Quick Tips for Filling and Pouring With Preschoolers

Image: Hands on as we grow - Pouring Water for Toddlers [Life Skill to Learn]

Image: Hands on as we grow – Pouring Water for Toddlers [Life Skill to Learn]

Open Ended Play With A Lot of Great Learning

Visual motor skills like filling and pouring are often taken for granted. These important skills are developed in the early years. Filling, scooping and pouring activities help develop fine motor skills in under 5s as well as using math concepts such as less and more. These tasks help children coordinate their hand movements with what they are seeing and feeling (it might be water pouring on their feet!)

It si also an open-ended activity, not unlike playing with loose parts that creates an environment for testing, experimenting and learning.

Here are some quick tips for using everyday items in fun ways. These activities should be deliberately planned as open-ended investigations.  Using open-ended activities means children are developing skills and processes such as problem-solving, experimenting and adapting as they explore their environments. It also means that with no fixed outcome or end point to the activity children are learning independently without a set time-frame.

When using any of these items children need close supervision –

Ingredients for Filling and Pouring

  • water (of course)
  • sawdust and woodshavings
  • birdseed
  • small rocks or pebbles
  • sand (different grades/colours eg fine black sand, white sand)
  • beads
  • small pompoms
  • mud
  • buttons
  • (potions made with water/leaves/flowers)

Food/plant Items*

  • Dried beans, peas, lentils, seeds
  • Popcorn (can be done before and after!)
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Dry pasta

Note: Beans and peas also can be planted after use

*Working with food/plant Items

It’s important to check with your local community regarding the cultural implications of using food items for these (or any) learning activities. It may be permissible to use dried legumes for instance if they are stored separately and not intended to be used for cooking. Make sure you are aware BEFORE the activity and if in doubt use an alternative! Also, although wheat is commonly used in filling and pouring activities we’ve left it off the list because it comes with warnings regarding allergies and inhaling.


Provide a range of ways for children to experiment with pouring by setting out a series of utensils. These can be rotated so that the activity changes for children who demonstrate an interest in mastering these skills.

plant pots which already have holes are great for filling and pouring activities.

Plant pots which already have holes are great for filling and pouring activities, as are:

  • medicine droppers and dispensers
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • bottles
  • Plastic containers- holes poked in base (showers)
  • tubes
  • funnels
  • baster
  • squirt bottle
  • tray with sides
  • muffin trays
  • ice cube tray
  • flask
  • tea kettle
  • bowls
  • buckets
  • paint brush
  • watering cans
  • jug
  • cups
  • tea set
  • sponge

As well as using ‘pouring stations’ – where you set out containers and utensils to let the children explore for themselves – here are three activities that have been trialed by educators and/or parents.


Filling and Pouring Activities

Scooping with Beads

Image: Sugar Aunts

Image: Sugar Aunts

This activity from Sugar Aunts is designed to be a hand dominance development activity and is part of her occupational therapy series. It is also valuable for developing “precision of very small wrist motions”. Using the paper trays inside the muffin tins and different size scoops gives children fine motor exercise as they try to scoop and pour into the trays.


The Great Water Challenge

Image: Bright Futures Early Learning - Menai FB  Image: Bright Futures Early Learning – Menai FB

Set up a challenge where children try to get water from one place to another in the playground by “making a river”. This one was constructed using foil and rocks after students put their problem solving skills to work (hint: it helps if there is a slope)

These children had to collaborate and interact to come up with a solution for getting the water from the playground to the sandpit.

Funnels and Tubes Play

Using pipes, funnels and dyed beans (alternatives such as stones or sand would work just as well) this pouring activity from frugal fun for boys and girls takes a little setting up initially (assembling the pipe structure) but then it can be used over and over again.

Image: Frugalfunforboysandgirls Image: Frugalfunforboysandgirls

Teacher Notes:

To make the most of these learning opportunities, you could do some of the following:

  • Engage children in conversation
  • Verbalize and describe what children are doing
  • Pose questions that encourage children to articulate what they are doing
  • Make observations
  • Discuss what if? ideas then let children analyze and solve
  • Model positive attitudes and behaviors

Your observations will help you write an Amazing Learning Story to share with parents!

Here’s a filling and pouring PDF for you to download with lists of ingredients and utensils for filling and pouring.