Jr’s new favourite word is paani. It is often bellowed out impatiently (read paaniiii), as a cue for us to settle him down in the balcony with two pots of water. What follows is quite possibly the most peaceful time of day in our home, with Jr utterly immersed in the activity of transferring water between containers.
I’m not sure what is it about this simple act of scooping and pouring water that is so inexplicably reassuring and calming for children of all ages. The remarkable ability of water play to capture and hold a child’s attention for a lengthy spell of time is, in fact, a portal for building on a spectrum of skills from fine-tuning gross and fine motor skills, and developing hand-eye coordination to enhancing their concentration and attention span.
This is also a medium for play-based learning to encourage toddlers to grasp key concepts such as cause-and-effect. We frequently conduct a “sink or float” experiment as part of our mother-toddler classes in Mumbai, dropping different items in a tub of water to discover which items sink and which ones float! Even in its simplest form, water play can lay the early foundations for problem-solving by teaching why things happen the way they do.
So, if you’re looking for inspiration to keep your tiny tots happily engaged for an extended period of time, gathered here is a collection of water play activities which will do the job whilst channelling their creativity too.
Water Transfer: To shake things up a bit, why not introduce different objects such as squeezy bottles, glasses, funnels, sieves and even basters? Sponges or even medicine droppers are wonderful for developing the small muscles in your toddler’s hands through the action of squeezing. In fact, you could even use a medicine dropper to teach them math concepts by counting out drops of water. Similarly, you could count out how many saturated sponges are required to complete a transfer of water between buckets.
Pretend Play: Why not create a harbour filled with boats or set up a car wash, with a bucket of soapy water and a rag or sponge for your tot to wipe clean their ride-on or smaller toy cars?
Sensory Bin: Transform a tub of water into a sensory bin of sorts by adding different elements drawn from a unifying theme. You could stir together a “nature soup” by tossing in rocks, sticks and grass in a tub of water along with bowls and scoopers; and, of course, create an ocean set-up with their favourite ocean animals and a small strainer to fish them out. You could also swirl a few drops of food colouring into a tub of shaving cream to mimic the waves of the ocean, with another bowl of water nearby for rinsing the cream off.
Ice Play: Freeze miniature sea creatures in a medium-sized bowl of water. Then let your toddler go to town with a toy hammer, to melt the ice block and reveal the fish frozen inside. Similarly, you could make floral ice cubes by hand-picking flowers with your toddler and then freezing them in an ice cube tray with water. The next day, create a water play set-up with warm water (for melting the ice), small bowls and tweezers to pick out the flowers!