Soaking Up New Skill: Fun & Learning through Water Play

Warm weather brings many opportunities for fun and learning with water. Puddles, spray bottles, garden sprinklers, water tables and wading pools naturally fascinate young children, and water is one of the basic raw materials for learning math and science, developing language and fostering social skills.

While playing with water is developmentally appropriate regardless of a child’s age or abilities, family members should always consider safety factors when children are anywhere near water. Children can enjoy water play with great abandon, but adults need to be aware that young children can drown in less than an inch of water.

When children play near water, there must be constant adult supervision. It is also recommended that parents and family members take child CPR instruction and learn about all the safety hazards in and around pool areas.

Once you’ve got the safety factors covered, you can focus on these tips for fun and educational water play from the National Association for the Education of Young Children:

  • Use assorted containers and funnels to help children learn math concepts such as empty/full, before/after, shallow/deep and heavy/light.
  • Water tubs at a table are great for enhancing fine motor skills. For younger children, eye-hand coordination can be practiced by retrieving objects with tongs, aquarium nets, scoops and fingers. Small muscles get a workout as plastic tubes are fitted to funnels and sponges are wrung dry. Very young children will enjoy many happy moments repetitively filling and emptying containers.
  • Children can learn about measurement by using measuring cups or discovering the best way to squirt long and short distances using squeeze bottles or plant misters filled with water.
  • A child’s vocabulary is enriched as she uses words such as funnel, surface, float and strain.
  • Foam letters or numbers in a bucket of water can be used to promote language acquisition and math awareness. Children can name the letters or numbers as they fish them out of the bucket, or spell out their names or see who can catch the highest or lowest number.
  • Make cleaning up part of the learning experience using rags and short-handled mops to do “grown-up” work. Create a dramatic play area for children to wash doll clothes in a tub of sudsy water and hang them up with clothespins to dry in the sun.
  • Even on cool days, children can “paint” outdoors with water. Set up a paint shop by providing a large paintbrush and a pail of water. They can pretend to “paint” the sidewalk, fence, slide or other outdoor equipment.
  • Provide a water tub for experiments and projects. Boats can be made from found objects or heavy aluminum foil. Older preschoolers can try out predictions by determining which of a variety of seeds and assorted items will float. Children can incorporate sandbox and bath toys into the water play.
  • For more tips on early childhood learning and development, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s Web site.