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  • Writer's pictureOur Playful Learning Journey

Mermaid Water & Sand Play Tray + Fun & Easy DIY Watercolour Shells

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Here is a FUN & SIMPLE craft and play idea, that your child will enjoy making and playing with!

Children's play idea - mermaid water and sand play tray, using Wild Republic mermaid figurines, kinetic sand, blue water and painted DIY shells.
Mermaid water and sand play tray using our DIY watercolour paint shells.

This week I am sharing a very fun and simple craft project that we did last year. It was quick to set up and the shells have been used in a range of ways since we made them. They are still going well and the girls enjoy using them with the sand for play.

Keep reading to see how we painted our shells and then how we used them to set up a really cute mermaid water and beach tray using blue water, kinetic sand and shells.

* IMPORTANT: This play idea is recommended for ages 3+ as it includes small parts which are a choking hazard. All play was supervised by an adult. Always supervise water play.

* Please note - I have included some links to products in this blog post to help you. They are not affliate links.

Watercolour Rainbow Shells

This was a fun afternoon craft activity for Miss 5. We used some shells bought from Educating Kids, and some watercolour paints. This white watercolour paint pallet is Micador brand and has lots of lovely colours. The black pallet is from IKEA.

Kids craft idea - Plain Shells with watercolour paints to paint
Craft time - shells and watercolour paints

Miss 5 and I sat down together and painted some shells. This was a very enjoyable craft activity. We were inspired to try this craft by Curious Columbus on their Instagram page, who painted shells.

Painted shells with watercolour paints - easy and fun kids craft idea
The shells looked pretty after being painted!

*The paint is not waterproof, so make sure that your child doesn't add these into the water during playtime. If you want to make them waterproof, you could finish with a coat of sealer or mod podge etc.

Mermaid Water and Beach Sensory Play Tray

After making our pretty shells and letting them dry, we used them for play. I set up our IKEA Flisat table for some fun sensory play. In one tray we already had our kinetic sand. I added in some glass gemstones and a couple of our Grimms rainbow pieces for a cave. Miss 5 added in the shells and she decided that she wanted some sequins too.

DIY painted watercolour shells. Kids craft idea and sensory play tray.
The painted shells look pretty on the sand.

On the second side of our table, I filled up the tray with water coloured blue by a few adding a few drops of blue food colouring. We also added in more glass pebbles and some bigger plastic pebbles.

IKEA flisat table set up for children's sensory play. Mermaid water sensory play, with sand for the beach and painted shells. Kids play idea
The sea and sand made for a fun play tray!

The mermaid figurines were added next. Ours are from Lime Tree Kids and they are Wild Republic brand. They are good quality and nice and big for playtime. Miss 5 ended up adding in some plastic reusable ice cubes and a small container for a boat. She enjoyed playing with these sensory tubs and added in some Grimms people to the boat, acting out a big story about treasure, and sailing on the sea.

Mermaid water play tray for children using blue coloured water, mermaid figurines, gemstones and two Grimms friends on a boat
A little container made a great boat!

Underneath the table I put our Rudie Nudie playmat . It is brilliant at soaking up all the water spills and messes. Before I had this I used towels, however, they would end up quite wet and soak through - this mat doesn't. It is surprising how much water it can hold. I originally bought it to go under the high chair, but it has mostly been used for sensory play and for sitting on outside.

Rudie Nudie play mat underneath IKEA flisat table. Set up as kids sensory play with mermaids, shells and blue water.
A mat or towels underneath catch the spills.

The loose parts used in this tray were fairly inexpensive, with most purchased from a local discount store. They are lots of fun to use in a range of ways for play and learning. I would recommend slowly building your loose parts collection, with items that can be used in a range of ways. Items from nature can be collected for free and are great for all kinds of play and learning.

Kids water play tray with mermaids, loose parts and blue water.
Inexpensive loose parts add extra fun

Learning Through Play:

Lots of learning in a playful way was happening here including:

  • Learning about floating and sinking - adding in objects to the water. Miss 5 added the container as a boat and added in some people in experimenting to find out how many she could fit in before it sank.

  • Exploring wet vs dry

  • Imaginative play

  • Telling story with the characters

  • Developing independence and creativity when exploring new ideas.

  • Plus so much more ...

A few tips for play:

  • Think about your child's current interests - How can you use these to set up a play invitation? e.g. sea animals, mermaids, polar animals etc.

  • Let your child help with setting up the trays. This gives them ownership over their play and increases the likelihood that they will want to play.

  • Use what you have. No mermaids - swap for sea animal figurines or toys from the bath.

  • Loose parts - these were added in as additional props by Miss 5. You could easily leave these out to make this more suitable for a range of ages.

  • Worried about mess - do this type of activity outside or in the bathroom, so you do not need to worry about the clean up.

  • If your child is currently exploring the trajectory schema, I would leave this idea for another time, as the water and sand are likely to end up everywhere.

Final thoughts:

The watercolour shell painting was an activity that Miss 5 and I enjoyed doing together. She really enjoyed using the shells in her play and was proud that she had made them herself.

I find that when I follow her interests and get her to help set up, she engages in play for much longer and most often she uses it to give her ideas for her independent play too.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope you found some inspiration for your child's own play and learning at home, or with the children you teach.

Until next time, have fun learning in a playful way!

For more play and learning ideas, visit the homepage.

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