Add interest to children’s investigations with these ideas from Kirstine Beeley…
Children build new brain connections as they experience new sensory activities, so it’s important to offer them as many as possible! Water play doesn’t have to be plain and boring, and with a little thought can be just as much a part of sensory play as messy play and playdough. Try adding different herbs, spices and aromas to your water for added sensory stimulation – lavender offers a relaxing scent, while coconut conditioner smells lovely and results in lots of bubbles. Spices such as cinnamon, cumin, star anise or cloves provide a variety of smells and colours to water. You can even try adding real citrus fruit or scented flowers and rose petals to offer extra potion-making possibilities.
Believe it or not, something as simple as changing the water temperature can give rise to lots of discussion and early scientific talk. Adding ice cubes will drop the temperature below tap water level, and if you freeze objects into the cubes, this will provide lots of opportunity for exploration as they melt. Try freezing paint and adding to water for lots of colour-mixing exploration. Equally, using warm (not hot) water can give a different sensory sensation. On cold winter nights try leaving a filled water tray out packed with a selection of natural objects, so that it will freeze overnight. Why not try adding warm blue water or cold red water to see how children react?
Changing the access points to your water play will add further possibilities for curious children to explore. Introducing an over-bath tray will provide somewhere for children to put containers as they fill them up. Building up the levels by adding milk crates to water trays will offer a platform for tubes, funnels and pipes for fun with pouring. You could even try adding foam swimming floats to act as floating platforms for pots and containers. Building a frame for your water tray with pipes or canes will give high-level access to funnels and tubes, and placing one water tray on the floor next to another on a stand will offer opportunities to explore with guttering and pipes.
Adding bubbles, or a means of making bubbles, is not only great for prompting science-based talk but also helps to build fine and gross motor skills. Scented bubble baths and hair conditioners will provide some lovely scents too. Include access to whisks of different sizes, plus potato mashers, turkey basters, sponges and large water syringes. You can even whip up some fine soapy froth to add to your water play by putting a small amount of water in a bowl with a good amount of washing-up liquid and food colouring, then whisking with an electric whisk for 2 mins – a much more exciting exploration of texture, materials and floating than a boring traditional ‘experiment’!
Children learn best when they play with things that they are familiar with from their lives outside of your setting, so try to reflect this in your water play sometimes. For example, try adding real teapots and cups and saucers with fruit teabags, sliced lemons and limes, or real sieves and colanders to encourage real-world role play. A selection of real metal spoons or metal jugs and kettles will offer children the chance to measure with treasure whilst pouring and scooping as they play.
Kirstine Beeley is an independent trainer, author and consultant, with experience of teaching in early years, primary and SEN settings.