Learning through water play

Tuesday 2 February 2010, 8:44AM
By Sport Horowhenua



Nice weather brings many opportunities for fun and learning with your children, through water play. There are a variety of settings to explore movement in, with and around water, such as in the bath, in the shower, at the pool, at the beach, in the backyard with a hose, playing with water containers, spray bottles or garden sprinklers. Such experiences naturally fascinate young children, and water is one of the basic raw materials for learning mathematics and science, developing language, and fostering social skills.


Water provides multi sensory experiences for young children.  Water is wet, smooth, silent and noisy. It drips, splashes and it can be poured. The sensation of water pressure and of buoyancy on young children will vary according to the depth of water, which parts and how much of the child’s body are submerged.


However, just as young children need time to learn to crawl and walk, skills in the water are mastered through time, repetition, encouragement and modelling. Water familiarisation, confidence and swim skills are best learnt with consistent and ongoing exposure to activities in, on and around water. Whether your child is a newborn or already three to five years old it’s never too soon to start.  Take your time when you are introducing new activities and always go at a pace your child is happy with.


While playing with water is developmentally appropriate regardless of the child's age or abilities, family members should always consider safety factors when children are anywhere near water. A young child can not be made 'drown proof' or 'water safe'. There is no alternative to constant adult supervision of young children in and around water.  Young children do not understand the risks associated with water, hence caregivers must model safest behaviours and attitudes in and around water.


Ideas for safe, fun and educational water play


  • Individual water tubs at a table are great for enhancing fine motor skills. For younger children, eye-hand coordination can be practiced by retrieving objects with tongs, aquarium nets, scoops, and fingers. Small muscles get a workout as plastic tubes are fitted to funnels and sponges are wrung dry. Very young children may also get many happy moments repetitively filling and emptying containers.
  • Children can learn about measurement by using measuring cups or discovering the best way to squirt long and short distances using squeeze bottles or spray bottles filled with water.
  • On a hot, sticky afternoon a lawn sprinkler can bring relief. Children will love to "paint" water on outdoor pavement with buckets and paint brushes. Older children may paint the letters of their names. Younger children will be content making back-and-forth strokes. Either way, a few minutes in sunlight, and watch it evaporate!

Water familiarisation activities


  • Bath time – newborns; ensure the water is warm.  Wash and rinse one body part at a time, talking with your baby about what you are doing.
  • Bath time / shower – infants; place a face cloth over baby’s tummy while they are in the water.  Rather than pouring and splashing water over body parts try wiping a warm face cloth or towelling puppet over their body (use a separate cloth for baby’s face).
  • Sponge transfer; if the weather is nice get children to transfer water from one bucket to the next using a sponge, this also helps locomotion activities. To make it more fun ask them to move like different animals.
  • Action songs under water; fill a paddling pool, bucket or trough with water and get the children to sing action songs e.g. Wheels on the Bus” doing the actions out of the water and then with their hands and arms in the water. 

For ideas on more summer activities please visit sporthorowhenua.org.nz.