Active Play: Water Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Water and Physical Literacy

Playing with water provides the opportunity for children to challenge their gross motor skills, their fine motor control, and their imaginations! 

Gross motor skills are those that involve large muscle groups. In water play, they might include:

  • lifting
  • pulling
  • squatting
  • reaching 
  • crossing the body (touching the opposite shoulder)
  • coordinating the arms

These skills are important as children grow, as they help them build strength and control for more difficult skills like jumping, leaping, and climbing.  

Fine motor skills are those that use some of the smallest muscles in the body – those of the hands. In water play, these might include

  • grabbing
  • gripping
  • pouring
  • tipping
  • pinching
  • coordinating the hands and fingers

These skills are important for later life skills like holding a pencil, typing on a computer, using many tools and toys, and opening doors, drawers, and jars amongst many other daily tasks.

Water Play and Cognitive Development

Water play is an opportunity for children to learn concepts like size, volume, and measurement, without even knowing they are learning! Some abstract ideas are hard to explain using language alone, but make sense when they are shown with familiar concrete objects. These might include concepts like:

  • full
  • empty
  • half
  • less
  • some
  • all
  • sink 
  • float

Summer Soup Water Play

This water play activity is super fun, plus it is adaptable to indoor or outdoor environments.  Please remember that playing with water, even in small amounts, always requires supervision and caution.  Keep your eyes and ears on your child at all times when they are around water.

You will need:

  • a place to play (a backyard, somewhere with an easily cleaned floor, or the bathroom)
  • containers and tools for moving water (cups, bowls, spoons, straws. measuring cups, sponges, pop poms, ladle, whisk)
  • flowers, leaves, sticks, and rocks from the garden (or the store)
  • water toys or toys that are fun to use in water
  • play clothes that can get wet
  • clean up supplies

Step 1

Set up your water station indoors or outdoors. Make sure you are on a surface that is safe to get wet, easily cleaned, and not slippery (unless covered with something that will provide grip). Fill your large bin/tub with water to a level safe for your child. A few inches of water should be plenty.

Step 2

Collect your toys, flowers, rocks, and anything else your child wants to play with and get playing! 

Ask your child to do tasks like:

  • pour one container of water into another
  • drop things into the water
  • splash
  • squeeze a sponge or pom pom
  • swirl the water
  • scoop

Try to ask questions like:

  • What do the flowers smell like?
  • How does your hand look when it is under the water?
  • What sound does the water make when you…?
  • How can you hold water in your hands?
  • What is floating and what is sinking? 
  • How do you make waves?

Have fun playing and learning with water!

Want to learn more?  Check out other posts about physical literacy and early lanuguage development!

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