Grandad’s Island

Most children love bathtime; the water adds a new dynamic to their play. My boys are no exception, so for this week’s activity we have chosen to include water, bubbles and some handmade boats. Inspired by ‘Grandad’s Island’ by Benji Davies, we had fun playing an early maths activity – though as I will explain below, it can be adapted for literacy too and to suit many different ages and abilities. Once completed, the boys enjoyed ‘messing about with boats’ and we also threw a few sea-creatures into the water too. Imaginative role-play can stimulate conversation and language learning and is great for all ages, from babies to grown-ups!

Grandad's Island Equipment List

You Will Need:

  • A largish container of water and bubbles (ours cost £7 from Dunelm).
  • Some straws
  • Washing up sponges
  • Lolly sticks
  • Card
  • Pens
  • Sellotape
  • Scissors
  • Sea-creatures and bath toys (optional)

To Make the Boats:

  • Prep some card by cutting it into rectangles approximately 10cm x 7cm. Then ask your child to draw and cut along the diagonal to make two right-angled triangles. (Scissor practice is a vital skill, which we often don’t allow our children to practice enough).
  • Decide your theme (we chose numbers, some alternatives are suggested below) and draw or write a relevant design on one side of each sail.
  • Sellotape a lolly stick to the reverse of each sail. Ensure at least half of the stick protrudes from the bottom edge.
  • Then cover the entire sail in sellotape to ‘waterproof’ it. Pay particular attention to the bottom edge.
  • Make a small incision in the centre of a washing up sponge using a pair of scissors or craft knife (a grown-up should do this step).
  •  Place to lolly stick sail inside the hole within the sponge.
  • Ta-dah! Time to test your boat…

Washing Up Sponge Boats


  • Position your ‘islands’ at each corner of your water container. We used written numerals in our activity. If your container is large enough you could also position them inside the water, using big blobs of play-doh to stop them moving around.
  • Place your boats inside the water, check they float.
  • Choose a straw each.
  • Challenge your children to blow through their straw to guide their boat to it’s matching island. In our version, Oscar had to match the correct number of dots on each sail to it’s matching written numeral on each island.
  • The winner could be the first person to sail their boat into their matching island, or it may be the person to correctly pair each boat/island in the quickest time.


  • Coloured sails matched to coloured islands (make this harder by writing the colour of each island in a different colour e.g. blue, orange, pink, yellow…
  • Rhyming words – Write or draw a word on each sail; children to match their boat to an island with a word that rhymes on it.
  • Maths – Write a calculation on each sail e.g. 10 x 2; children to match their boat to an island with a different calculation that equals the same e.g. 23 – 3.
  • Animal phonics – Draw an animal on each sail; children to match their boat to an island with the correct animal sound written.

Baby reading Grandad's Island by Benji Davies

A Sneaky Snapshot

Don’t forget, you can watch this activity in action on Youtube and IGTV. Please do subscribe or follow to stay updated with more play prompts based on your favourite children’s books.

If you’re active on social media, do please share a picture of you enjoying this activity with your child. Use the hashtag #picbookplay and tag @thefairytalemum if you’d like to be featured.


Please remember to fully supervise your children whenever they are playing with water. Even the shallowest container of water still presents a threat. Splashing about is fun, but I’d hate for any accidents as a result of this activity and I cannot be held accountable should something dreadful happen. Thank-you for taking this advice seriously.

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