By Ollwyn Moran, Child Development Expert
Next month marks the start of summer and the perfect time to talk about the developmental benefits of water play. Remember, water play is not just confined to the warmer weather, the bath is the perfect place to while away a rainy afternoon too. Pouring, painting, and exploring imaginative play washing cars or dolls, the bath can provide just as much fun as the paddling pool!
I love the range of water play toys included in the monthly membership for Clever Tots Toy Club as they are ideally suited to both indoor and outdoor use. As a child development therapist, I am a huge advocate for water play as not only do I understand the science behind the benefits for motor skill and cognitive development, but I have seen it first-hand in my family practice too.
Playing with water provides hours of fun for little ones, but it also provides huge sensory and developmental benefits too. Water play gives young children rich experiences that develop their creativity and imagination on top of a whole host of other essential skills. These include hand-eye coordination, strategic planning, language, and social skills, not to mention instilling confidence and encouraging cooperation too.
Water play is both enjoyable and educational. So much so, it actually It helps children develop maths and science concepts as well. When it comes to finding ways to support your child in reaching their developmental milestones, water play is ideal as it provides so many opportunities to develop their fine and gross motor skills from the point at which they can sit up right up to school-age.
Little ones enhance their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through actions like pouring, squirting, stirring, and squeezing during water play. This is important in supporting your child with mastering their pincer grip, which will enable them to hold a pencil correctly at school, be able to tie their shoelaces, use a scissors, cutlery and so much more.
From a sensory perspective, water play introduces little ones to a variety of textures, sensations, and temperatures. They will experience objects feeling slippy and slimy, allowing them to explore an object and make discoveries about it.
Science is all around us and water play is a really great way to introduce basic concepts and have conversations with your child about scientific themes. Children learn so much deeper and faster when they are having fun. You can introduce concepts such as sinking and floating. Watching an object, toy or otherwise, float or sink will teach them, in a very practical way, how and why things happen. As your child gets older you can introduce concepts such as volume, mass, and displacement, you don’t have to use the actual terminology, but you can introduce the concept.
Toddlers will enjoy experimenting with you and putting some of those scientific theories to the test. By asking intentional questions to extend their thinking and memory, using ‘evidence’ to support their ideas, you will open the door to a whole new world for them.
Questions like, “What do you think will happen if we do …?” or “What could we do to make this boat sink?” or “Why do you think this object is floating or sinking?” Asking these kinds of open ended questions really encourages your child’s critical thinking and problem solving skills, while also playing a key role in developing their creativity and imagination.
In having these play interactions, you open your child to language and vocabulary that they may not access in general day to day conversation. Just think about the number of new words they will learn while having fun with water – Pour, Volume, Sink, Float, Soak, Damp, Full, Empty, Half, Deep, Drain, Flow, Drenched, Drizzle, Sieve, Leak – and so many more!
And if all of the above benefits were not enough to convince you of the importance of water play, then here are some emotional aspects for you to consider. Water play releases energy, it can be both invigorating or relaxing and calming for young children.
Water play increases the ability of your little one to concentrate and go deep into play with one activity. This is especially true when water play is presented as a calm and repetitive activity with lots of scooping, pouring, and running their hands through the water. Gentle water play allows them to unwind, order their thoughts and relax.
In my previous blogs, I talk a lot about allowing your little one the opportunity of really immersing themselves in play and the benefits of this. Social skills such as role play, taking turns, cooperation and sharing are fostered when your little one is playing with others. They learn to work with you, their siblings or with friends to take turns and share the space and toys or accessories for play.
Use buckets, cups, sieves, empty bottles and spritz bottles in a shaded area if playing outdoors and play with your child to foster those social skills I mentioned. They really are learning as well as enjoying your participation. On rainy days, for those without a bath, you can always set your little one up on the floor in the kitchen with a basin of water inside a plastic storage box or paddling pool base to contain the water spill to just one area!
When setting up the outdoor water play area remember that it is well known that our environment is a teacher. And creating an outdoor water play space that provides purposeful play opportunities really only requires a basin, plastic storage box or bowl, some Clever Tots Toy Club bath toys, and water.
Some important safety notes to remember when engaging in water play include:
- Make sure the water play set up is at ground level on the deck, patio, grass, balcony, or floor. Never on a raised surface.
- Never leave your little one unattended when playing with water, even if it is only the smallest amount of water. Accidents can happen.
- If you are playing with water outdoors, make sure your little one is in the shade, wearing sunscreen and wide brim sun hat