Benefits of water play go beyond fun time and positive experiences.
Water play is full of hidden learning opportunities that you probably didn’t even think about.
Let’s face it, most children are naturally attracted to water. Toddlers can spend an hour or more playing with water, giggling and having fun.
On a hot summer day, water also keeps them cool.
For your child, water play is a fun way to spend time playing, splashing and getting wet. However, water play has several benefits, even and especially (!) for young children.
Water play encourages social skills, provides sensory play, and develops coordination and motor skills.
What is Water Play?
Water play is simply letting your toddler free play with water or setting up a practical water activity for them.
You can offer them buckets, small toys, and other fun things to use to play with.
The best part is that you don’t even need a swimming pool, a tub or a water table to let your kids play with water (even though those are definitely fun!).
You can also set up more structured water play activities for your toddler and preschooler that would fulfill their need for water play even indoors, without very little water!
Be sure to check our 5 Indoor Water Play Acitvities.
Benefits Of Water Play
Water play has several benefits for babies and toddlers. Young children will likely be playing in just a few inches of water, but it’s important to keep a constant watch on young children. Accidents can happen even in shallow water, so always supervise children during water play.
1. Builds Focus and Concentration
Most children will engage in water play for a long time, longer than they will play with other toys. This helps encourage children to focus and concentrate on a task, which can help increase their attention spans.
2. Provides Sensory Input
Water play allows children to use several senses during play. The water feels cool and wet. You can offer more sensory input by using different temperature water (use warm water and cold water in separate buckets) or by adding sand or ice.
3. Exercise Motor Skills
During water play, children fill buckets and dump them. Even splashing and running while playing helps improve both gross motor skills and fine motor skills. If you use a pool or even a child size pool, children practice kicking and swimming, which helps improve motor skills and muscle strength.
4. Release Energy
When children swim in a pool, even in a shallow one, they use a lot of energy splashing and kicking and running around. This is a great way for smaller children to release pent up energy.
5. Promote Cognitive Development
During water play, children learn how to pose questions, solve problems, perform small experiments, and explore their environment. They learn about the properties of water and gravity, and they gain a better understanding of volume and mass.
6. Foster Creativity
During water play, children will often use objects in a different manner from which they are intended. For example, instead of drinking from a cup, now they will use it to scoop and dump water. Offer children several different items for them to use to scoop water in varying sizes. You can also offer different toys, such as toy boats, small cars, and plastic bricks.
What Do Toddlers Learn From Water Play?
Math and Science
Playing with water helps children learn about weight and volume. They learn to estimate how much water will fill a cup or bucket. They also learn about gravity and how water will always fall towards the ground. Playing in the water allows children to use the scientific method by forming a hypothesis and then testing. Of course, it’s just fun while they are playing, but this is an important life skill that will help them later.
Children use buckets and other small tools to scoop water and pour it into another vessel. They learn to control how slow or how fast they pour the water to control the amount of the splash. What looks like pure fun is actually a fun way for babies and toddlers to gain hand-eye coordination and improve control and accuracy.
If your children are engaging in water play with other toddlers, it becomes a group activity. Children learn how to cooperate and play with others to share tools and even work together on a small goal. They learn how to share ideas and share resources to work towards a common goal.
For younger children, water play may encourage them to move from playing alongside another child to playing with the child. At first, younger children will imitate the children around them, but they won’t engage. Soon, they will start playing together, especially if they have a common goal like filling a large bucket.
If toddlers are playing in water together, they will have to communicate to ask for tools or to work together. Adults can also engage children by asking the child what he or she is doing. You can also ask the child what he or she thinks will happen before dumping water, for example. Children can also learn new words to describe water and how it flows.
How to Set Up Water Play Environment
If you have a backyard pool, this is a great way to use water play.
However, if you don’t have a backyard pool, or even if you do, you can also set up a water table or water station for play.
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Fill a small kiddie pool or other large container with a few inches of water and let kids sit in it and use buckets and plastic waterproof toys to play. You can also set a bin or bucket of water on a small table so children can stand up to play with toys in the water.
When the weather is cooler, fill the bathtub with a few inches of water and let children play in the bathtub. They can even wear swimming suits and play with a friend in the tub.
Water play helps your children learn valuable life skills.
They’ll learn how to become little scientists creating their own experiments and learning how to ask questions about their environment and then perform those experiments.
They’ll also gain social skills, improve their language skills, and gain motor skills and coordination that will help prepare them for success in school and beyond.