Water play is a fun activity that toddlers and pre-schoolers love during the summer months when the sun is shining. However, it offers so many developmental benefits that it should be enjoyed throughout the rest of the year too. As a natural material, water provides endless opportunities to enhance a child’s social skills, creativity and imagination, motor skills, cognitive development and so much more. Bear in mind that whilst water play is a staple of the nursery environment, many of these activities can also be adapted so you can get splash-happy at home too!
Water play allows children of any age to work on both their gross and fine motor skills. During bath time, you’ll notice even young babies reaching out to grab a trickle of water falling in front of them, using both a pincer grip, or their whole hand under the flow. If your child is equipped with some basic containers, they will practise scooping and pouring water, then filling and emptying them on repeat. This enables your child to enhance their fine motor skills, and also develops eye coordination too as they concentrate to pour and scoop the water accurately to transfer from one place to the next.
If you can offer larger volumes of water, perhaps from a water table, outside trough or paddling pool, then this will activate their gross motor skills too. Your child will need to use their strength to carry and pour heavier containers filled with water. In the case of the paddling pool, the action of wading through water helps to refine core strength and builds stamina.
Whilst water play can be linked to fun, laughter, and plenty of splashing around, it can also be incredibly soothing. Some children with autism are drawn to the sensory benefits of water play – from the smell of soapy water, salt water or chlorine to the sparkle of bubbles and the temperature of the water. Children will also be captivated by the effect of the water on certain objects, such as the way a sponge soaks it up or the noise of a dripping tap on a metal basin. It’s worth noting that some children with ASD will find water play to be too stimulating, but many benefit from its therapeutic nature.
Whilst many parents grew up with TVs in the family home, today’s children have so many more technology distractions that are sapping their concentration. Children who spend too much time on iPads, games consoles and smartphones are exhibiting shorter attention spans and even behavioural disorders. Therefore, it’s essential to incorporate rich, stimulating and mind-nourishing activities such as water play into their day. Children will be naturally attracted to this type of play for an extended period, allowing them to develop excellent concentration skills which will help with formal learning once they reach primary school.
The foundations of socialising
In a shared nursery environment, or whilst playing at home with family, children will develop many essential social skills during water play such as sharing and learning to take turns. The physical space of the water and the play items within it offer the chance for toddlers and pre-schoolers to graduate from playing next to someone, to playing with someone. Simple tasks like helping each other to fill containers are the building blocks of teamwork and cooperation which ultimately form friendships too.
Disagreements may arise during this type of activity, such as two children wanting to use the same tool or not respecting the other’s space, but in many cases water play is soothing and helps them to stay engaged for a prolonged period.
Communication and language
A child builds their vocabulary through new experiences and the world around them. Water play introduces a wide range of new words and concepts including the containers used, the sensation of the water itself and the actions used to move the water around. You might use words such as splash, bucket, funnel, tap and sieve throughout your games which may all be new to your child. Water play is also a great way to start using mathematical language such as more, less, empty, full and equal – all of which will be used throughout your child’s Early Years learning. Repetition of these words will help to cement the concepts but also accelerate word formation for toddlers and pre-schoolers who are developing their speech.
Along with introducing mathematical vocabulary, water play is an important way to develop problem-solving skills too. Challenges can be incorporated into the activities such as working out which food colours to add to the water so that it changes to green, or how to build a ramp for the toys to slide down into a paddling pool. Adding unusual objects such as cardboard or pinecones into the water will stimulate their investigative skills to work out what might happen to them.
For older pre-schoolers, you might ask the children to predict which items will float or sink and then check to see what happens. Here, water play forms the basis of a science experiment, whilst learning the properties of water and the effect it has on the world around us.
Incorporating water play into your child’s routine
Whilst it may be easy to work water play into your day when the sun is shining and you can be barefoot in the garden, it’s important not to give up on this positive activity when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
If you’re able to get outside, then a water table can still be enjoyed with wellies and waterproofs, perhaps next to a mud kitchen setup with simple sticks, stones, and metal containers. But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying water play inside too. Besides all the fun you can enjoy in the bath tub every evening, why not be brave and fill up a washing up bowl for you and your child to enjoy? Wear aprons, add bubbles and sit at the countertop, at the kitchen table or on the floor with towels and plastic carrier bags beneath you to catch the mess.