Filipinos, especially the children, love the water. It’s apparent during the summer months when families flock to the pools and beaches to spend their vacation. Even at home, children enjoy taking baths, and mom and dad would also invest in an inflatable pool to promote water play for kids.
But playing with water isn’t just fun — it’s also a form of sensory play that enables children to learn how the world works. “Young children are drawn to water,” Pamela Taylor, an early childhood development instructor at Grant MacEwan College in Toronto, Canada, explains to Today’s Parent. “They’re curious about it. It’s a universally appealing play material with unlimited possibilities.”
The benefits of water play
“Playing with water is a good way to develop tactile processing in children,” shares Geraldine Africa, OTRP, an occupational therapist certified in Ayres Sensory Integration and one of the teachers at Jumpstart Therapy Center in Batangas. “Tactile processing is the foundation for good body awareness, perception of external boundaries, and physical and mental behavior.”
Tactile processing has something to do with our sense of touch — how we perceive and understand an object based on how it feels when we hold it. Our tactile system also helps us know temperature and the feeling of pain.
“The sensory processing tactile system is what lets a child reach way down into his toy box and pull out his favorite action figure without looking,” explains Claire Heffron, a pediatric occupational therapist from the University of North Carolina, in her blog, The Inspired Treehouse. “It lets you know when the shower is warm enough (but not too hot) and helps you decide whether you prefer a calm bath or a strong shower.”
The different skills water play develops
Water play for kids doesn’t need to happen in a pool or at a beach (although don't dismiss the added benefits of taking your little one to the beach!).
“It’s a perfect choice for unstructured play,” says Dr. Suzy Green, clinical and coaching psychologist and founder of The Positivity Institute, in an interview with Essential Baby. “Water play can be done solo or with friends. There’s ample opportunity for having good old-fashioned fun, using up some of that extra energy, engaging the curious mind, laughing, and being playful — all crucial character strengths of children.”
“Aside from providing sensory stimulation, water play can help develop a child’s language skills, problem-solving skills, gross and fine motor skills, perceptual skills, cognitive skills, and social skills,” shares Africa. “Allowing the child to include water in different play themes can help spark creativity and therefore provide a fun learning experience with the child.”
Here are the ways water play helps kids learn:
Water play teaches balance and strengthens the body
Simple actions like clapping your hands or jumping become a different sensory experience when done in water. Water adds resistance so when children move their bodies in the water, they are exerting more muscle power. This builds strength.
Being in the water lets kids play without worrying about falling or crashing into hard surfaces. It also helps with coordination, since children need to coordinate each side of the body when moving in the water.
Water play develops motor skills
Activities like pouring, squirting, scrubbing, stirring, and squeezing increases children’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. It will also help them master the pincer grasp (which involves using the thumb and index finger together), a critical pre-writing ability to enable them to hold a pencil correctly.
By adding different elements like sand, stones, or mud to water, you’re also exposing your kids to various forms of sensory play. They’ll discover different textures (slimy, squishy, rough) and temperatures (hot, warm, cold, or cool).
When they lift, fill, or empty water buckets, they are using their large muscles and developing gross motor skills. The same goes with cleaning up drips and splashes using cloths or mops.
Water play teaches them how to problem-solve
Hand a toy to your child and let her put it in the water. When she sees it either float or sink, she’s learning how and why things happen. It also encourages them to ask more questions — “What kind of toys will float? Will large toys automatically sink?” — and allows them to explore, use their imagination, and unlock their creativity.
Water play teaches them math and science
Water play for kids can also be an early introduction to math and science concepts. They learn to count and understand what more or less, same or different, many or few, empty or full, before or after, and greater than or less than mean.
When kids observe how water flows and moves, they are learning about physics. When they’re able to grasp small containers and transfer water into a larger bucket, they can explore and see how many small containers it will take to fill a large one, learning about volume. When they see how materials like sand dissolve in water, they are learning about chemistry.
Water play improves your child's social and emotional skills
Water play allows children to interact with other people. When they discover new things, they will be excited to tell other people what they are seeing. Or maybe they’ll want to ask what it is about to have a better understanding.
If there are other children around, they’ll learn crucial social skills like cooperation or sharing. If it’s just you and baby, you can have conversations about water. Describe what’s happening and let him take it in. Even if he doesn’t talk back, he’s actually absorbing what you’re teaching him.
Water play keeps children calm
Water play for kids can be therapeutic. They benefit from the relaxing and repetitive nature of scooping, pouring, and running their hands through the water.
“If your toddler has had a crabby day, and nothing mom and dad can do seem to help, sometimes running a big tub of water and sitting down next to it while they play in the water is the best thing you can do.”
Water play ideas you can do with your toddlers
Water play is an open-ended type of play so you can explore various activities that your toddlers will enjoy. Here are some ideas that you can do at home.