There are two fundamental reasons why water play is critical for young children in our early childhood programs and schools.
- First, many of the skills children need to learn are accessed naturally by playing with water.
- Second, it’s fun! Fun contributes to good mental health which allows children to develop socially and learn new skills.
As you observe your children play with water, you will see these skills naturally develop:
Social and Language Skills
Children can play with water on their own, with a friend or even cooperatively with a larger group that is trying to accomplish a goal. Sharing materials such as cups, scoops and toys encourage children to be considerate of the needs of others.
Water play invites children to repeat soothing activities over and over if desired. This supports their ability to self-regulate as well as building attention span. As children play, they communicate their ideas. Imagine reading an Aesop Fable “The Boy and Frogs” and then playing with toy frogs and little lily pads in a bin of water.
Simple activities such as squeezing an eye dropper to squirt colored water into an ice cube tray or onto a paper towel, children build important fine motor skills when they squirt and play with water. Fine motor skills are the small muscles in the hands that are needed later for writing skills.
When children kick around in a small kiddy pool or splash water as they giggle, this strengthens gross motor skills. Children learn how to coordinate both sides of their body when playing in pools or even just a puddle.
Science and Math Skills
Water encourages curious investigation of our natural environment. Children engage with open-ended experiments as they toss objects in water to see if they float or sink.
What happens when two substances are mixed? Can we separate the sand that we stirred into the water? Can we mix paint in a puddle of watery shaving cream?
The learning never stops with water. Children have opportunities to think about math and science concepts such as how water moves, mixes, fills up a container and even where it goes when a puddle magically disappears during a hot sunny day.
Water play engages the joy and curiosity of children, therefore, it is also a great conduit to nurturing a love for nature. It invites children to care and
preserve this precious natural resource. Children can:
- water plants in a garden
- pour a drink for a thirsty friend
- be careful to turn off the faucet after washing hands.
Each of these experiences helps children be good stewards of the beautiful world in which they play, learn and grow!
*Many thanks to the Experience Early Learning staff who contributed to this article.*
Select each educator’s name to learn more about their individual teaching style:
Things to Share & Remember
Janai Woolley Maughan
Erika E. Evans Reid