When it comes to play, children love getting messy or wet. Water play, whether indoors or out, is fun and free and helps children develop eye-hand coordination, math and science concepts, social skills and cooperation.
Look for cues in children’s water play for opportunities to stimulate their imagination. Add objects from home, school, and nature. Pose open-ended questions and give them opportunities to evaluate and tell others about what they did and learned through play. Use judgment in choosing when to step in and ask questions and when to stand back, listen, and enjoy. Fantasy play is an important, and sometimes private, part of children’s development.
Wet Ways to Play
- Individual water tubs at a table make great activity centers. Begin with water only and gradually add playthings as children’s interest wanes. Begin with spoons and shovels before moving on to sponges and measuring tools. Sand and shells are great for children to touch and explore.
- Children love to “paint” water on outdoor pavement or fences with buckets and paint brushes. After a few minutes in sunlight, everything evaporates!
- Squeeze-bottles of water offer a variety of play opportunities and help children develop eye-hand coordination. Children can look for the best way to squirt long or short distances. Or they can create designs on the water’s surface.
- Assorted containers, funnels and plastic tubes will help children learn to measure and are key for the early development of math and science skills. Curiosity leads to experimentation: Which objects will float? Which will hold the most liquid? Gradually, children build their vocabularies (empty/full, shallow/deep) and learn how to categorize.
Monitor children to prevent slipping and overexposure to the sun; be prepared for bee stings and knee scrapes; and supervise containers of water at all times because small children can drown in just a few inches.
And don’t forget to prevent germs: Water tables provide great opportunities for children to compromise and work together, but they’re also a chance to share germs. Clean and disinfect toys and tables used by many children with a bleach solution daily, and fill the tables with fresh water at least once each day. Check that children wash their hands before playing. Many teachers prefer large plastic tubs for individual children.