Set Up Your Own Ocean-Themed Learning Play Shelf

Ocean-themed learning shelf

Between the age of 3-6 years, your little one’s interests seem boundless, and although they may move from idea to idea, they often pause to explore certain concepts in-depth. You’ll likely see your child repeating certain themes during play, as they internalize their learnings. At this stage, it's important to nurture their interests, and foster them in a structured way that can be fun for both of you.

One space we can take inspiration from is the preschool classroom. Early on, your little one should associate fun with respect, organization, and responsibility but this doesn’t mean that things have to get serious. Much of this learning can happen through play, and a great example is the a learning play shelf. Check out a wonderful example of the same created by Living Montessori Now.

Why Create a Learning Play Shelf?

Child holding a teddy bear stuff toy which is kept on a  wooden shelf

Setting up a learning play shelf fosters independent play and can improve your child’s focus. This means your child will learn to explore without needing constant guidance. It also allows them to work through developmentally-appropriate challenges on their own. The bonus? More pockets of time for you to take care of your daily tasks! We know being a parent to a preschooler is a full time job, so giving your child the tools to learn and explore on their own while you take some time for yourself is a win-win. This somewhat autonomous play is also beneficial for easing your child into independence and self-reliance given that they know you’re nearby and can offer help if they need it.

How to Make a Learning Shelf for Preschoolers?


Step 1: Collect on-theme books

Step 2: Batch-create themed learning activities 

Step 3: Display the themed learning activities and books to your child

Step 4: Practice activity rotation throughout the week

Step 5: Extend or clear the learning shelf depending on your child’s interests

While it can seem like a daunting task, once you are set up you will fall into a rhythm of modification as needed. In fact, it will be easier than pausing every day to invent new ways to engage your little one!

Under the Sea

little boy in a yellow tshirt playing with a toy dump truck in a sand pit. Dark blue painted wall in the background with plants arranged in the front.

As summer temperatures rise, what better way to spark your child’s imagination and keep things cool than through an ocean-themed Learning Play Shelf? Add to the beachy vibe by letting your little ones wear swimsuits, sunglasses, and sun hats inside.

The play shelf is also a good idea for hosting your own summer camp at home. Follow up with a visit to the beach (or the pool) for your little ones to establish connections between their play and the real world while burning off some energy. Watch them internalize some of life’s bigger lessons and learn new skills as they have hours of fun!

Here’s a list of must-haves for your ocean-themed Learning Play Shelf.

Activity Books

  • Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae: Featuring the ocean’s more unique sea creatures, learn the alphabet as you meet and discover underwater friends. Fun and engaging, we are sure your child will want to read it many times over. This helps build literacy and memory skills, introducing them to the idea of a world existing beyond what their eyes can see.
  • Room On Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple: A story about seals that can be read both front to back and back to front. Let your little one discover the joy and delight of this magical 2-in-1 book that helps build vocabulary and social skills.
  • Moonlight Ocean by Elizabeth Golding: Lightbeam books are a wonderful addition to your child’s learning shelf. Set up a tent or fort for some added fun for night reading. As you hold up a flashlight your little one will discover illustrations of creatures from under the ocean. This helps your child internalize real-world concepts like light and shadows, as they learn about marine life.
  • If I Were a Whale by Shelley Gill: After a couple of reads, you may find your toddler memorizing parts of this ocean-themed rhyming book. Explore whale-life from our planet’s oceans, along with colorful illustrations and fun facts to keep your child learning along the way! Listening and speaking skills can be improved using this book.

Activities for Ages 3-5

Sensory tub with ocean-theme toys. Seashell, whale, shark, turtle and other miniature objects.

Underwater Creature Crafts

Create ocean-themed craft kits that include markers, glue, and other supplies that your little one may be familiar with. A paper cup and popsicle sticks can become a turtle, a cardboard tube can become an octopus, and a paper bag becomes a fish! Remember to pre-prep or assist with cutting and construction, and leave the decoration to your child’s imagination.

Deep Dive

A great way to introduce problem solving and logical thinking, even as they hone their numeracy skills, Deep Dive helps your little one practice counting while putting together 30 puzzle pieces! This uniquely designed learning game allows your child to explore the depths of the ocean and count what they see. Part of our I Can Do It! Kit

Connectors: Shark Attack

An exciting game that requires you to think and link correctly - or risk getting chomped! Strengthen problem-solving, strategizing and decision-making skills with this tile connecting game designed to build mathematics, numeracy and world knowledge. Part of our Ready For The World Kit

Activities for 6+

Egg carton DIY activity to make clams and pompoms to represent pearls.

Count the Pearls

Practice basic mathematics with egg carton “clams.” Cut out the egg holders and their lids from an ordinary carton, and place fabric pom poms or pearls inside. Ask your child to “catch” two clams and count how many pearls there are in total. This is an inventive way to build numeracy skills.

Guess In 10: Underwater Animals

This card game can be played between 2-6 players. Ask up to 10 questions to guess the underwater animal on the Game Card! Is the animal a mammal? A great way to help your child build memory of each creature’s characteristic features. It also helps them practice visualization. Games like Guess in 10 also help teach social skills and sportsmanship.

Ocean-Themed Printables

Printable activity sheets are a great way to measure your child’s learning, and keep them engaged for periods of time at a stretch. We’ve created some ocean-themed free printables to keep you little one engaged and learning. Check them out here.

Back to blog