tub with beans or [toy blocks], you can fill the cup and pretend the animal is eating the “smoothies”, “salads”, or beans! 

If you have the toy sink, you can pretend the animals have eaten and need to wash their dishes in the sink.

child washing dishes in sink with soapy water play therapy activities

Wet a sponge and pretend to wash a plastic doll or animal. (The sponge is wet. We’re washing the dog. He’s clean!)

Get the toy animals wet in the tub and then dry them off with a washcloth. (The giraffe is in the sink. Here’s a towel. He’s dry!) 

This type of play is very fun since you can encourage your child to use their imagination. It’s also a great way to introduce routines and schedules to them.

wash bowl with 2 rubber ducks and suds

Use Your Imagination to Help Children’s Symbolic Play

You can work on imaginary play by pretending to wet and dry the animals or splash in the water when there’s no water in the tub. Pretend the animals have soap at the sink and are using it to wash their hands after they’ve eaten their food!

Try pretending the doll is doing their own actions by making the doll’s arm splash in the water or push the water out of the faucet. The doll can eat or drink with a plate or cup, then turn the water on to rinse things out. Then it can get soap on the dishes before using the water. Scrub, scrub, scrub!

stuffed animal kermit the frog in wash tub with suds

Act out a whole bath time routine with a doll. Take their clothes off, pour water into the bath, have them climb in, shower them by pumping out water, wash them with a sponge, and then dry them off with a towel.  

You can also make the bath routine more fun by adding shaving cream and pretending it’s soap. Careful, make sure it doesn’t get in the doll’s eyes! 

This is a great way to build a routine and teach it to your child. As your little one acts out a bath routine with a doll, incorporate aspects of your child’s own routine. Sing your favorite bath time song or add in bath toys. 

Next, you can have your child practice this routine alongside their doll! Use this as an opportunity to challenge your kiddo’s memory by asking, “What’s next?” after they have finished a step of the routine. 

These are some fun ideas you can use to encourage your kid to play with a toy they already have, in new ways to challenge their play and make it more fun! Have fun playing pretend and watching your child learn!

We also have tons of awesome information on our resources page, including toys and activities to help your child learn and grow. 

Follow us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on blog posts like this and more! And as always, if you believe your child would benefit from therapy services, contact us to schedule an appointment today. 
Written by Cheryl Michalesko, edited by Sophia Aspin, PT, DPT and Vivian Chau, PT, DPT

* Third-party links in this blog are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Milestone Therapy of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual.