BY JODI DEE

Playing with water and setting up stimulating and engaging activities, especially on hot summer days, couldn’t be more simple. Water is an easy-to-set-up play option that offers wonderful sensory experiences. Through hands-on exploration and discovery, children learn math and science skills, develop fine motor skills, and more. By pouring and feeling water, children learn how it moves and can be manipulated, along with aspects of things like gravity, capacity, and volume. Children also learn through touch how to manipulate the elements of their environments. Children love to experiment, discover, measure and pour with their little fingers!

Hose & Buckets

Some of the most fun children can have in the summer is the freedom to use a hose! Put a sprayer on the end to control the waste of water, and watch the fun begin. Most children will begin by spraying everyone and everything around them. They will then transition to watching the water and moving it, controlling the power of the flow and then manipulating where it goes. Once that fun wears off an entirely new element of play can begin by simply providing various sizes of buckets or containers. These do not have to be large; under bed clothing storage buckets or small food storage containers work great.

Add in a few plastic or metal kitchen measuring cups, spoons, drugstore syringes, or other recyclables. (Just make sure to clean the plastics before children use them. Many children will drink the water while they play!) Introduce creative water games, car washes, pouring jobs, splashing, water fights, “bathing,” and more. Combined with a hose or a sprinkler, a few buckets or plastic tools can transform a driveway into a water park!

Sensory tables or water tables are also a great addition to any home. A sensory table is a simple resource that, when used properly, is one of the best investments and tools an early educator or a parent has. Creating a home of learning is easier than many realize.

Often my children will put buckets or the water table on the ground, fill it, sit in it, dump it to make a stream to lay in, pretend it’s a pool or boat, and more. Most of these scenarios the children come up with on their own. All we have to do is provide the tools, then let their imaginations soar. Mix up the activities with bubbles, food coloring, sponges, q-tips, old rags, sprayers, even paint brushes. Painting with water is super fun! Cutting up a sponge or rags into small pieces adds an element of play whether playing car wash with matchbox cars, cleaning their own bicycles, or helping you wash your car.

Indoor Water Play

A water table, large storage containers, or even just the tub allows you to move water play inside.

Children can practice giving their dolls or toys a bath (try with “pretend” water if the doll shouldn’t get wet). This is great for practicing sequencing skills (first fill up the tub, put the toy in, then wash and rinse). Cut up a sponge or rag into small pieces (children love things their size, like little bars of soap).

Try all different materials such as sand, water or pasta. Keep it interesting, new, and fun by weaving in various tools: measuring cups, bottles, bowls, and any other type of plastics from the kitchen you can find. Children love anything that can, measure, fill, dump, splash, or squirt. Let them try out different items to sift, poke, pour, squeeze, or simply hold whatever substance there is.

I also incorporate other props while using a sensory table like a small baby pool, different sized buckets or bins. I always have one or two plastic kitchens I keep outside that I found on the side of the road. Often when the sensory table was full of sand, with a few buckets and a hose the kitchen would change from pretend play to experimental play of cooking with dirt, rocks, and sticks! Expect a mess of Mud pies, nature soups, or dirt sandwiches, all mixed with grass, rocks and twigs. Children will create an absolute mess but little scientific minds will be growing and creativity flourishing.

Children love to drink the water, or eat the pasta (even raw) and sometimes even the sand. Make sure the items are clean and edible (if eaten), and if not, that the child is old enough not to mouth the items.

Water is the easiest to set up, and can be easily changed with food coloring or by adding bubbles. Get creative! Throw things in and watch the children explore!