The Budding Scientist
As he pours, measures, fills up and empties his plastic cups with bath water, he observes cause and effect. He learns that things made of rubber float, and his die-cast toy cars sink. He discovers that water in his little pail can fill all his little cups, and there are many ways to transfer water from one receptacle to another.
The Drama King
I have found that water play is also a great 'stress reliever' for him! Now that he's at an age when he tries to push his boundaries, there are many times when he gets frustrated and simply whines because he can. During these times, whenever possible, I promise him a fun time at the pool, a water park, or I tell him that we can play bubbles at the playground. I pile up his cars in his little pail, and I create a little pretend car-wash for him in the bath. He uses his sponge and washes his cars clean. He gets distracted, forgets to be difficult, and peace is restored. After all, if adults relax by taking a hot shower or relaxing in the bath, why wouldn't the same concept work for kids, too?
Water play has also given him an outlet to express himself better. The Mookid started talking relatively late (his first word was at 24 months old) and there was a period of time I was rather worried that he may have a delayed speech problem. I noticed, however, that whenever he's at the water park or playing with water, he tends to try to form words to express himself more. I encouraged him to say bubbles, wet, dry, wash, soap, hot and cold. He is more receptive when he's having fun, and is more willing to express himself verbally. In fact, he talks to himself when he's in the bath to let us know exactly what he's doing, especially during pretend play!
Children are constantly learning, and it doesn't mean that just because they often do not acknowledge things, they don't understand it. I try to introduce simple Maths concepts to him through water play, and in the relaxed environment, I find that he is more responsive and learns much faster. The water cup is full, half full or empty. The pail holds more water than the cup. 6 cups fills the pail, and he counts out loud with me while we empty the cups together.
What I like most about water is that it is very versatile. Sometimes, during play, I ask the Mookid questions of which there are no right or wrong answers. I ask him what does he think will happen if we used more than six cups to fill the pail. I show him a large sponge and a small car, and to make a guess which item will sink. He now knows that water can fit into any type of container, but his cars will not fit into a small tube.
What I find most challenging in trying to bring learning into play is the usage of the 'right' words to do so. We are familiar with words like 'solid, liquid or gas', but it can be pretty tough trying to introduce those words and concepts into a young mind. Sometimes, I just prattle on for the lack of better words or descriptions, and hope that when these are introduced to him in later years, it will not be an entirely foreign concept to him.
The Social Butterfly
Kids are more sociable than adults. Without the inhibitions of suspicions, reservations and fears, they approach other kids with no hidden agenda other than just to play together. We've made it a point to always remind the boy about the importance of safety and playing well with others during all manner of play.
At water parks and during water play session in school, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to relate to one another and feel part of a group. Children who are allowed free play develop social skills and also brush up their skills for sharing, cooperation, helping and problem solving.
Water play offers endless enjoyment and hours of fun for both kids and adults alike. The many things that can be explored with water is limitless, and there are numerous activities which can be centred around water. It provides opportunities for extended learning, and there are so many creative ways which water, as a form of play, can be used to engage children and hone their sensory acuity.
Water play is more than just fun. When children are allowed to play and given free reign to experiment with water, it not only gives them room to exercise their imagination, but it also aids in developing their vocabulary, development and social skills.
While we encourage water play as a necessary form of play, there are important safety and sanitation considerations to take note of. Never leave a child unattended and watch out for signs of overexposure to heat or cold when playing outdoors. Choose non-toxic items for play, and make sure that there are no small parts which can rust or break. Children with colds, skin conditions, infections or diarrhoea should avoid engaging in water play until they are certified fit by a physician. Germs, such as Cryptosporidium, E.coli, Giardia, and Shigella, from fecal matter can be transmitted to other individuals via water.
Washing hands with an anti bacterial soap before and after water play is also an essential habit that can prevent the spread of bacteria. In fact, hand washing can also be incorporated as part of water play!