Water balloon games are fun and motivating! But did you know that they can also work on strengthening, graded control, and attention?
Once the weather gets warm enough that my kids don’t need a winter jacket, my kids are asking to play with water balloons! They don’t care that the temperature is in the low 70’s and still too cold for outside water play.
But if my kids had a choice, they would be in the water or playing with water every day, regardless of the temperature!
Being a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and a mom of 4, I am always looking for fun activities that also work on a developmental skill. And it’s an added bonus when my kiddos think they are just playing!
Although water balloon games can work on so many skills, I narrowed it down to 3 big skills. And because these skill areas are so big, I just gave short snippets of what they are and how to work on them.
3 Developmental Skills Water Balloon Games Work On
#1. Graded Control
Graded control is the ability to move your body with the appropriate effort or force. The ability to do this is used for writing, self help skills such as dressing, using an open cup, eating with utensils, and brushing your teeth. It’s also an essential skill for playing!
Graded control is also used for gross motor activities such as walking down stairs, dribbling a soccer ball with your feet, and kicking a ball at a target.
If you want to learn more about graded control, check this resource out.
Water balloon games can easily work on strengthening the body. They key to working on this skill is how you set up the game. If you incorporate holding a position for a period of time, moving in slow motion, and balancing you are then working on strengthening!
Kids love to help get water balloons ready. Enlist their help by filling a bucket or truck with water balloons and move it to a different part of your yard. Pushing/pulling something over grass is hard work and great for upper body strengthening.
Squeezing water balloons is another great hand strengthening activity! If you need more outside activities that work on hand strengthening check this list out!
#3 Visual Attention
If your kiddo does not pay attention to the water balloon, it will fall! When working on attention, I love this type of cause and effect activities. It is much easier to see the consequence of not looking at the balloon.
Water balloon play is also great for visual attention because it will jiggle and move. Depending on the color and type of water balloon you use, you may also be able to see the water inside the balloon moving.
I have found that kiddos are more successful working on visual attention when using objects that are not completely still. So when the water balloon is not moving but jiggling, it will hold their attention longer.
Water Balloon Games
- Carry It on A Spoon – Any big spoons work great for this game. I try to encourage kiddos to use only one hand. This is a great game for kids who have trouble with impulse control. If they move too fast, the water balloon will fall off!
- Crab walk forward or backward with the balloon on your belly – Crab walking is a full body workout and really good for kids. By placing a water balloon on your kiddo’s belly while crab walking, it adds an additional balance element.
I love using this strategy for kiddos who are visually distracted. The water balloon provides a visual target close to their body. Most kids will complete a skill better when their eyes are focused on something rather than darting around.
- Carry it on a Towel between two people – Have two kiddos hold the corners of a towel. Place a water balloon on the towel and have them walk without letting the balloon fall off. This is a great activity for peer collaboration, body awareness, problem solving, impulse control and coordination.
The kids can either side step or with one person walking backwards and the other person forwards. When side stepping, kids will lead with the same foot over and over. Have them walk to a line and back to the start to work on moving in both directions!
- Carry it on a plastic plate – This game requires kids to use two hands and to visually attend to the water balloon rolling around on the plate. Pending on where the balloon is, will also depend on how the kiddo adjusts their arms.
Kids who need more help with this skill benefit from plates with raised edges. While kiddos who are more skilled can be challenged with plates without an edge.
- Hit the Water Balloon with a Bat – If you have a batting tee, place the water balloon where the ball would go, and have your kiddo kit it with a bat! You can also tie a string to the balloon and hang it from a branch. These are both very motivating activities that work on crossing midline!
Here are other crossing midline activities to check out.
- Throw it at a target – Targets can range in different sizes, distances, and shapes. Also, the placement of the target changes the skill.
For example, hitting a target hanging on a tree is different from hitting a target on the floor; which is different than throwing a water balloon into a bucket. All are good targets requiring different skills. Envision the different placement of your kiddo’s eyes for focusing on each target.
- Squeeze it to squirt – If you are using Quick Fill, Self Sealing water balloons, then your kiddo can squeeze the balloon just right to make the water squirt out of the top. This is a great activity for hand strengthening.
- Build a compartment around it and see how high you can drop it without breaking – This is the same concept as building a container to drop an egg without it breaking but without the mess! Predict how high it can drop before popping!
- Color Match – Match the water balloons by color is a fun pre-smashing activity for kiddos still learning their colors!
- Place it between 2 kids back to back with interlocking arms – Any time there can be cooperative play with peers, I am a big fan. Have 2 kiddos stand back to back, and have them interlock their arms. Place a water balloon in between their backs. Now they need to walk without breaking it. This activity is great for coordination and teamwork. It also works on graded control against a surface!
- Hold it While Completing An Obstacle Course – I love having kids complete balance activities while balancing a water balloon. The ability to attend to more than one thing at a time is a GREAT life skill! Have your kiddo move the water balloons around the yard in a dump truck, bucket or wagon!
- Balance a Water Balloon on a Dixie Cup – For kiddos who do not have the attention or control to balance a water balloon on a spoon, a Dixie Cup is a good alternative. The smaller the balloon the easier it will be.
- Pop by Sitting on it – Have your kiddo sit on the floor and then raise their butt off the floor so that all of their weight is through their arms and feet. At the count of 3, or longer, sit on the balloon to pop it!
This position is great for building upper body, core, and leg strength.
- Have a toss – Have your kiddos stand 2 feet away from each other. Toss the balloon to the other person. If the other person catches the water balloon, take a step backwards. Continue, until the balloon pops. This works on graded control and eye hand coordination.
- Water Balloon Hunt – Like an Easter Egg Hunt, but use water balloons! Kids love looking for hidden objects. Have them carry a bucket to put their found balloons! The bucket will get heavier, which will strengthen their hand and arm!
- Stomp on It – Stomping on water balloons is almost as satisfying as jumping in puddles! I like to play a game with my kids to see how much weight they can put on the balloon with their foot before it pops. This game works on balance, and graded control of the leg, a skill used for going down stairs.
- Fill a baby pool or large container – My kids love putting their arms in large containers filled with balloons. From an Occupational Therapist’s perspective, this is great for giving proprioception feedback. The balloons provide resistance, which tells the brain where their arms are in space.
- Drop it Through a Hole – Cut a circle out of a cardboard box, in the middle. Place a dry water balloon in the lid. Your kiddo needs to move the box lid up and down in order to get the water balloon to drop in the hole. This is an awesome game for bilateral graded control.
By cutting the circle out in the middle of the box, your kiddo needs to make small movements. Bigger movements will send the balloon into a corner or along the edge. Have them do it over concrete with no shoes on! When the balloon drops to the ground and pops, their feet will get wet!
- Place it between your knees and walk – This game requires kiddos to move at a slower rate. This is especially hard for some kiddos. You may even notice that your kids are more successful with completing a skill at a quicker rate.
When I see this, I shift my focus to having them complete tasks at a much slower speed. Slower speed often requires, increased coordination, attention endurance, and increased strength.
- Hold the balloon under your chin without using your hands – Have your kiddo walk, run, skip, gallop while trying to keep the water balloon under their chin.
What Kind of Water Balloons to Use
For quick and easy, I love using these Quick Fill, Self Sealing water balloons. I love that my kids can practically fill them on their own! They are definitely more expensive than standard water balloons, but I feel the ease is worth the added costs.
The Quick Fill, Self Sealing water balloons are definitely thin and pop easily. If you need a balloon with a little more longevity, then regular latex balloons work great. The only caveat is that you manually need to fill them and tie a knot.
But sometimes the added time and steps is TOTALLY worth it!
Tips on How to Set Up Water Balloon Games
Most of these game ideas require you to have a start and finish line or target. Have your kiddo help determine where these lines are!
For games that require your kiddo to move in the same direction repeatedly, like crab walking, have them crab walk forward to a line and then have them crab walk backwards to the start line.
Pair two activities together to make it harder! For example, place water balloons around the yard. Have your kiddo crab walk to find a ballon and sit on it to pop it!
But most of all, have fun! Summer is short!
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If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I am sure that you are not the only one with the same question! I read all comments and would love to hear from you!
Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of OT Perspective and a mom to 4 children. To learn more about her, check out her About Me page, here.