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The Benefits of Water Play

‘Water is one of the basic raw materials for purposeful play. Just like sand, clay, and blocks, children can use water without being constrained by the one, right way to use it. Unlike many of the commercially produced, flashy playthings tempting us between Saturday-morning cartoons, water is a plaything that fosters curiosity, imagination, and experimentation – and it is free.’ – Sarah Crosser P.h.D

water-play-benefits-sensory-play Photo: Shutterstock

Water is a superb sensory experience for children that also allows ample learning opportunities. Children have a natural curiosity to explore water, whether its jumping in puddles or splashing in water tipped from a beaker- there is often a natural attraction to water so proving opportunities to play, learn and explore with the medium can be beneficial to development.

For June’s Story Sack we have decided to create a whole sack based around encouraging water play. This does not mean that you need to do an elaborate set up, we have selected simple toys that can be used in a variety of ways, linking into key areas of development, whether it be in the bath, sink, paddling pool or just the washing up bowl.


Introducing language related to measure will enrich little one’s vocabulary whilst giving an understanding of concept of measuring in the simplest form. Around 22-36 months children begin to use language of size – so ‘full’ and ‘all gone’/empty are all early math skills that will be built upon as the child grows. Counting practice can also be included play the play as children count the scoops of water as they play. As parents and practitioners, we should provide a variety of ways for children to explore volume and measuring and build upon their understanding as it develops.

Speech & Language

Playing with water is the perfect opportunity to expose new language to little ones. Narrating through play, asking questions, discuss thinking and giving your child directions such as ‘fill the blue cup’ will all support speech and language development.

Motor Skills

Water play supports the development of both fine and gross motor skills. From pouring, transferring, carrying, squeezing, splashing, stirring and mixing- the muscles in the hands and arms will be strengthened. These muscles are what will later be key for holding pencils for writing and drawing. Pouring and transferring the water will support the development of hand eye coordination.

Understanding The World

Curious little minds can be challenged when they are exposed to a range of experiences involving water. From sinking/floating, freezing/thawing/ colour mixing, and flow & motion can all be linked to water play and helps little ones make sense of the world around them. Water play can also inspire imaginative play and can also be linked to learning about water environments in our world such as ponds, rivers and beaches.


Play ideas:

  • Wash dolls - cars or animals- use a range of sponges, cloths and brushes such as toothbrushes to allow little ones to clean the toys.
  • Wash clothes and hang them to dry – this works on fine motor skills from scrubbing to ringing the fabric to pegging the clothes on a line.
  • Add fruit - such as lemon/orange that can safely be explored by mouths.
  • Magic potions/colour mixing – provide a range of clear bottles or jars, spoons, soup ladle, cooking whisk, medicine syringes and measuring cups. Add flowers, leaves, glitter, food colouring, bubble bath/washing liquid & feathers and allow your little one to create their own potions.
  • Paint with water – use a paintbrush and paint the fence outside.
  • Pouring and transferring – provide a range of scoops, spoons, sieves, cups, buckets, jugs, funnels.
  • Floating and sink – allow your little one to predict and test which items will sink to the bottom or will float.
  • Small world play - this can be boats, ducks, sea life animals, frogs, ice to create a frozen play set up.
  • Tummy time- using a shallow oven tray, add a small amount of water for little hands to reach in and feel. This will support development of the muscles in the arms, back and neck while allowing an introduction to water play. Include a sensory ball, boat which will encourage little hands to reach and explore. (important safety note – never leave baby unattended, a baby can drown in shallow water)

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