It’s hot out there. Too hot for kids to want to play outside. Too hot for parents to want to watch their kids play outside.
So what’s a cooped up family to do this holiday weekend and the rest of the summer?
You could head to the pool or the beach, or you could turn your backyard or any space with access to a hose or a bucket of water into a water playground.
We tested out 10 water toys with real kids ages 5 to 13. The kids were asked to rank the toys and the parents were asked if they would buy them. We also factored in ease of set up and safety.
Note: We purposely avoided water guns and opted for more creative soaking solutions. It had been a rough week in gun violence when we did our test.
Here’s how the toys measured up:
OUR TOP 3
1. Play Day Fun Blaster
Price: 96 cents, Walmart
Score: 5 out of 5
Set up: Very little set up required. We filled four bins of water and put them throughout a field and gave the kids the saber pumps along with water balloons and Nerf Super Soaker balls for an old-fashioned water fight.
How it works: Pull back the plunger in a bucket of water or at a swimming pool to fill the chamber with water. Aim it, then hit the plunger to spray your friend.
What the kids thought: It looked cool, was easy to use and was a blast firing.
Would we buy it? Yes! Even though one of the four we bought got bent, it still worked. At 96 cents, we didn’t care if it was a one-time toy, even though we think we could get a few more uses out of them.
2. Hydro Stomp Splash Rocket
Price: $12.99, Target
Set up: A little. You do have to attach the launch pad base to the legs. Then you attach a hose to the stomp pad and put the rocket on the launch pad.
How it works: Stomp on the stomp pad and watch the rocket fly up while squirting you.
What the kids thought: It was super fun and boy did it fly — above the two-story house, in fact. It didn’t have the soaking power of some of the toys, but all the kids wanted to try it.
Would we buy it? The moms were split, but the kids all wanted it. One concern: This is a one-kid-at-a-time toy. Sharing is hard.
And in a triple tie for third place:
3a. Nerf Super Soaker BasH2O Ball
Price: $13.49 for a set of four balls, Target
Set up: Detach from the box and dump into a bucket of water or use at the pool.
How it works: Throw the soaked balls at someone or squeeze them over their head.
What the kids thought: The kids ranked them high on paper, but they didn’t talk about them like they did the rocket or the fun blaster.
Would we buy it? We were evenly split. The kids liked them, but at $3.37 a ball, it felt pricey.
3b. Battle Balloons Color Burst
Price: $12.88 for a set of 120 balloons, Walmart
Set up: The balloons came in three colors — red, green and blue. Each color had its own hose attachment. Attach the hose to the balloons and watch as you fill up 40 balloons in less than a minute. Dump into a bucket.
How it works: The balloons were filled with food coloring and water. They were supposed to “stain” your clothes in fun patterns when they landed on you. The stain washes out.
What the kids thought: The kids loved having water balloons to throw around.
Would we buy them? Yes! A few minutes to fill that many balloons — fabulous. We would skip the color-filled versions though. They didn’t create a pattern on the clothes, and the only thing stained are this filler’s feet from where they dripped while being filled. We do know from past experience that you have to use the balloons immediately or they will empty of water.
3c. H2O Go! Tether Ball Splash
Price: $12.99, Walgreens
Set up: This was painful for the adults. The instructions seemed to miss a few key steps, like filling up the pole with air. Also, you couldn’t use a bicycle pump and had to use your mouth. The adults were frustrated and left two 12-year-olds to figure it out. They did, though it took about 10 minutes to set up. It also had to be placed on really level ground to work.
How it works: You play the game of tether ball (we had to teach some of the kids how), but the ball sprays water, as does the top of the pole.
What the kids thought: Total fun. It was something they could do together and held their attention.
Would we buy it? The adults said no, probably because of the set up factor.
STILL PRETTY FUN
Banzai Wigglin’ Water Sprinkler
Price: $9.07, Walmart
Set up: Unpack from the plastic, attach two plastic bases to the sprinkler to give it stability and attach to a hose.
How it works: Different wiggly pieces of piping squirt water at you in soft arcs.
What the kids thought: Fun and relief. We tried this second after the semi-dangerous Triple Slider (see below). The kids were happy to be able to all get wet without fear. It was also much more gentle compared with the overpowering Wigglin’ Waterpillar (see below), yet still had an element of surprise.
Would we buy it? We were split. The price was right, but it was more for younger kids. We could see the older kids getting bored.
Kaos! Aqua Bow
Price: $12.99, Walgreens
Set up: We skipped the balloons that came with it. We had no interest in filling balloons one at a time and tying them one at a time. Instead, we used the Battle Balloons.
How it works: Once you have your balloons, put them in the sling shot, pull back and launch them.
What the kids thought: Fun, though it was ideal for older kids who had dexterity to put the balloon in the sling and shoot it without flipping the balloon out.
Would we buy it? We were divided. Those of us with aspiring archers would.
DON'T EVEN BOTHER
H2O Go! Triple Slider
Price: $24.96, Walmart
Set up: Yes, it took 45 minutes of cussing, sweating and getting sprayed by water by this parent. It involved pre-filling three chambers with water, using a bicycle pump to pump up the ramp, then attaching a hose and waiting and waiting for the water to move around the slide until it was ready to go.
How it works: Slide down the ramp, apparently as many as three skinny kids at a time, into a pool of water.
What the kids thought: Many of the kids were afraid to try it. Of those who did, two landed hard with tears. No kid really slid well. The kid who loved it most actually was already in an arm cast, so she had no fear. The best part was the pool at the end. We could have just sat in it and called it a day.
Would we buy it? Absolutely not.
Zing H2O Wet Head
Price: $7.50, Walmart
Set up: The hat came in multiple parts, but it only took a few minutes to assemble.
How it works: Fill the chamber with water, attach it to the hat, put the hat on your head and give the chamber a spin. If you were so lucky/unlucky, the chamber would open and a shower of water would pour down on you.
What the kids thought: They all raised their hands that they wanted to try it, but once they saw the first kid get splashed and saw how uneventful it was, they moved on.
Would we buy it? As one mom said to the kid who wanted one, “We can just pour a cup of water on your head.”
Banzai Wigglin’ Waterpillar
Price: $11.97, Walmart
Set up: Easy. Just clip off all the zip ties attaching it to the packaging and plug it into a hose.
How it works: The Waterpillar squirts you as you run around it.
What the kids thought: It looked cute and babyish, but once it got going, it was pretty violent. Kids got hit in the head and eyes from his water arms and antennae. Plus some of the arms got twisted together, making the spray uneven.
Would we buy it? Decidedly not.