Water Play

Playing with water is one of the things babies enjoy even before their eyes can focus properly. Some of its advantages are obvious. It is cheap, easy to provide, does not have to be stored and is very satisfying to play with. Disadvantages are also obvious. It can be messy, inconvenient and under extreme conditions it could be dangerous. All these drawbacks can be overcome if a few basic rules are borne in mind. Protection for floor surfaces and for children must come first together with wiping-up or mopping-up equipment. The size of the water container, whether large or small, does not in itself lead to a mess but the height it is set at and the size of the playthings in relation to the capacity do make a difference. A water tray, trough or bowl must be at slightly above waist height and should not be filled too near to the top.

Very large funnels and beakers used with a small bowl of water is asking for trouble. Protection for children needs to be carefully designed. Plastic aprons are the best idea and it is wise to have ones which children cannot put on for themselves. If they have to go to an adult to be helped there is an opportunity to check whether sleeves are rolled up properly and whether there is space at the water play for another child. If we think carefully about where to put water play, what to put it in, which playthings to provide and how to protect floors and children every home and nursery group ought to be able to provide it.

Water Play for Very Young Children

This inevitably starts at bath time from the time a baby can kick. Once he can grasp and reach out some kind of bath toys are fun. One which floats and so bobs up and down as he hits it might be a first choice but bath playthings do not necessarily have to be toys. Small empty plastic bottles with the lid firmly screwed on will float just as well as a plastic duck, a sponge will drip water as the baby lifts it and will alter in texture and weight as water drains from it. Different sizes of ball will float or sink depending on their density. A beaker or small unbreakable jug is useful once the baby can handle it. With something like a strong but small plastic watering can it is not necessary to wait until he can handle this himself. He will enjoy trying to catch the spray if his mother will fill it and pour for him. A piece of wide plastic tubing to blow through, small clean squeezy bottles to fill and then squirt empty, plastic cups or pots with holes in, a sieve or colander do not cost much and encourage a good deal of incidental learning.

The problem is more likely to be one of storage rather than provision. The best answer to this is a nylon net shopping bag into which the playthings can be bundled after bath time and then the whole lot hung from the bath tap until they have drained dry. For the child who sits really firmly in the big bath a bath tray to put his toys on while he is playing could be useful, although most children seem quite content to sit in a bobbing mass of playthings.

This same kind of play can be duplicated outdoors in a pad- dling pool in very warm weather but – to state the obvious – no small child should be left alone to play in a large quantity of water. It is all too easy for them to slip and damage themselves, and babies have been known to drown in just two inches of water. Another point to watch is that although babies do not seem to notice being cold they can soon become very chilled. The safety rule of always putting cold water in first then adding warm so that at no time is there any chance of a child being scalded should always be observed.

The next stage is not usually reached until children are quite steady on their feet. Often in the home it is most sensible to have water play where the water is – in the sink. This means the sink must be clean, the surrounding area needs to be cleared, the water in the hot tap must not be too hot and a good solid chair should be provided for standing on. This can lead to washing dolls’ clothes and other toys as well as the pouring and splashing games that went on in the bath. A tea-set or just a collection of small ‘real’ unbreakable cups, saucers, jug and teapot is a great joy to most two-year-olds. If children can go outside to play a small washing-up bowl set at a suitable height (on a stool, chair, upturned crate or box) is fine so long as the playthings are equally small. A baby bath is even better. An old zinc bath which has been sanded and repainted with aluminium undercoat topped off with a good-quality enamel paint would be best of all. Because it is deeper there can be a greater depth of water provided without too much being sloshed over.

Another game which only just qualifies as water play is painting walls and fences. A large paint tin, preferably with a handle, thoroughly cleaned and checked for sharp edges or rust plus a supply of water and the largest paint brush which will fit in the tin is ideal. A box to stand on to reach even higher or, for older children, a very small strong ladder or set of steps would be an added luxury. Bubble-blowing using a plastic tube with water and a little detergent is a great favourite. Washing pedal cars and tricycles, scrubbing down small tables and chairs, especially if there is proper soap and scrubbing brush as opposed to the pan scrubber and detergent used by most people these days, are other water activities every child enjoys.