Sink Or Swim? Water Activity

Oct 20, 2015

When families with young children visit the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve (where I work), they usually head straight to the water’s edge.

There’s so much to explore in and around the water—water play can lead to fun with science too.

This Club Parka activity gives budding scientists a chance to conduct an experiment, make predictions and observations and try to figure out why things happen the way they do.

It’s even more fun if kids help find and choose the items to test. Which ones will sink and which will float?

You Will Need:

• a plastic wash tub or large container filled with water
• a selection of small items to test: things from nature (leaves, twigs, pebbles, feathers), the kitchen (an egg, cork, spoon) or the toy box. 


1. Hold up each object and ask for predictions: will it sink or will it float?

Small items for children to test with a sink or swim activity.

2. Kids can take turns placing the items in the water and making observations.

3. Continue until all the objects are in the water.

4. Any surprises? Share ideas about what happened.

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I’ve found that it isn’t essential to explain the science behind the experiment, but you can use a small toy boat to demonstrate what’s going on when things float. 

When you set the boat in the tub, the boat pushes aside some of the water to make room for itself. The water pushes back across the bottom and along the sides of the boat. That’s called buoyancy and it’s what holds the boat up in the water.

A stuffed toy in small boat rests in a container of water.

Science is about asking questions and kids have lots of those! Our float or sink experiment usually triggers all kinds of questions about water—Where does it come from? Where does it go? Do all animals need water?—and can open the door to some interesting discussions, like the need to keep our lakes, rivers and oceans clean for all living things (including us!) to survive.

Happy experimenting!

P.S. Just for fun, try this tongue twister with the kids: say “toy boat” as many times as you can as fast as you can!

A Parks Canada interpreter holds up a plastic bin full or water and small objects.

Sarah Haverstock is an interpreter at the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. Club Parka is a Parks Canada program for preschoolers at national parks and historic sites across the country. Kids can take part in the program online, too. Visit to download activity pages and get to know Parka, the busy little beaver who helps kids explore the world around them. You can watch Parka weekday mornings on CBC TV following each episode of Chirp.

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