Wading pools, spray bottles, garden sprinklers, and puddles bring back happy childhood memories. I still secretly look forward to splashing down the narrow road that my kids and I have dubbed the “puddle road” as I drive home after a downpour. Simply put, playing in the water is enjoyable.
Early childhood educators have traditionally capitalized on children’s innate love of water play as a focal point in the classroom and outdoors during warm weather. Water tables are becoming a threatened species due to the recent emphasis on academics, which is typified by workbooks and ditto sheets, and in far too many programs, kids are spending far less time outside than they once did. It may be time to take a closer look at the benefits of water play for young children’s learning and the nature of this activity.
One of the fundamental raw materials for intentional play is water. Children can use water without being restricted by the proper way to use it, just like they can with sand, clay, and blocks. Water is a toy that fosters curiosity, imagination, and experimentation, in contrast to many of the commercially produced, flashy toys that tempt us in between Saturday morning cartoons, and it is free.
A water center can be the starting point for constructing concepts, fostering language development, and fostering social skills in an early childhood setting or outdoors.
Regardless of a child’s physical condition, age, language, gender, culture, or exceptionality, water play is developmentally appropriate. Water is fascinating. It seems to entice kids to investigate its properties and structure. A thoughtful teacher can design the environment and resources in the water center to maximize water play because water is inherently fascinating.
What can kids learn from playing in the water?
A well-planned water center, whether indoors or outdoors, can enhance physical abilities, foster cognitive development, teach math and science concepts, encourage social learning and teamwork, and enhance language experiences.
Development of the mind.
According to contemporary cognitive psychology, young people want to understand how the world works. Children who are given lots of opportunities to play with and manipulate objects in their environment develop conceptual frameworks or mental maps. Additionally, kids incorporate fresh information into their mental maps to expand and improve the ideas they already have.
An existing framework must be changed to account for new information when it does not fit within it. This mismatch is crucial for teachers because it tells us that challenging, new situations can encourage learning. For instance, a young child who is experimenting with various objects in water might make the erroneous assumption that heavy objects sink and light objects float.
If a child comes across an object that is heavy and also floats, such as a log, she will experience disequilibrium—cognitive dissonance—clashing beliefs. The child has built incomplete mental maps for the concepts of “objects that float” and “objects that sink.” The child will have to change her way of thinking because a heavy object that floats won’t fit into her mental model of floating and sinking.
A child develops important concepts if they don’t have the time and resources for extensive exploration. While water play encourages critical thinking and problem-solving in general, it is especially well suited to the development of mathematical and scientific concepts.
Taking math classes
Specific mathematical concepts can be built based on the materials the teacher decides to include in the water center. A sample of the mathematical ideas that can be developed through play with water is provided in the list below. You will have even more ideas with the kids.
Children who play in the water ask more questions. How does it work? How do I alter it? Experimentation spurs curiosity, which in turn leads to more challenging and intriguing questions. While investigating the characteristics of water, children use both inductive and deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning constructs a generalized conclusion using facts and concepts. Deductive reasoning involves drawing conclusions from specific facts and ideas that lend support to a general idea. It is possible to construct concepts for force, energy, liquid properties, matter states, displacement, surface tension, pollution, solutions, and ecology.
Acquiring physical abilities
Through use, physical abilities are developed. A water play area encourages the use of both large and small muscles as well as the coordination of hand and eye movements.
Children fill, empty, and clean the water area, using strong muscles to lift buckets and handle large sponges. Short-handed mops for wiping up spills and drips also promote the growth of large muscles.
Children practice eye-hand coordination as they retrieve objects using tongs, aquarium nets, scoops, and their fingers. It takes coordination to use egg beaters, hand whisks, and basting bulbs.
Small muscles are worked as squeeze bottles are investigated, plastic tubes are attached to funnels, medicine droppers are handled, water is poured from one container to another, and sponges are squeezed.
Learning social abilities
Water play can be solitary, concurrent, associative, or even cooperative with a shared objective. The type of play is determined by the perceived needs of the children participating at the time. Children have many opportunities to discover what happens when sharing materials and ideas, regardless of the type of play. Even when playing alone, you still need to take other people’s needs into account.
Acquiring a language
Children naturally use and pick up languages when they play. Words such as sieve, funnel, surface, whip, flow, slot, and strain help the young child express himself fully and expand his vocabulary. Water play experiences naturally lead to the development of relational words (larger, smaller, last) as well as positional words (besides, above, next to). The language interaction that occurs when children work towards learning words like sieve, funnel, surface, whip, flow, slot, and strain assists the young child in fully expressing himself and expanding his vocabulary.
In addition to the benefits of oral language development, water play can be extended to meaningful written language experiences. As children make and check their own predictions, they can be encouraged to record them. In this way, children learn that print can function to help us remember or to convey information. Print is also useful for labeling objects or telling the story of a sequence of steps.
Water, perhaps our most abundant natural resource, should not be overlooked as a precious resource for learning in the early childhood classroom and in the early childhood outdoor play area. Water is not just for washing, and it is not just for ducks. Water play is for children to enjoy and learn from!