Montessori Preschool Activities – Water Transfer Trays

Here are some fun and educational activities anyone can do at home with young children – whether or not you subscribe to the Montessori educational philosophy. These budget-friendly materials (under $10) can be used to pass the time, as part of your preschool homeschool routine, and even a fun activity for a playdate!

My Merry Messy Life: Cheap Montessori Water Transfer Tray Activity for Preschoolers

We all love water – a powerful waterfall, a rushing river, ocean waves, a sparkling lake – all conjure up almost primal feelings within us that bring peace, relaxation, and awe. As we all know, children especially love to play with water and while it can be a pain because of the mess, it can also be a really fun learning tool. How?

According to the Montessori philosophy of education, which I am using to try out homeschooling starting with pre-k, water is a wonderful sensory tool that engages hearing (the sound of the pouring) and touch (the temperature and wetness). By using tools like a turkey baster, sponges, and cups to transfer the water between containers, it also develops both fine and gross motor skills that help with coordination (gross-motor) and even to develop the muscles used for handwriting and drawing (fine motor)! So much goodness in something so simple.

Montessori Water Transfer Learning Activity for Preschoolers

In a Montessori preschool, you’d find very high quality materials like wooden trays and porcelain or glass bowls. But when at home, most of us want a more budget friendly option. I bought these metal baking pans (9×13) from Wal-Mart for a whopping $2.88 a piece, the bowls were $1 each, the sponges were just a couple of bucks for two (then cut them in half), and the turkey baster was just a few dollars as well.

How to Do it the Montessori Way

For now, until the kids are more trained in Montessori methods, I chose to do the whole activity on our screened-in porch where I know I won’t be stressed about spills. That way, I can be a relaxed and good teacher and not a nagging one! I didn’t want the kids to pick up on my stress and turn it into something negative. Read more below about spilling and why it’s okay.

Why do you need a tray?

Or, in my case, a $2.88 baking pan from Wal-Mart, these are provided to give children a defined work space. This gives them a sense of order, which is important for concentration and helps them stay on task longer.

Rag or Towel

Provide a rag for your child to be able to clean up after themselves. If done the Montessori way, this is not an activity to let the child splash and make a mess on purpose. A young child WILL naturally spill water outside of the tray while transferring the water, and that’s okay. The rag teaches them that it’s okay to make mistakes and spill the water, but it is their responsibility to clean it up and keep their workspace clean. Remember that it is supposed to be fun, so gentle reminders to clean the spill is all that’s needed.

My Merry Messy Life: Montessori Water Transfer Activity with a Sponge

Sponge Activity

It’s simple – the idea is to transfer the water back and forth between two containers (I chose two bowls) with the sponge. Talk about how the sponge soaks up all of the water in one bowl, then squeeze it out in the other. My kids thought it was so much fun to watch the sponge make the water disappear! The sponge is great because it develops hand strength for handwriting.

My Merry Messy Life: Montessori Water Transfer Tray with a Turkey Baster for Preschoolers

Turkey Baster Activity

All you need is one turkey baster and two bowls. Have your child transfer the water from one bowl to another by squeezing the baster to fill it up, and squirting it out in the other bowl. There are so many ways to make this more fun- color the water with food coloring or have them transfer the water into a smaller container, like a muffin tin or small cups. That will build gross and fine motor skills. This activity is also exercise for their hands!

Remember to have fun! Of course, these are just two ways to do water transfer. There are tons! Other things I’ve tried include using an eye dropper, small pitchers and cups.

This post is being shared at Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now

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About Sara McFall

Sara is the owner and founder of My Merry Messy Life, which started in 2011 as a way to chronicle her journey to a natural, chemical-free lifestyle and to share her passions of mothering, real food, homeschooling and crochet. She is a mama to three precious and energetic little boys and wife to a university professor who loves to sing, dance ballet and ballroom, and live simply and naturally.


  1. Hi

    Do all Montessori activities happen in the tray? Or is the tray for transporting activities and organization? I mean once they take the desire activity and sit with it can they do the activity on the table or does it have to be done in the tray?


    • Hi Enza! The tray is meant to just keep the materials organized. So, the child can choose to leave it in the tray or take it to a table or rug to play with. Then, when they are done, they clean up the materials by putting them back in the tray and then back on the shelf.

  2. What a great idea! I can’t wait to try this with my 3-year-old.

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