• Iris Windsor

Why Water Play is Critical for Early Learning

Updated: Jan 23, 2019



Young children can spend countless hours playing with water: pouring it back and forth, watching it spill over the edge of a container, blocking its stream, directing its flow, splashing gently, making waves, and pouring some more.


When a water table is not available, they can often be found “washing their hands” in the bathroom for long periods of time, mesmerized by the water. Sometimes it is difficult for adults to encourage them to leave the sink.

Few children can resist the attraction of water. Water is fascinating, fun, and multifaceted. Children can play with it endlessly.


But play, for play’s sake, is not the only value of water. Indeed, water play is a compelling focus of study for young children.

The concepts that young children learn from water play are essential for early childhood educators to be aware of and promote.


As educational policymakers and administrators push for more assessment of learning, childcare centres need to be able to clearly articulate the specific concepts children learn during all types of play.


This article identifies the scientific concepts involved in a variety of water play activities and the teacher-mediated learning process that can accompany and enhance this learning.

Water and a few inexpensive tools can provide a sensory and learning experience of immense proportions.


What is it children get out of their water study, which looks so much like fun?


Free play with water can build the foundation for understanding of a multitude of scientific concepts, including those in:

  • physics (flow, motion),

  • chemistry (solutions, cohesion),

  • biology (plant and animal life), and

  • mathematics (measurement, equivalence, volume).

Mastery of these concepts will support children’s understanding of academic subjects in later schooling and life.


Science is indeed serious play. Science is everywhere around us.


Water play in childcare and kindergarten helps children to take the first steps to increase their understanding of science without them even realising it.


Children enquire, observe, compare, imagine, invent, design experiments, theorize and explore natural science materials such as water, sand, and mud. They love to play with water, sand and mud. They find it fascinating.

Children’s first learning experiences with water, at home and in childcare programs, usually includes all kinds of pouring.


The tools need not be expensive and may even easily be found in the kitchen and recycle bin. Safe, unbreakable measuring cups and small containers (margarine tubs, yogurt cups) of different shapes, sizes and colours alone can engage very young children. Sturdy funnels may come next. Ladles, straws, basters, and plastic droppers can be new experiences for young children who are old enough to know not to drink the water.


These tools are challenging to manipulate correctly so that they draw in and expel the water. All kinds of sifters/colanders can be added, as well. Many children use these simple water-play experiences repeatedly to practice their motor skills before they move on to more precise or complex activities with other tools.

The expert early childhood educators at Dragronfly's Early Learning facilitate children’s active involvement in the scientific process by providing materials, encouraging children to observe, predict and describe what they are doing. Dragronfly's Early Learning raise questions and problems as children play, helping them to grow in their thinking.