Wonderful Water Play
By John Funk, M.Ed.

There is little dispute that hands-on activities are the most effective teaching strategies. Tactile play is a highly expressive and therapeutic activity for young people. From the time a child plunges his hands into tactile materials, he is in charge. He can explore, experiment, analyze, observe, question, and create. Even brain researchers agree that, “The single best way to grow a better brain is through challenging problem solving” (Jensen, 1998). Water is one of those tactile materials that is fascinating, easy to manipulate, and great fun during the summer months. The following activities are suggested as appropriate learning environments for an early childhood classroom.

Bubble Fun. Children enjoy blowing or creating bubbles. In addition to blowing bubbles by hand, try adding non-toxic baby shampoo to the water in a water tub or table. Using eggbeaters or wire whips, encourage each child to experiment how high the bubbles will go. Ask the children to record what happened by drawing a picture showing how high they were able to form a bubble mound.

Sidewalk Painting. Give each child a large paintbrush. Have several children share a large bucket of water. Using a sidewalk or outside wall, encourage the children to “paint” pictures using the brushes and water.

Spray Painting. Encourage the children to easel paint using spray bottles filled with colored water. Food coloring or non-toxic liquid watercolors can be used to color the water. Allow the children to create interesting shapes and pictures by using stencils.

Melting Water. Place ice in the water table. Allow the children to experiment with the frozen water material. Allow the ice to melt and encourage the children to observe and explain what happens to frozen water when it is in a warm place. Older children may wish to record this experiment in a journal by drawing pictures.

Animal Habitats. Place small plastic water animals in the water table (you may wish to tint the water blue or green to simulate an ocean or lake). Encourage the children to explore how animals live and play in the water and how they find food.

Floaties. Large sponges make wonderful “rafts” in the water table. Place some multi-colored plastic manipulatives, such as counting discs or bears, in the water tub. Float several large sponges of assorted colors on the water. Have the children sort the counters by color and place them on the sponges. To make the activity easier, color coordinate the color of the sponges with the color groups of the manipulatives. Many variations of this activity can be developed. You can use colored plastic plates for the rafts and various colors of milk jug lids for the sorted items.

Catching Fish! Place plastic fish, or any other small manipulative, in a water tub filled with water. Using small goldfish nets, encourage the children to “catch” whatever they can in the net. This could be turned into a classification game by asking the children to fish out certain items. For example, “See if you can catch the items that are blue.”

Always keep in mind safety when using a water center. Wet floors can be a safety hazard when they are left unattended. Always monitor the children and have basic ground rules for keeping the water in the center. When the environment is kept safe, the water center can provide many days of enjoyable learning and fun activities for play. There are many other activities that can be performed in a well thought-out water table center. Carefully look at the academic skills required in your program, as well as the thematic units that you have planned for the children. The water center will usually fit in nicely and be a lively and entertaining center for the children.

John H. Funk, M.Ed., is currently the Early Childhood Manager for SLCAP Head Start in Salt Lake City. He is also an adjunct professor of teaching and learning at the University of Utah. John taught preschool through grade 2 for 24 years and was the1996 Utah Teacher of the Year.

References and Recommended Resources

Isbell, R. (1995). The complete learning center book. Belstville, MD: Gryphon House.

Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

MacDonald, S. (1996). Squish, sort, paint & build. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House.

Miller, S.A. (1994). Sand, Water, Clay & Wood. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Schiller, P., & Hastings, K. (1998). The complete resource book, An early childhood curriculum. Beltsville, MD: Gryphon House.

Timmons, D., & Rogers, K. (1996). Dig ‘n dive in! Fearon.