Archive for July 3rd, 2013

July 3, 2013

Backyard Connections: Water Play

by Melissa Harding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer is in full swing in Pittsburgh; temperatures around here have been hitting highs in the 90s lately and many other places as well. It can be hard to cope with the heat of summer, especially with children. How can you entice your child to play outside when even the shade feels hot? The answer may seem simple, but it is truly effective: water play. What can beat the heat like splashing in a pool of water, pouring it on your head or sitting in it? Of course, playing with water is more than just a way to cool off; a 2004 study by the Early Childhood Organization, The Power of Play, found that water play is one of the highest regarded forms of play by children all over the world. Maybe that’s because it is so much fun! Playing with water can take many different shapes, from splashing in the sink to walking through muddy puddles; it is the one of the most accessible forms of play there is.

Not only is playing in the water a good time, but it can be some serious stuff. Like all play, splashing around in the water is more than meets the eye; there are many developmental benefits to water play. Children learn principles of physics, math and science through their exploration with water, such as concepts of more or less and gravity. They also learn motor skills as they manipulate objects in the water and even the water itself. If that wasn’t enough, children increase their language skills and creative abilities through imaginative water play as well. Water play is both soothing and stimulating, sensory and silly – the perfect medium for play!

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Here are some fun ways to incorporate water play into your family time:

1. Painting with water: Give your child a bucket of water and some paintbrushes, then send them outside to paint whatever they see. Painting with water is a no-mess painting craft that doesn’t need to be cleaned up after it’s over. Try painting pavement, sidewalks, brick walls, trees or just about anything.
2. Water table: A water table can be as simple as a bucket of water or as fancy as a purchased water table, but the premise is the same: fill your container with a little bit of water and lots of scooping and dumping toys like buckets, spoons, ladles and even strainers. Kids will play for hours manipulating the water in the containers.
3. Ice blocks: Freeze blocks of ice in old milk cartons, fun ice-cube trays or anything with a neat shape; just about any container will be a suitable mold. You can get creative and freeze toys or plants inside the ice or swirl in colors with food coloring or Kool-Aid as well. Melt it by pouring warm water over it, squirting it with squirt bottles or just letting it sit in the sun. The sky is the limit with ice; your kids will have as much fun freezing it into fun shapes as they will melting it!
4. Play in the hose: What is more refreshing than a squirt from the hose? Keep it sustainable by attaching a low flow sprinkler or combining this form of water play with washing the car or watering the garden.
5. Go to the local spray park or water park: Most communities have small spray parks or water play areas that are either free or charge a nominal entry fee. Take a picnic lunch and some extra clothes with you to spend the whole afternoon playing outside.
6. Visit the local pool or fill up a child’s swimming pool: Everyone loves a dip in the pool. Whether you have a small child’s pool or a full-size one, dunking under the water feels great. If you have neither, visit your local community pool. Many high schools open their pools to the public in the summer and even many small parks have a pool.
7. Play in the creek at the local park: Another way to get some wet feet is to wade in the creek. While you are there, check under the rocks for crayfish, look for minnows and tadpoles, and keep an eye out for dragonflies. Make sure to always wear closed-toed shoes and watch out for slippery rocks.
8. Water balloon fight: Fill some water balloons with water and have a fun water balloon battle in the backyard. This activity is easy to transport and would be an exciting surprise at a local park or family picnic as well.

The great thing about playing with water is that it is so handy; water is an easy play prop to obtain and many of these activities are either free or rather inexpensive. Additionally, you can craft fun ice containers or even a water table out of items headed for the recycling bin. The biggest supply you need for water play is your imagination; get creative and have a great time beating the heat!

The above picture was taken by Christie Lawry.

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