Toddlers are notorious for their short attention spans. But even for kids with different interests, water tables have a universal appeal, making them a quintessential outdoor toy. Splashing and pouring water gets them outside and keeps them entertained while also benefiting their brain and motor skills, says Taylor Lauder, an occupational therapist at Springtide. And water tables with multiple “zones” let kids play solo or with siblings and friends, which helps them develop problem-solving and sharing skills — and patience. So we talked to Lauder and five other play experts, toy insiders, and parents to find the best water tables for kids.
All of the designs, below, are made of plastic and can be hosed off or wiped down with disinfectant in between splash sessions, and many have drainage holes to make them easy to empty. Lauder also suggests “changing out the water daily to ensure it is fresh and clean.” Finally, as is always the case when you have young children near a body of water (no matter how small), kids should never be left unattended while playing with a water table.
A newer addition to Step2’s vast selection of water tables, this two-tier setup has room for a gaggle of toddlers to each splash at their own station or play together as a group. While one child is filling and dumping buckets of water into the basin, another can send streams down the chute and through the spinner. It also comes with ten accessories for pouring, scooping, and squirting water. Toy Insider’s digital and social-media content manager, Marissa Silva, says her favorite part of the table is the upper level: “When they pour water on the top, it creates a rain shower that sprinkles down to the bottom basin.” It also has a “closed” leg design, which helps stop grime from accumulating inside the molded plastic.
This unicorn-themed water table, also from Step2’s Rain Showers series, has 12 accessories, including three unicorn dolls, and comes recommended by Kathryn Beaty, Vox Media senior engineer. Beaty says her 3-year-old daughter has been using the double-decker table since she was around a year old and has never lost interest. “She can engineer the gears to direct the water down the side, pour water in the top to give the unicorns baths, and scoop and pour with the different included cups,” Beatty says. If your child isn’t into unicorns, the table is also available in a blue “pond” design that comes with a frog, a duck, and a fish.
If you’re short on space, this circular water table is a bit more compact but still spacious enough for multiple kids to play at once. They can use one of the five squirt toys to shoot water at each other, scoop up the toys and spin them with the Ferris wheel, or drop them into the center column to watch them spiral into the basin. Former Strategist writer and dad-of-two Steven John says it kept his kids entertained for an hour at a time (which is like five hours in toddler time) and was a main source of summer entertainment.
Less of a traditional water table and more of a water wall, this two-sided tower stands nearly three feet tall and comes with 11 movable accessories — including buckets, chutes, and spinners — that let kids create their own configurations and change the way the water flows when they pour it into the top. There are spaces for accessories on both sides so two kids can play at once, with a basin at the bottom that lets even the smallest kids refill their own buckets. It also has more than 1,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, where one reviewer wrote that their 3.5-year-old “loves changing out the pegs and moving them around,” while their 1-year-old splashes in the bottom.
Though it may look minimalist, Playgarden co-founder and COO Amanda Vierheller says this under-$50 water table will provide “hours of fun” thanks to its endless potential for pretend play. The table has two clip-on launching pads that kids can use to spring five mini frog toys into the pond, as well as two floating lily pads and a slotted cup to capture the frogs or sprinkle water. The accessories can be used separately by multiple kids, or to make up a collaborative game.
According to both Lauder and Vierheller, combining water and sand is a good way to give toddlers a multisensory experience that lets them discover different textures. This dino-themed table has a divided basin with separate compartments for sand and water — at least until your kids start mixing them — and a volcano-shaped lid for the sand area that allows kids to create a water “eruption.” The table comes with four colorful dinosaurs that can be used in both the sand and the water, a shovel, and two buckets.
For the youngest kids who aren’t quite stable when standing but have mastered sitting up on their own, Silva suggests this sit and play water table by Little Tikes. The shallow, ground-level design holds just enough water for toddlers to splash, and you can connect a garden hose to one end for a continuous fountain. “They can sit in it, they can sit next to it and play — it has a lot of different elements and is great for really little kids,” Silva says. This table is also the only one on this list that can be folded in half and closed up for storage. The table comes with eight toys, including a doll-size slide and lighthouse, but you can use it with bath toys as well.
This large water table comes with ten rainbow balls, four cars to transport them, three scoop-and-dump buckets, and a variety of other accessories that will “engage toddlers’ imaginations” says Vierheller. The two-tiered table itself has two ramps for the cars or balls to roll down, a hoop to toss the balls through, and insets at the bottom of each table leg to store the balls. The “lazy river” design of the bottom level means it doesn’t require as much water as tables with larger open basins. Plus, one Amazon reviewer noted that the table is just as fun to play with indoors once it’s clean and dry, with the included cars as well as other toys: “Our grandson plays with this five days a week, and we’ve had it for a year,” they wrote. “He uses it as a Hot Wheels track, train track, anything he wants.”
To re-create the water-table experience without committing to buying and storing one — especially if you’re short on outdoor space — Christine Short, Vox Media senior product manager and mom of a kindergartner, recommends using an ordinary water basin or tub like this one. Just fill it with a few inches of water and toss in some water-safe toys. One of the main benefits of water tables, according to Vierheller, is that they provide children with “opportunities for open-ended and self-directed play, which grows confidence and independence” — and even a bin filled with water and repurposed measuring cups can provide those opportunities, no fancy features required.
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