I have such fond memories of playing with water as a child - paddling pools at the height of summer, moats at the seaside, toys in the bath - all forms of water play and one of the simplest sensory pleasures.
Water play is our 'go to' - it never fails to entertain. It's super easy to set up and best of all, it's free! It often comes to the rescue when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed (and let's be honest we all have those days!)
Water play is our 'go to' - it never fails to entertain
I'm going to explain why we love water play and share some of our favourite activities with you.
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Water is the ultimate open-ended play material - it fosters imagination, helps scientific thinking and encourages co-operative play.
What do I mean by open-ended? Open-ended is when something doesn't have a pre-determined use. So children are totally free to experiment and explore its potential!
Water play is also perfect for differentiation - in other words children of all ages and abilities can get something from it. One afternoon I gave Mr 5 a tub of water with some old herbal teabags, a stainless steel teapot and jugs. He became a wizard, mixing potions and casting spells with a stick he found in the garden. Mr 15m was just delighted pouring water between one jug and another. Mr 9 made me a pretend cup of tea.
Water play is also a brilliant way to get the kids outside. With the constant lure of screens, finding time for outdoor play is now more important than ever.
There are some amazing water tables on the market, but you don't need a fancy setup to enjoy water play at home. We currently have a clear tub about 60 cm x 30cm for outdoor play, and make use of the sink for indoor play, as well as this deep round tray, which I store in our under-stairs cupboard.
What can children learn from water play?
There are so many concepts that water play can introduce, it's an extremely versatile medium and it's great fun, so perfect for playful learning.
Watching whether their pebble floats or sinks, how poured water always falls down, how a bowl can only get so full before it overflows, children learn scientific concepts such as gravity and capacity. Water play is a very visual and practical way of making choices, testing theories and solving problems. When children are given these opportunities to practice effective problem-solving they become more confident and independent individuals. They learn to overcome challenges, both as an individual and in groups.
Scooping, pouring, tipping, handling tools - these are all opportunities for your child to develop the muscles in fingers and hands, and in doing so improve fine motor skills. Transporting water, lifting buckets, paddling - these are all ways in which they can develop their gross motor skills.
Social and emotional development
Co-operation and team work, communicating objectives and games, these are all perfect opportunities to develop social skills. And sensory play is inherently soothing so can help children regulate emotions and deal with stress.
Water play is a great way to introduce new vocabulary - so many descriptive and action words are associated with water - wet, cold, warm, liquid, pouring, drip, full, empty, spray, sink, float, splash... Sensory play also encourages conversation, where your child will talk about what they are doing and create imaginary scenarios.
Understanding the world
Water play is an excellent way to illustrate topics such as animal habitats, global warming, and oceans as it is hands-on and encourages curiosity. It is ideal for demonstrating ideas to kinaesthetic learners (children who learn in a tactile way).
Our favourite tools for enhancing water play
There are many everyday objects you can add to water play to make it more fun and engaging - here are some suggestions:
Stainless steel jugs
Stainless steel teapots
Ping pong balls
Empty drinks bottles
Water play activities for you to try
We love the simplicity of water play - a bucket of water and some pots and pans in the garden can give hours of fun, but it can be nice to mix things up a little. Here are some of our favourite ways to play with water, perfect for toddlers, pre-schoolers and primary age alike!
Playing with water isn't limited to its liquid state! Adding a frozen element is a great way to introduce the science of temperature. We like to make 'jellyfish' by freezing ribbon into an ice cube tray.
Did you ever make 'perfume' for your mum using flowers in the garden? This activity was inspired by memories of doing this with my brother. It's a great way to use a bouquet of flowers that's past its best. Just remove all the petals and pop them in some water, along with some things to scoop and pour with. You can add a little food colouring if you want.
WATER BEAD MARBLE RUN
This is such a winner, and all you need is a plastic marble run and some water beads. You can even go mega-sized with giant water beads and guttering in your sensory bin! Water beads come as tiny balls that swell up when left in water. They last for several days so you get lots of sensory play out of them. Plus they're biodegradable, so you don't have to worry about harmful chemicals or plastic getting into the water system.
Young children love copying grown-ups, and pretend play is such a fun way to do it. Grab a handful of pots and pans (if you have some toy ones that's ideal), give them a clean dish brush and / or sponge and let them have fun pretending to do the washing up. This is also a sneaky way of helping them develop life skills by learning through play.
For this activity you just need to colour some water with food colouring or liquid watercolours and have fun mixing it. We added a handful of laminated fish to ours so they can swim around.
Painting with water on the ground or on fences gives children total freedom to create. They can make as much mess as they want as it will soon disappear! You can have fun coming up with different things to apply the water with, such as paintbrushes, water pistols or squirty bottles. Mix in a little cornflour with food colouring, or some ground up coloured chalk, and you have an amazing 'chalk paint' which will easily wash off.
For some bubbly fun with cars, add bubble bath and invite your child to set up their own car wash. Provide sponges and brushes so they can give them a good scrub. A squirty bottle or tray of clean water is perfect for the final rinse. To get the best foam, use a hand whisk over a large bowl and beat the mixture for a couple of minutes. This activity isn't limited to cars, it's a really fun way to clean any toy - add a mini squeegee and you could even have help washing the windows!