Playing with Coloured Water: Backyard Activity for Kids

Is there a child who doesn’t love playing with coloured water?  This backyard water activity is a super way for kids to learn about colour-mixing, to strengthen fine and gross motor skills, and it’s a terrific way for children to keep cool on a hot, summer day!

This water activity is one of our favourites from our collection of simple science activities for toddlers and preschoolers.

colour laboratory

Ah, good-old water play!  What child isn’t happy when they’re playing with water?  The hooligans love it when I set up a water bin in the backyard. Truth be told, we have some kind of water bin or water activity set up almost every day in the warm weather.  The kids especially love playing with water tinted with food colouring.   I add colour to almost all of our water bins because colour makes any water activity a little more exciting.  With this particular activity, the coloured water IS the activity, and it’s always a big hit with the toddlers and preschoolers.

We called this the “colour laboratory” because the children work away like little chemists throughout the morning, pouring and mixing and measuring with a variety of containers and instruments.  This kind of water activity is very easy to pull together, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent.

kids mixing colours


Setting up your colour laboratory:


supplies for setting up a kid's colour laboratory

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Raid your bathroom and kitchen cupboards, and your recycle bin to gather up an assortment of interesting plastic containers and instruments such as:

*white bowls and ice cube trays are best for viewing the changes in water colour

We filled each bottle up with warm water and a drop or two of dish soap.  Then we added a few drops of liquid water colours, and gave it a good shake.

liquid water colours


Liquid water colours are very vibrant, and you only need a few drops to get intense colours.  Wilton Icing Gels are an excellent alternative; a small amount will produce a really rich colour. Liquid food colour will work too.  You’ll just need to add a generous amount if you want intense colours.

Let the fun begin!

squeezing red water from a shampoo bottle into a white container

What do they learn by playing with coloured water?

After colouring the water, the girls were pretty excited, so they quickly donned their aprons, and got started.  They poured, filled, squeezed, scooped, transferred and dumped the water from container to container, ooohing and aaaaahing as the colours changed before their eyes.

pouring, squeezing and transferring coloured water

It looks like child’s play, but there is so much brain and body development happening here.

Little hands are learning how to grasp and carry wet and sometimes heavy containers without spilling or dropping.   Through trial and error, they’re figuring out how to pour just the right amount to fill a container, controlling then slowing and finally stopping the flow.  And they discover what happens when there’s an overflow.pouring purple water

Look at the concentration as this little one lines up the test tubes and transfers water from  one to another, and how she’s managed to hold two test tubes in one hand.

transferring coloured water from one test tube to another

Fine motor skills and strength are required to open lids and to use the syringes and droppers.

fine motor: opening bottles and squeezing droppers

Muscles are challenged as they lift full and manipulate heavy bottles.  As this little one struggled with the green bottle, she huffed and puffed and said “too heavy” several times, but she stuck with it, and was able to line it up, and fill the container underneath it.  Success!

gross motor functions and muscles are challenged lifting heavy bottles

They stirred and whisked the water to revive the dish-soap bubbles,

whisking soap bubbles

and of course they learned about colour mixing…

squeezing water into an ice cube tray

…and wonderfully wet, colourful messes on a late summer day.

pretend play colour laboratory


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Happy Hooligans for kids crafts and activities from toddlers to preschoolers

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