If you’re looking for a fun and healthy way to keep your child or children engaged on a warm day, water play is a fantastic option. Among other benefits, it keeps children active and builds essential motor, cognitive, and social skills.
Water play is especially important in early learning environments such as childcare centres. So, when you’re searching for a service for your child, it’s a key point to look out for.
In this article, we’ll go into detail about water play and its benefits before sharing some ideas about how childcare centres can include water play in their services.
What is water play?
Water play describes any activity children can enjoy in, on, or around water. It’s a fun way for children to explore and learn about their environment, especially in the hot Australian weather!
Not only is water play a great form of exercise, but it also encourages children to socialise and provides valuable sensory input. As such, it’s a great tool for play-based learning in an early education environment, with the benefits of water play extending from building foundational skills to encouraging creativity.
In childcare settings, water play normally involves using tools and toys like containers, buckets, scoops, watering cans, and water wheels to engage with water in unique and exciting ways.
Benefits of water play in childcare
Water play offers a huge range of benefits for kids in childcare, from building fine and gross motor skills to accelerating their social development. Let’s dive deeper into a few benefits of water play now.
Young children can build gross and fine motor skills while exploring water’s intriguing properties—how it flows, drips, and splashes are fascinating to any young child’s mind.
For example, pouring water through a funnel into a small hole is a fantastic way for a child to build fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills. Other activities, like squeezing a soaked sponge, develop the small muscles in children’s hands.
Eye-dropper type toys are especially great for helping children reach an early fine-motor milestone known as the ‘pincer grasp’, where they can hold something between their first finger and thumb. This skill will give your child a great headstart when they start writing, as it’s essential for holding a pencil comfortably.
Water play also builds a strong foundation for problem-solving, helping children understand cause and effect. A water wheel is a great toy for this purpose. As a child pours water over the wheel and watches it spin, they begin to understand how to manipulate the spinning speed with the amount of water they pour.
Figuring out how to solve a problem—like using a funnel to deliver water into a small hole—can also build confidence and encourage children to tackle any challenges they face head-on.
Social and communication skills
Especially in a childcare context, water play is a whole-group activity where children interact with the water, their educators, and each other! During water activities, educators will help with language development by discussing and asking intentional questions about the task.
By working together to achieve a common goal—like filling a big bucket with water—children learn to cooperate and take turns.
Children also love exploring imaginative role-play through water, pretending they’re a mysterious mermaid or a pirate traversing the seven seas! This type of play allows kids to practise their language and social skills in a fun, creative way.
When children play with water, they’re coming across a whole new world of sensations, equipment, and phenomena. When they follow the water’s path as it moves down the slide, they’re learning about flow. When they spritz water out of a spray nozzle, they’re creating mist. When they freeze ice cubes in a tray, they’re learning about temperature. Many children might not yet have the language to describe these experiences—but there’s no better time to learn!
As they splash and swim, your child can pick up a range of new words to help them describe their feelings, interests, and emotions—like damp, drain, depth, drench, funnel, basin, downpour, vapour, humid, and many more!
Science and numeracy skills
Introducing early scientific and numeric concepts is easy, simple, and fun with water play. Activities could include testing whether certain objects will float or seeing how many small containers of water are needed to fill a big container.
According to a study in the Dimensions of Early Childhood Journal, water play is ideal for teaching foundational scientific concepts including:
- Physics (motion, flow)
- Biology (plant and animal life)
- Mathematics (volume, measurement)
- Chemistry (cohesion, solutions, reactions)
Mastering these skills at an early age will help children excel in academic subjects when they enter school. Choosing a childcare centre that includes water play in their curriculum is, then, an investment in your child’s future.
If you’ve ever taken a warm bath after a stressful day, you’ll know that spending a short time wading or relaxing in water can rejuvenate the senses and help you feel more relaxed—and the same goes for your kids!
Many childcare services will balance loud and busy water play with quieter, more tranquil activities like watering a garden or observing a foundation. Children can also explore the feeling of water running through their hands or the feeling of damp sand under their feet.
Gentle water play helps children gather their thoughts and unwind, building emotional resilience and helping them learn healthy ways to regulate their feelings.
Examples of water play activities in childcare
Childcare centres don’t need to arrange excursions to the local pool to offer water play activities—it can all be achieved from the comfort of the courtyard with equipment like blow-up pools, buckets, and basins.
Here are some simple and effective ways childcare services can implement water play activities in their daily curriculum.
Water tables, also known as wet and dry tables or water activity centres, are a kind of table with a built-in water basin on top. Children can stand around the table and use tools like buckets, sieves, funnels, and scoops to interact and experiment with the water.
Some water tables also have extra features to make the experience especially fun for kids, like multiple tiers, fountains, tubes, wheels, and slides. Children will have hours of fun exploring the water table by themselves and with friends, all while learning the essential skills we talked about above.
Some centres also use combined sand and water tables that allow kids to learn about the unique properties of each material and how they interact with each other.
Blow-up swimming pool
Blow-up pools offer a way for children to splash, wade, and practise early swimming skills while under safe supervision. They’re an especially great option for keeping kids cool on blistering summer days.
Centres can amp up the fun of a blow-up pool by offering other water toys and tools for the kids to enjoy, like swim rings, beach balls, floating tubes, super soakers, and much more.
The interactions between sand and water are super interesting to curious kids—so many childcare centres will have a sandpit near the ‘splash zone’. Sand play is particularly tactile and encourages children to get creative by building sandcastles or drawing pictures in the sand.
Just like water play, sand play is amazing for language, social, sensory, and physical development. It also builds critical foundational skills like problem-solving and boosts fine motor abilities.
Combining water with paint also creates unique reactions that can ignite a child’s curiosity and creativity. For example, adults can demonstrate how powder paint blends with water to create a thicker consistency. Children can also use watercolour pencils and paints to see the outcome for themselves.
Experimenting with adding different levels of water to paint and watching the reactions is another fantastic way to teach children about cause and effect. Children can also learn about how we use water to clean up stains and spills.
Water balloons are great for sensory play and physical games. Younger children can enjoy squeezing, twisting, and slipping the balloons through their hands as they float in the water. Older children can enjoy building fine and gross motor skills through games like water balloon fights, spoon races, and more.
Centres can customise water balloon games to suit a specific goal they’re focusing on. For example, if an early learning service is working on building math skills, they could play a water balloon math game where the kids have to hit a numbered target with the corresponding marked balloon.
Gardening is an essential activity for young children, helping them build critical life skills while building a stronger, more respectful, and understanding relationship with the world around them.
When children water a garden, they begin to understand the importance of the resource and how it sustains life. It’s also a fun, sensorial way to teach kids about the life cycle and where our food comes from.
Water play activities in the garden could include watering plants with a hose or watering can, running through sprinklers, or installing a water feature like a sundial or birdbath.
Finding the right childcare
Now you know about the benefits of water play in early childhood, it’s time to find a service that will offer your child these amazing benefits.
Finding childcare that offers everything your child needs to grow and thrive is easy with Space’s extensive database. With sorting and filtering options including location, service type, fee, rating, total child capacity, and much more, you can quickly narrow down a list of centres best suited to your family’s needs.
Start searching today to discover the best childcare in your area.