Summertime means opportunities for lots of fun outdoor activities and most babies love going outside to play. As parents, that means we have to come up with new things to do and early on we were skeptical that water tables were worth the cost and hassle. Ultimately, we got one to try them out and it ended up being a great decision!
The list of things proving that water tables are worth it is pretty long and they represent amazing value for outdoor play this summer. The amount of time your baby will spend playing with them means they are extremely cost effective while being endlessly fun and versatile at the same time.
Over the years we’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of our water tables and we’ve learned that there are many things you can do with them besides just fill them up with water. Let’s dive into what makes these toys such a good deal for the whole family.
Water tables are worth it for your baby this summer
Summertime is a great time of year because you can get babies and older children outside and enjoying the weather. Unlike parents, however, kids aren’t satisfied with a good book and a comfy chair so we always have to get creative with our outdoor activities.
Don’t get me wrong, I love running around and playing with my older children, riding bikes, and going to the park. Sometimes, though, I do want to relax a little and in those situations its crucial to have something to entertain your kids for a decent amount of time that doesn’t require your direct involvement and doesn’t break the bank.
Your children will spend many hours playing with a water table
Sweet, sweet bang for your buck!
The best thing about water tables by far is that they will suck your babies, toddlers, and even older children in for long periods of time from start to finish. They love filling the tables up, making sure all of the pieces are on there correctly (and then likely destroying them), exploring new ways to play, and even letting the water out and spraying it off. Even my 12-month-old boy that can’t really use all of the little accessories and features on the tables yet will spend at least a half hour splashing and playing in the tables before he wanders off to find something else.
When it comes to children’s toys, long play times equals excellent value for us as parents.
It’s amazing when you can find a toy that truly takes up a kid’s full attention and has them engaged with their creativity at the same time, unlike a tablet or TV!
They can help give parents a break
Like I’ve mentioned, water tables are worth it because they can let parents have a much-needed break once in a while when the kids are fully engaged in playing. You can set them up on the grass in an area where they won’t make too much mud and just set up your chair outside of water-slinging distance!
Of course, you’ll still need to keep an eye on them, especially younger toddlers, to ensure that they aren’t pulling the table over, climbing into the table, or otherwise getting into mischief. I’ve found that my 12-month-old seems to want to drink the water occasionally so we have to redirect him to his cup as needed. If you have older kids, make the rules clear to them and they can help watch out for the younger ones as well.
Be sure to bring something outside to do during your rare relaxation break BESIDES your phone – unless you’re taking pictures!
Water table activities can change as your baby grows
I have three kids (9,9,1) and we were a little worried that our older girls wouldn’t care about playing with the water tables we received as gifts for our youngest.
Boy were we wrong!
Even if they don’t have the same wild-eyed excitement as the one-year-old does, they love helping him play as well as creating a special world for their Barbies and other dolls and we’ve noticed that they spend just as much time as he does if not more. Of course, they had tables when they were his age as well so they are already very familiar with the idea. By the way, although the package says they are recommended for ages 18 months or older, our babies started playing with them from the age they were able to pull up and stand.
Here’s how it works in our experience based on age:
- Pull-up age until 18+ months – At this age, babies are just happy to pull up on the toy (which are quite heavy and sturdy when full) and splash around in the water. If your baby loves bathtime, then she will love playing with a water table!
- 18+ months until 2 years – Once they get a little older, your toddler will start to explore the features of the water table (waterfalls, ball throws, etc.) and really start to get into it.
- 2 years to 3 years – In addition to the features of the table, toddlers in this age will start to add in other toys and use their imagination to create little plays or stories on their own.
- 4 years and up – From this point, things can vary wildly. Some kids that really love water will still enjoy using the tables as intended. Others may lose interest in the water and want to put sand or other things in it to change it up. They will also likely be using even more imagination to create their own games.
Turn a water table into a sensory table easily
If you haven’t seen a sensory table before, it’s basically a table that you fill with different materials so that children can explore different objects and textures. With a water table, you already have a table ready to go and it probably already came with some shovels or small buckets to use.
Here are some great examples of fillers and tools that you could try:
- Sand with shovels or small containers to mold and shape
- Dirt with a colander to sift out ‘treasures’
- Dry beans, rice, or oatmeal with measuring cups to learn about measuring food
- Leaves or pine straw with a potato masher to listen to the crunchy sounds
For other great sensory table ideas, I found a great resource at Pocket of Preschool!
Some provide a great shady spot outside
Although the sun is awesome, we hate having to worry about sunburns and extremely hot temperatures. We happen to have a great backyard area that offers tons of shade in different places throughout the day, but our previous home was the exact opposite – no shade in sight!
Luckily, there are many water table options that either come with an umbrella built in or offer a spot to attach your own. The Step2 Spill & Splash Seaway Water Table (check reviews and latest price at Amazon) is a highly-rated option that includes an umbrella and two separate places to fill with water or sand! Although unintended, I’ve definitely seen kids throw or pour water onto the top of the umbrella to create a nice rain effect as well which is an added bonus!
You won’t use as much water as a sprinkler or pool
Every summer, my dad senses start tingling in anticipation of extra electricity and water usage. Although I don’t want to be so stingy that I don’t let my kids play outside in the water, I always feel a little better when they play with the water table because I know that once it’s full they won’t have to keep the hose running constantly.
Aside from the financial cost, many places in the US either have or are moving towards stricter rules around water usage. Depending on the area and weather, you might not even be allowed to water your yard in the summer! For those of you affected by this, you’ll be happy to know that you can get a couple of uses out of each fill up in a water table and keep the fun going even while preserving water! If needed, you could even use the water left over to fill up your watering can for use on your flowers or garden afterward!
Water tables are easily cleaned and stored
Unless you are using something besides water in your water tables, they clean up in a snap. You’ll just need to pop the drain plug at the bottom or tip it over if there isn’t one (not common) to let all of the water out. In most cases, a quick spray with the hose and a sunny place to dry is all you will need at that point. If your children are old enough and you are especially sneaky, you can probably even get them to do the cleanup for you!
I should point out that you really shouldn’t skip this step often, especially if it is going to be a while before you play with the water table again. Leaving hose water sitting for days on end will invite mold and bacteria to grow in the tub as well as provide a great breeding ground for mosquitoes and other annoying insects. Speaking from personal experience, it is much easier to KEEP a water table clean than to GET IT clean later. An occasional mist of bleach or another disinfectant might not be a bad idea, either.
Most water tables are worth it because they are seriously affordable and long lasting
I’ve already mentioned that water tables are very cost effective ways to have fun outside. The models that I mentioned earlier cost between $30-70 depending on when you check the prices and compared to many other large kids toys this is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum.
My biggest gripe with kids toys, in general, is that most of them are little cheap plastic pieces of crap and they offer very little in terms of reusability, creativity, and durability. With a high-quality water table, you’ll be able to enjoy all three of those things in plenty. In fact, we held on to the very first one we bought our girls nine years ago until very recently. It was definitely a surprise to me that they would end up outgrowing the table before it fell apart. And again, they’ve gotten renewed interest now even as 9-year-olds because of their little brother.
They are also easy to take with you when visiting family
Over the years we’ve moved around several times because of my work and we’ve never lived closer than a few hours away from our other family so it’s always a planned trip when we visit. One of the biggest potential issues you’ll face when traveling with kids is that you are breaking up their routine and you won’t have all of the toys and distractions at your disposal that you normally rely on at home.
Luckily, we’ve been able to break our water table down a few times and pack it up into the car when we know we’ll be staying with family for a few days. We also have a minivan so space isn’t as big of a premium as it might be for some others and I realize it might not be an option for everyone. If you can bring it, it’s something to do outside of the house while your there and little ones do better when they have a taste of familiarity away from home. Just be sure it’s dry before you load it back into the car!
Brave parents can let children play with water tables indoors during the colder months
If you live in a part of the world that is cold more often than not, water tables are still worth it for their indoor value. Converting them to a sensory table as we mentioned earlier is probably the best option to avoid a mess, but some brave parents have gone ahead and used water indoors as well!
Before you attempt to use the water table indoors, consider doing it in a garage or other area with flooring that will be more resistant to water. Either way, be sure to place plenty of towels down on the floor to avoid the worst of the mess and ensure that your children are old enough to know that the water needs to stay inside the table!
They make great presents for other babies and toddlers
Once we discovered how much water tables are worth it in our family we’ve picked up a few to give as presents to other children over the years when the girls were invited to birthday parties. The nicer models are probably a little expensive to give out freely, but definitely worth the expense for family members with kids! At our son’s first birthday, he actually received two different models of water table and we were so happy!
Because this gift will likely result in kids begging their parents to go outside constantly, you might want to run it by them first to make sure they are fine with it!
If you want to pick up one for yourself or give one as a gift I definitely prefer the Step2 Tropical Rainforest Water Table between the two that we have right now. You’ll love it just as much as we do!
For babies that aren’t quite ready to pull up and play with a water table, check out some fun activities to do outside with a crawling baby while you wait for them to hit the next milestone!