We don’t have a swimming pool in our classroom, but pool noodles are a big part of our play and learning! I bought 3 different colors from the Dollar Tree and cut them up, and even I was surprised how much fun we got out of them! Some of these were my ideas, but the toddlers contributed some ideas of their own too.
Here were the stages of our play with pool noodles! Odd numbers were toddler ideas; even numbers were my ideas.
#1 Sensory Craziness
When the toddlers first saw a bin full of colorful circles, their eyes opened wide and several of them dug right in with both arms, sending the pool noodles flying as fast as they could! Most of the pictures I took during this stage were blurry with all the movement and excitement! Nevertheless, this is an important stage to begin with. Try skipping it, and you will have some frustrated toddlers. I did have tools on hand for them to move on to the next stage though…
#2 Tongs & Scoops
I got these tools from the Dollar Tree. They loved scooping up the circles and pouring them out again! The tongs were a little more challenging. Some of the toddlers used them as stirrers, but others were determined to pick things up with them after I showed them how to use them! In the end, success was achieved by using two hands, since the tongs were so big. But some persisted and even mastered the one-handed tong approach!
#3 Clapping Together
Using two objects together is a skill developed by toddlers (one-to-one correspondence), so we are right on track! We talked about the noises the pool noodles made when they were clapped together, and there was definitely some laughter involved. (Credit for this idea goes to the toddlers.)
#4 Muffin Tin
Practicing our one-to-one correspondence skills this way was my idea (via Pinterest), but the toddlers enjoyed it and did well. Some of them even tried placing the pool noodles in the muffin tins using the tongs instead of their hands! And they loved dumping them out and filling the holes again. These muffin tins also came from – where else? – the Dollar Tree!
#5 Pool Noodle Hats
My toddlers are obsessed with hats, so naturally the pool noodles ended up on their heads. You can also have them practice their body parts by asking them to place them on their stomach, legs, hands, shoulders, nose, etc.!
#6 Building Towers
…and knocking them down, of course! I didn’t get too many pictures of this activity because the “towers” (3 or less) we built were usually demolished before I could even turn my camera on. So much laughter during this stage!
Yes, this happened. I found these pool noodles on the stove, in the microwave, mixed with forks and spoons… toddlers love to pretend everything is food, and they are so happy to share their culinary creations with you!
#8 Peeking through the Middle
The great thing about pool noodles is that they come with a hole in the middle. Toddlers love to play peek-a-boo! I see you!
#9 As Phones
I have yet to meet a toddler who doesn’t love pretending with phones. One of my toddlers turns his lunch food into a phone, so it was no surprise to see him put the pool noodle up to his ear and say, “Hello?”
#10 Painting Circles
Pool noodles are perfect painting tools! They are easy to grasp and fun to stamp with. Click here for the full story of how we painted with them.
#11 Finger Fun
Thanks to those holes in the middle of the pool noodles, we made up an impromptu game called “catch the finger.” It’s a sneaky way to strengthen those fingers. One of my students stuck a finger through the middle and laughed while saying, “Finger!” My fingers were longer, so I would stick a finger through the hole, wiggle it around, and yell “Aaahhhh!” when they would “catch” it. We did this so many times, and they kept asking for “more!” And the room was full of laughter.
This is a great way to introduce lacing skills, because the “beads” (pool noodles) are way too big for kids to swallow, the hole in the middle of the pool noodle is big enough to get the thread through, and you can use some thick yarn, which is easier to manipulate. Just remember it is an introduction, and for now you might be the one who is doing most of the lacing. Once you get a good amount threaded, it’s also fun to move the pool noodles along the string! This is a skill that takes lots of practice, but toddlerhood is a great time to start!
#13 Full Immersion
Just like those ball pits at fast food restaurants, toddlers love to get the full body experience when dealing with sensory items. And this is a lot less messy than shaving cream, paint, spaghetti, etc.! (Since it was an under-the-bed storage bin situated on the floor, I didn’t mind too much that they climbed inside. If it had been a stomach-level sand table I would be a little more wary.)
As you can see, this is not the most tidy activity to do, since pool noodles usually end up everywhere, but it is definitely worth it. This is consistently one of the most popular things to play with, and my little one and a half year olds will spend 10-15 minutes entranced here, which in toddler time is a long time!
My toddlers came up with half of these ideas, so imagine the possibilities for what yours can do! How have you played with pool noodles?