DIY: Cardboard water play easel for preschoolers

I just love all the water wall ideas that I have read about over the summer. Most of the water walls are far more ingenious than what I have to share but I really wanted to try making one that I could move around easily so I made a water play easel instead.

I started out with a heavy piece of cardboard. I got this piece of cardboard from our local box recycling place. It is fairly thick and it was very long. It already had three folds in it so I just trimmed it up to make it stand like a large easel…

Of course, cardboard is going to break down as it gets wet so I will eventually just haul it back to the recycle place when it is no longer usable. To make it last a little longer, I painted it with some high gloss spray paint. I chose white so I could use colored water and be able to see the water more easily as it flowed down the wall…

To make water flow in different directions, I cut up a variety of 2 liter and small plastic drinking bottles to attach to the board. The bottles make great funnels and the two liter bottles make great catchers at the bottom of the wall. Since all the bottles are see through, the water can be easily seen…

To attach the bottles to the board, I simply used a screw driver with a pointed end to poke a hole through each bottle and through the cardboard.  I chose a skinny screwdriver so the holes would be fairly small. Then I pushed short screws through the hole in the bottle and the cardboard and added a nut on the back to hold the screw in place. The way the bottles are attached allows you to turn the bottles to the left or right so you can adjust which way you want the water to flow. I thought about using velcro instead because you could get the same idea and move the bottles from one location to another more easily. Next time, I may try that…

I left the lids on some of the bottles which allows you to stop the flow of water too if wanted. The lids can be taken on and off as desired….

I intended to add more bottles to the back of my water play easel but ran out of time before my news segment the other day. So instead I am using the back of the water play easel to decorate with foam shapes…

I simply cut colors of foam craft sheets into a variety of shapes and either dip the shapes into water and stick them on the wall or brush water on with a paint brush and stick them onto the wall that way…

The foam shapes will stick to the water on the board making a fun canvas to explore shapes and patterns…

Lots of potential uses and so far my cardboard water play easel has stood up to the water. I make sure I set it out in the sun to dry out then fold it up to keep it flat at night.  If I leave it standing in water too long, it wants to bend over so letting it dry flat helps to keep it standing nicely….

This is the water play easel all set up by my pool and ready for play!

Here are some links to other water walls…

Planning a new water wall by Let the Children Play

Sand and Waterwall by Child Central Station

Waterpainting with Shapes by Almost Unschoolers


Be sure to catch Chapter 9 of our

book study blog party: Literacy Beginnings!

By |2011-07-08T14:00:00+00:00July 8th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Scott July 8, 2011 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Love the moveable water wall. And I didn’t know that foam shapes would stick to a wet surface so well. I’ll be adding these ideas to my stack.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm - Reply

      That stack keeps getting longer Scott – like mine does:)

  2. Megan July 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Depending on the width of the cardboard, after painting it white you could use clear contact paper to help protect the cardboard from absorbing so much water. Just run the roll vertically across the cardboard instead of horizontally while covering it.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm - Reply

      I hadn’t thought of using contact paper. That just might make a difference!

      • Trisha July 21, 2011 at 11:06 am

        You could probably just use white contact paper. But would it come loose with the water? Maybe paint over the contact paper??

  3. artsy_momma July 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    That is such an awesome idea! I wonder if you used the Outdoor Mod Podge maybe it would last longer.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm - Reply

      I have never tried outdoor ModPodge before!

  4. Forest Rose July 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    What a great water wall…I’m gonna have to try one!! Thanks for sharing:-)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm - Reply

      You are quite welcome:)

  5. [email protected] July 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    I love this idea. I will be on the lookout and start collecting bottles. My kids would love this.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm - Reply

      I have tons of bottles – this was a good way to use them up!

  6. Natalie July 8, 2011 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    This is such a brilliant idea! I wish I hadn’t just dropped a giant piece of cardboard off at the recycling center yesterday.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Haha – I am always wishing that I hadn’t….

  7. Little Wonders' Days July 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    I love how simple the water wall is to make. Little J has an “inventors box”. I’ll have to see if he would like to make this with me one afternoon. Looks like a lot of fun, and easy!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      What a great idea for a little inventor to make…

  8. Rachele @Messy Kids July 8, 2011 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    I’m so glad I came across this before I started my blog posting today! What a great concept. I love that the bottles can be adjusted so the water can run into different bottles depending on the child’s choices. I featured you on this weeks Do Something! DIY Fun and Learning Toys.

    Rachele @ Messy Kids

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 8, 2011 at 9:09 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Rachele and featuring me! What a very kind thing to do:)

  9. Jamie @ hands on : as we grow July 8, 2011 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    I feel like this water wall is something that is doable and I don’t feel so overwhelmed about making one now 🙂 Thanks for sharing Deborah! (and I LOVE the foam shapes on the back side!)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 9, 2011 at 9:15 am - Reply

      I was a little intimidated about making a permanent one or one on a board but if I can take the idea and make it from cardboard – then I will give it a shot:)

  10. Kierna July 9, 2011 at 5:57 am - Reply

    I love this idea – so simple yet practical – thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 9, 2011 at 9:14 am - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Kierna:)

  11. Ludicrous Mama July 11, 2011 at 3:56 am - Reply

    You should be able to use a plastic garbage bag and glue it (while smoothing it out!) along the side too… As far as velcro for the bottles, stick-on velcro might wear off faster if water leaks out onto the sticky parts. Plus if it gets wet it could get moldy. Ewwww. I might try this with some thin board (I forget what it’s called) since I’m too lazy to go through this kind of effort more than once!
    And that foam shape idea is great! That should work in the bathtub too! I wonder if Sizzix or Cricut can cut thin foam… I could make an alphabet and shapes for each letter (apple, bear, cup, etc.)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 11, 2011 at 8:48 am - Reply

      Yes, the foam works well on any wet surface and you should be able to cut the foam with the Sizzix!

  12. Ludicrous Mama July 11, 2011 at 3:59 am - Reply

    Oooh although with velcro you could also put extra backs on various spots on the board and let them not only twist the bottles in place, but move them around into their own configurations. Trial and error kind of thing.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 11, 2011 at 8:48 am - Reply

      I like the trial and error method:)

  13. Kymberli September 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    What a great idea! I’m thinking that I could adapt this to use on our school’s cyclone fence. If I make the bottles long enough and punch a couple of holes in the back (high up) and put pipe cleaners through…it’s worth a try!

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