Australia is a big country, blessed with great weather, long hot summers and wonderful places to go and play in the water. No matter what time of year, playing with water can be great fun for our little people and a great way to learn and let off steam. Whether it’s out in the yard with the garden hose, in the bath, paddle pools, riverbeds or down at the beach, playful involvement with water is a fun and healthy activity for kids.
But first, let’s put things in perspective. In the warmer months, children may get hot, the sun can be damaging and precautions against dehydration or silly accidents must be taken. Above all, though, playing with water is normal and natural, and human bodies are made for playing outside – especially little human bodies. Kids should be encouraged to get out there and have some fun in the sun!
Developmental benefits of water play
Water activities are fun, cheap, cooling in summer and physically involving, which is surely enough reason to let kids go and get wet. However, countless academic papers and studies have highlighted further benefits for water play, including:
- connection with natural materials,
- increased coordination – through lifting, pouring, running under, and skipping over water,
- understanding mathematical and scientific concepts – heavy, light, full, half full, measuring and estimating water,
- healthy physical activity,
- soothing sensory exploration, and
- problem-solving skills.
Fun Ways to Play with Water
- Washing the car – helping mum and dad wash the car with buckets of soapy water, sponges and the garden hose can be great fun – and give parents a clean car!
- Washing the dog – this is another fun activity where both the dog and the kids can enjoy getting wet and cooling off.
- Wash anything! – even in the child care setting, washing can be a great activity for kids, and useful too – wash the art smocks, the outdoor furniture, the ride-on cars and bikes…
Backyard ‘waterpark’ ideas:
- Hopping through a sprinkler – a tried and tested favourite for generations, there’s perhaps nothing more Australian than seeing kids on the lawn after school, cooling down in their bathers under the garden sprinkler. Not only is it good fun, but it helps with their coordination as well as general exercise. Note that this can be a water wise activity, so long as the time frame is limited and sprinklers are turned off as soon as play is finished.
- Water squirters – fill up a small tub of water and give kids plastic water squirters. Kids can learn to replenish the squirters with water and then play amongst themselves in the garden or play area. Water squirters can also be water wise when the water goes into the garden, reducing the need for sprinklers.
- Water balloons – semi fill balloons with water and plop them into a small wading pool. Children can enjoy the sensory pleasure of squeezing and tossing the ball around, as well as watching them bob around in the water. When fun times are over the water can be carefully drained into garden beds, or poured on potted plants.
- Ice boats – make colourful ice boats by freezing water in empty yoghurt containers (cut down) or plastic butter containers. Colour the water with food colouring. To get even fancier, you can make masts from straws and attach sails made from hard plastic or plasticine. Pop the boats into a large, wide tub of water and let the children play with the boats. Over time, kids can watch with fascination as the boats slowly melt. This can be done at any time of year, without getting too wet or cold.
Swimming and Paddling in Water
Frequenting the river bed, beach and local swimming pools are other ways of cooling down in the warmer weather and experiencing the joys of water play. Even in the cooler months, on a sunny day small children will enjoy paddling in shallow water at the beach, or in the river. Of course, when it comes to swimming and paddling, the child’s age and swimming ability must be assessed very carefully. Supervision at all times is the key.
Tips to play it safe in the water
As with any activity, health and safety must always be considered. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Kids will become dehydrated fairly quickly in hot weather, so it’s important to encourage them to have regular drinks of cool water or other well diluted drinks. Don’t be frustrated if they don’t want to take huge gulps of water. It is healthy to consume small sips along the way, so let them do this. Offering hydrating snacks such as chopped fruit can also be a great way to encourage children to increase their liquids. Consider punctuating their activities with “water breaks” so kids can stop and replenish themselves with a drink or snack.
Remember sunscreen, hats and sun protective clothing/swimwear. When swimming or paddling, sunscreen should be reapplied regularly, according to the instructions provided.
Look at slippery surfaces
Ideally, most water play at home or in care is best performed on lawn or grass as it’s a soft surface to fall on and less slippery than other surfaces. Avoid playing on tiles or other surfaces that become very slippery when they are wet.
Given that it only takes less than 5 cm of water for a small child to drown, it’s essential that when children are playing with water an adult is always on hand to to supervise.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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