With summer right around the corner, it's time to bust out the bikinis and lounge chairs and lather up for a relaxing day at the pool — unless, of course, you have children, which you probably do if you're reading this. Summertime with children is a far different experience than summertime sans kids. Whereas once upon a time you could spend hours reading your favorite book while sipping Mai Tais by the pool, those days are long gone.
Now, your pool days consist of chasing your little one to keep him from falling into the deep end or fighting with your toddler to ensure she is lathered up and well-protected from the sun's UV rays. Though there is no device in the world that can replace a pair of a vigilant mother's eyes or her sensibilities, there are products — or toys — that can keep your little ones occupied while you sneak a sip of your Mai Tai or try squeeze in a page of the latest romance novel.
If you're feeling overworked as it is (and what parent isn't?), you may be inclined to grab the first inner tube off the Dollar Store shelf and tell your kid to have at it. While that might work for some, an inner tube is usually not the best pool toy to provide hours of entertainment.
Also, if you’re the type of parent who likes your child's play to be both fun and challenging, an inflatable circular toy with a duck-shaped head is not likely to meet your standards. This guide is meant to take the headache out of shopping for the best pool toys for your child by combining the most common pool toys FAQs, pool toy descriptions, most popular pools toys and more all into one convenient article.
Unfortunately, most inflatables are non-recyclable, as they are often made of polyvinyl chloride, one of the most difficult plastics to recycle. That said, if you want to reuse an inflatable that has a hole in it, you can always patch it. If your community has a place that specializes in PVC recycling, you can also take your old swimming pool toys there. Other than that, the only way to get rid of old inflatables is to dump them in the trash.
Most inflatable pool toys are made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Unfortunately, PVC is a harsh plastic that can contain toxins, lead and other chemicals. While there are dozens of pool toy alternatives that don't use this plastic, almost every single inflatable toy does. That said, you can reduce your child's exposure to harmful substances by buying inflatables used, which can also help with the whole recycling problem.
The worst thing you can do for your wallet and the environment is to keep your pool toys out in the pool all summer long. If you want to ensure that your toys last, store them in a space protected from the elements. That may mean putting them in a deck box during the summer and in a storage bin in the garage during the winter. The goal of storage is simply to keep them out of the sun, weather and elements as much as possible.
There are no hard and fast rules for pool toy storage except, of course, the one mentioned above: Keep the toys out of the elements. Ideally, you should store your toys in a shed or the garage. You can organize them with hooks, bins, noodle caddies, storage benches or even nylon bags.
Because inflatables are made from PVC, it is no longer recommended that you inflate a toy with your mouth. Instead, use an electric or battery-operated pump, a bike pump, a mattress pump, a shop vac or a hair dryer. You can even use a garbage bag, though that may require a little more research and time investment on your part.
You can deflate pool toys the old fashioned way, by squeezing the valve and pressing on the toy until all the air is out, or you can try something a little more innovative, such as using a straw or a binder clip. Place a straw into the valve to force the valve to stay open and let all the air out hands-free. You can also clip the valve open with a binder clip for hands-free deflation as well.
For faster deflation, sit on the toy to apply pressure. You can do this while sipping your cocktail, which is a win for everyone.
To clean all the grime and buildup off of your kids' toys, mix two cups of bleach with one gallon of water. Take a cloth or sponge and rub the solution across the surface of each toy. Rinse with water and let dry before storing.
As with all toys, at what age a kid can begin playing with a particular pool toy depends on the size of the toy and what it is used for. For instance, there are some pool toys made for children as young as six months, while dive and catch games have smaller pieces designed for kids who both know not to stick foreign objects in their mouth and know how to swim.
Always refer to the manufacturer's recommendations before allowing your child to play with a toy, and use your own judgement. If you don't think that your three-year-old is ready to play with a toy recommended for her age group, hold off on giving it to her for another year.
The safety of a pool toy is contingent on how it is used and who is using it. An inflatable raft is safe when used correctly by a kid who is old enough to play with one. However, that same raft becomes unsafe when used as a platform to jump off of, when used to float over people or when used by a child too small to sit safely on the surface. Pool toys for toddlers and kids are designed to be safe, but as a parent, it's important that you know the risks so that you can help your child avoid them.
Floats, beach balls
Designs for all ages, colorful, easy to store
Low maintenance, inexpensive, easy setup
Usually made from PVC, non-recyclable, not very interactive
Battery-operated fish, submarines, motorized wave cruisers, motorized bumper boats, fish and catch games
Interactive, usually small, require batteries or a power source
Mentally and physically stimulating, fun
Small items easy to lose, larger items such as the motorized wave cruiser may be difficult to store
Dive rings, dive and catch toys
Interactive, usually small
Mentally and physically stimulating, encourage exercise
Small, often require children to swim to the bottom of the pool
Swim boards, pool noodles
Small, easy to store, typically made of foam or polyethylene
Great tools for teaching kids to swim, durable, come in fun patterns
Sometimes cheaply made, not always "fun" for kids
Volleyball set, floating basketball hoop, water balls, hydro lacrosse, swim-through hoops, aquatic cornhole
Interactive, easy to set up and break down, fun for the whole family
Encourage competitive play, fun for everyone, mentally and physically stimulating, often breaks down into small and easily stored pieces
Not great for younger kids, sometimes bulky
It is no secret that playing with regular toys can benefit your child, but what about the benefits of pool play? Research suggests that those are plentiful as well. These are just some reasons to invest more in pool toys and less in pool accessories this year:
One of the greatest benefits of any type of play is its ability to help children refine their motor skills. If your kids have already mastered land-based play, challenge them by encouraging them to retrieve pool rings, play water catch with a neighbor, practice swimming on a pool board or even just climb up onto a floatie. No matter how insignificant of a task you think something is, if your children have never done it before, it will challenge their existing motor skills and help them develop new ones.
All toys encourage creativity, no matter how straightforward you believe a toy to be. For instance, when your child is playing with her swim and catch pool game, she isn't just fetching plastic fishes out of your backyard pool — rather, she may be off on a deep sea fishing adventure or playing with Jake and the Netherland Pirates. When you give your child a toy that he or she can interact with, you aren't just handing over plastic or foam — you're handing over a passport to a whole new world.
Competition is good — to an extent. It can teach kids that it's not always the best or the brightest who are successful, but rather those who persevere. Additionally, research shows that kids who engage in friendly competition learn how to interact with others in a sociable manner while also learning the value of hard work and developing their sense of self. Finally, group competition teaches kids to problem-solve as a team and helps them learn the value of working for the common good of the group.
Pool toys encourage children to socialize with others in what might typically be a solo arena. Social interaction at a young age teaches children the value of teamwork, how to better communicate with others and how to understand emotions expressed through body language and facial expressions. Summer social interaction also encourages friendships that may otherwise not be forged during the school year.
Consider these factors when buying pool toys:
SwimWays sells quality pool toys at affordable prices for all ages. The company markets some products specifically to girls or boys, but also sells gender-neutral toys as well. Many of SwimWays toys are interactive and encourage competitive play.
Oodles of Noodles sells just what its name implies: pool noodles. If you're in the market for colorful noodles of all sizes, price ranges, and colors, shop their collection.
Aqua sells mostly floats for all ages, though it does offer a few interactive toys, such as water rings. The company even has a floating golf game for dads who want to get their practice in while watching the little ones.
Water Sports sells swim-through rings, inflatable basketball hoops, water balls and more for the aspiring athlete.
Pool rings, motorized bumper boats, waterslides, and more — if you're looking for a fun, over-the-top toy, Banzai's got it.
Intex specializes in fun floats of all shapes and sizes. The manufacturer sells unicorn, alligator, airplane, jet ski and shark-shaped floats, just to name a few. In addition to novice float designs, the company also boasts a collection of smaller, interactive pool toys, such as a volleyball game and diving set.
After reviewing dozens of pool toys, their features, prices and reviews, you may be shocked to hear that the best pool toy is an oldie but goodie: the Aqua Dive Rings Pool Toy. Not only do these small rings provide kids of all ages hours of fun, but they are also cheap and last forever. They encourage creative play and, unlike the smaller Dory dive and catch toys, they are easily visible from the pool's edge. They're also easy to store, kept in mesh bag on summer nights and put into a flat bin during the winter.The Best Pool Toy for This Summer
As a mom myself, I spend countless hours scouring the internet for reviews and, if a product really catches my attention, I buy it. These rings provided my own kids hours' of fun, and neighboring kids had a blast with them as well. Heck, I remember being a kid and racing my siblings to the bottom of the pool to nab a ring before they did. Any toy that's a classic and that can still entertain my kids while I blog (or sneak in a few pages of my book) has got my vote.
If you're interested in purchasing any of the toys mentioned in this list, consider throwing these additional accessories into your cart as well. Each will make life a little easier when it comes time to set up, deflation and storage:
Water Tech Pool Blaster Pool Pouch Organizer – Lightweight, clear and 5' x 2.5' x 1', this pool pouch is perfect for storing pool toys both large and small. Best of all, it's discreet, so it won't clash with any of your poolside décor.
Mesh Titan Giant Pool Storage Bag – Hang this pouch from the side of the pool for easy access to toys during the summer, and use it to store soccer balls, footballs and other sports gear in the garage during the fall and winter.
Intex Solar Cover for 12ft Diameter Easy Set and Frame Pools – This pool cover makes it easier than ever to keep the heat in and the bugs out after a long day of swimming.
Intex Quick-Fill DC Electric Air Pump, Max. Air Flow 21.2CFM – Save your breath on blowing up all those inflatables this summer with this compact and affordable electric pump.
As a mom myself, I know just how difficult it can be to keep little ones entertained during the summer (or year-round, for that matter). While you may never be able to tan in peace again, you can catch your breath thanks to the geniuses in the pool toy industry. Also, thanks to brands like SwimWays and Intex, you can make sure that your children develop their motor skills and get the social interaction and competitive play they need to grow into the fine young adults all of us secretly strive to be.