- What is Water Play?
- What is the Importance of Water Play?
- The 14 Benefits of Water Play for Children
- Great Tools for Water Play
- Favorite Water Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Water Play Safety
- Books About Water Play
What is water play?
Water play is an open ended invitation to learn through play using water in any form (ideas shared below). By providing these simple but meaningful learning opportunities for your child you are allowing them to investigate, test theories, strengthen their bodies, develop their social-emotional skills and so much more. Read on to learn the 14 benefits of water play for children and some great activities to engage your little learner using the water around them.
What is the importance of water play for children?
Versatile and unique each time, water play allows this open ended invitation for learning through play and opens up this learning to the rest of the day and into lifelong experience. As you will read in the benefits and development that comes from this incredibly simple activity, you’ll find yourself happily providing buckets and tubs of water for your little one to enjoy all year long! Children are able to develop in all areas, experiment, investigate, and discover, all the wonders of water. Although normally provided to younger children as a learning tool, children of all ages love water play (even adults find themselves pouring and stirring to relax in the beautiful outdoors).
Benefits of Water Play for Children
Click each link below to learn more about the identified area of learning.
1. Develop motor skills and physical strength:
Both fine and gross motor skills are developed during water play while using tools such as cups and bowls for pouring, brushes and sponges for scrubbing and squeezing, spoons and sticks for stirring and splashing, mastering pincer grip (key in pencil holding for drawing and writing), carrying buckets of water across the yard, lifting pots filled with water out of a larger container. Kicking legs and moving arms in the pool, splashing mom and dad in the wading pool or stomping in the puddles. The whole body is engaged and being strengthened.
2. Develop hand eye coordination:
Using the above listed tools for play, children are mastering the messages from brain to muscles to fine tune their coordination through play. These skills are helpful in reading, writing, sports, daily life tasks such as self dressing, just to name a few.
3. Learning about temperature:
Changing forms of water based on temperature. How water cools, or warms depending on the temperature of the air, how those (safely) feel on our skin.
4. Problem solving skills:
Water play expects no specific outcome or pressure for the child and provides hands on learning which promotes faster and more meaningful understanding in problem solving. Playing with the impact water has on well loved toys; those that sink or float, have holes that water flows through are just the beginning in figuring out the power of water.
5. Develop imaginative play and creative thinking:
Working through a complex problem like what to do when a container has a hole in it, or when water needs to move from one place to another, children are able to stretch the boundaries of their imagination and creativity to come up with clever solutions to new but playful problems.
6. Language Development:
Between the shrieks of excitement and bursts of laughter, you will be able to introduce few words to your little ones: splash, wave, wet, damp, dry, weight, bob, sink, drain, flow, pour, drenched, drip, bubble, stir, spill to name a few. Encouraging them to describe what they are doing as they do it allows you to add on to their sentence with these new words, while building their confidence and strength in conversation development.
7. Emotional Development:
Although initially exciting, playing with water allows children to do an activity over and over (such as pouring) resulting in a relaxation and calmness. Playing in larger bodies of water burns incredible amounts of energy by using the whole body in play which is a wonderful stress reliever for children. The beautiful sounds created by flowing water, waves crashing, trickling drips and drops creates an ambiance of peace and tranquility.
Doing an activity over and over (using the example of pouring again) allows children to focus on what is going on and take new information away from the activity, while promoting space and time for them to come up with creative thoughts. It’s incredible what conversations can erupt from a simple pouring activity.
9. Social skills:
When playing in the water with a group, children are encouraged to share and cooperate; sharing tools and space and cooperating over the flow of the water to keep it from spilling out of the bucket or table, or pouring slowly so a friend can catch the water.
Water itself provides an incredible sensory experience, but adding materials of all sorts (ideas listed below) will intrigue your little ones senses and extend this play activity into an amazing developmental one.
Mixing materials, full, empty, more, less, heavy, light, fast, slow, measure, compare, buoyancy, temperature, movement, float, sink, melt, freeze, estimation, counting, tallying, the way water flows, how many buckets does it take to fill the wading pool, what happens if there is a hole in one of the buckets? It’s so amazing what is covered in what seems to be such simple play. Complex ideas covered in school are experienced in real life and hands on learning while splashing in the water.
12. Dramatic and pretend play:
By acting out real life situations such as washing dishes, scrubbing toys, giving toys a bath, cooking, become a scientist (mad or otherwise), children are given a stage to learn more about the world and people around them and to practice real life skills.
13. Nature connection:
Take this play outside and use the natural items around you to engage with the water. Leaves that float, rocks that sink, wind blowing bubbles, what happens when the sun shines on icicles hanging from the house? You don’t need to spend a fortune to have engaging and meaningful water play.
14. Apply to everyday activities and connect to real world:
Using a bucket of water outside and adding anything from mud to flour, you can allow your little one to learn about how the consistency of the mixture changes, how it becomes more difficult to stir. This is a great time to take conversation to what they might know about in the kitchen when baking or when using paint. What happens when we stir two things together? Then, when you are together in the kitchen making supper or a special treat, you can easily transfer this information to what they see before them (great freebie downloadable activity for that here). Taking the play conversations to other activities extends the learning and supports your child in making connections about the world.
Great Tools for Water Play
Although certainly not necessary, there are amazing toys on the market that can extend playful learning with water.
Activities that you can easily do at home to enrich water play
Favorite Water Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers We love playing with water in any form (and there are lots!):
- Buckets and tubs of water on the kitchen floor, in the backyard or driveway
- Water balloons (adding color to burst on white paper when thrown, or simply enjoying the movement of water inside the balloon)
- Sprinkler fun
- Watching ice cubes melt
- Tea party
- Painting with ice cubes
- Creating in the snow, painting snow, bring snow inside
- Watering plants (indoor and out)
- Creating mud pies
- Splashing in the tub
- Jelly water beads (these are a favorite at our house)
- Swimming at the pool
- Jumping in puddles
- Making rainbows in the sunshine by spraying the hose
- Blowing and creating bubbles
- Local wading pools and water parks
- Washing dishes (and toys) in the sink or outside
- Playing in a nearby pond, lake or beach
- “Painting” with water (this helps to get lawn furniture super clean, or the side of the house!)
- Spray bottles
- Funnels and tubes. How can you connect all the funnels and tubes to make a long path for the water?
- Watering cans
- Creating your own waterfalls by building a rock or wooden wall
- Making paper boats to race
- Making paddles out of wood
- Adding sparkles, rocks, sand, dirt, grass, flour or rice
- Pasta (cooked or raw)
- Food coloring (I know this sounds messy but read this to learn about the benefits).
- Extend the play by handing your child a mop
- Taking standard indoor toys outside and see how they deal with being immersed in water
- Popsicle sticks soaked in water overnight and then shaped along the inside of a tin can (when it dries in this form it becomes a bracelet which you could paint!)
- A bar of soap and liquid soap
- Using kitchen items (spoons, bowls, pancake flippers) makes for a world of fun.
- Throw all sorts of items in the water and see which float and which sink. This is a great activity to use a tally sheet and count each item and then separate and compare. Amazing math skills being learned here.
What to keep in mind for water play with children – water play safety
- Adult supervision – water is always dangerous for children, even small amounts of water. In addition to how much more meaningful it is to have you involved in the play it is critically important that you stay nearby for safety. If you’re swimming in a body of water, pool or splash pad and don’t feel confident around water yourself, ensure that you are somewhere that a lifeguard is employed and is properly trained.
- This is a good chance to also talk about water safety without creating a sense of fear. Having a respect for water can go a long way to ensure lifelong safety around water. You are never saying this too often and reminders as your child gets older (despite rolling eyes) is well worth it.
- Lifejackets and floatation devices are wonderful but they are not all created equal. Make sure to check that it fits properly, has not expired and is not damaged before using and a proper safety tool like this should be marked with your country’s safety standards.
- Although it doesn’t always need to, water play tends to be outside. To stay safe in the sun ensure you are using a good quality sunscreen like our favourite one here.
- As always, using small toys (or learning tools such as ice) poses a choking hazard for children. Use caution and be an active member in the play.
- Slippery when wet – yup. Everything gets slippery and sloppy and messy. Towels everywhere make this much better but a good spray with the garden hose first helps. If you’re playing inside it goes without saying (even though I am indeed saying it now) that the floor will be a mess and very dangerous to walk on for feet of all sizes. More towels. All of the towels.
- Have the children take part in the clean up as part of the activity and setting the stage for responsibility (read more about that here).
Amazing books about water play
Have a look at Big Sarah’s Little Boots by Paulette Bourgeois (Published by Kids Can Press), The Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch (Annick Press), or D.W. All Wet, by Marc Brown (Little, Brown).
With a beautiful summer ahead of us, Little Bee and I have many more days of water play ahead and will update the list as we come up and test out more activities.
I would love to hear from you on how you use water play to engage your child at home. Do you like to make it extra messy and add fun ingredients to the water or keep it simple and splash around with toys and tools?
What is the educator’s role in supporting play in the early childhood classroom?read more
Creating meaningful learning in early childhood education doesn’t have to be overwhelming and complicated. You don’t need the newest toys, you don’t need to spend a small fortune changing your playroom into dramatic play environments that are worthy of Pinterest or Instagram. You just have to trust in the learning that comes from play, with the child in the lead.read more
Bookclub Review: The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively I’ve had this book among my collection for a long time. It wasn’t until I reached out to my awesome community and asked if anyone wanted to join me in reading it that I...read more
Squeals of laughter sneak into a hallway lined with pictures and stories of that month’s learning. The images portray the children enthralled in investigation; balancing blocks that test the edges of physics, creating art that is filled with colorful emotion, using...read more
Creating learning environments that meet everyone's needs. This morning I attended a presentation with the hilarious and engaging Marc Battle. Marc is a passionate educator who knows and understands the value and importance of the environment in which children...read more
Social Skills from Storytelling I love my job. I genuinely love what I do. I get to work with educators who are changing lives every day. I get to watch the magic happen in between wiped noses and zipped zippers. That magic spot where a child feels fully heard and...read more