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The joys of water play

01 Nov 2018

The joys of water play

Three things transformed my little angels into seriously cranky kids - hunger, tiredness or the need to be in water. As those of us who enjoy a restful bath know, water can be very comforting. And it works, like magic on children, who can splash out the grumpies or wind down at the end of a tiring day. A warm bath on a chilly day or a cool paddling pool on a sticky summer’s day are among life’s great pleasures. When hunger or tiredness are not the issue, water has an amazing capacity to soothe, calm and restore a gentle balance. The giggles and splashes of water-play deliver a lot more than just fun. 

Children are very tactile, and explore, absorb and learn with all their senses. Little legs kicking in a shallow bath, dodging the drops from the garden sprinkler or learning to swim. All help children develop their larger muscle groups and coordinated body movement, often called ‘gross motor skills.’

These skills help with balance, posture and give a child confidence as they gradually master control of their body. The important business of pouring, filling bottles and cups, or squirting water encourages hand/eye coordination and helps progress some of the finer motor skills. This ‘play’ can be made even more educational if the water has been coloured with a few drops of food colouring. What happens when we mix blue and red?

Water play encourages imagination  and exploration. Pretending to be a pirate on a sailing ship careering into rough seas, or a mermaid living in a green jewelled sea castle allows children to practise social and emotional roles in a safe and fun environment. 

When in a larger pool or the sea, they learn to play with other children, so working on their problem-solving, cooperative play skills and empathy - as well as the ever-important lesson of how to take turns. When children are having fun, learning occurs organically. Mathematics, physics and language can also be part of water play. 

By naming or describing the items they are playing with such as bucket or cup, or the way things feel (soggy, heavy or cold), your child will expand their vocabulary and their ability  to communicate. Understanding and experimenting with concepts such as sinking and floating, more or less, empty or full, help a child to grasp the physical properties of water and how other things interact with it.Why does a big boat float when a small stone sinks? Why does mud disappear  in water? Children will also learn the basics of fluid dynamics, which although sounding impressive, can be as simple as knowing that water always flows downhill. Observing how an ice cube melts into liquid, then evaporates into the air, introduces the concept of a change in state – from solid to liquid to vapour. Great stuff for curious  little scientists!

At BestStart, we value water play in our centres as an important learning tool for our children. And what’s more, it’s great fun! Bath time, helping with the dishes, washing hands are all opportunities for children to explore and discover through water play. My children used to love washing their doll’s clothing in a bucket or doing the dishes after their tea party. But now they are grown and there is more chance that Teddy will do the chores…

Safety Tips 

Safety is paramount. Most pre-school drownings occur when a child is allowed out of sight and out of reach of an adult caregiver. Drownings happen in baths, home swimming pools, paddling pools, and even buckets – all that is required is 60 seconds and a few centimetres of water. Yet such a heart-breaking loss is totally preventable. Empty all containers after use, and be sure that your toddler is always supervised by a responsible adult. 

  1. The most important message is to keep young children in sight and in reach  around water. 
  2. Young children don’t understand the dangers of water, even when you tell them. They need an adult with them to keep  them safe.
  3. Teach water safety as soon as your child is old enough to understand, but always assume point 2. 
  4. Identify water hazards around your home and make sure children cannot reach them. 
  5.  Ensure children are supervised at all times. If there’s a group of people, have a clear supervision roster.
  6. Always empty and store paddling pools and water containers at the end of play. 
  7. Don’t allow older children to supervise little ones. In spite of their best intentions, they are children and may be distracted. 8  Have a towel handy to mop up spills to prevent slips. 
  8. Remember: lifejackets for all children when on a boat. 
  9. When playing in the sun, be sure to slather on the sunscreen and always wear a sunhat.

Learn from  the kids 

  • Water play need not just be for warm days. Try freezing water coloured with a few drops of food colouring in different shaped containers, then watch them melt when popped in a warm bath. 
  • Crunching through the thin ice or putting on gumboots and splashing in puddles, watching the drops glitter on a spider’s web or almost anything to do with snow have to top the list of fun stuff for kids. 
  • There’s no need to direct them, just dress them appropriately and head outside - they’ll show you what to do.