Water Play and Your Child’s Growing Brain

Article by: Susan Brown, Assistant Director and Parent Educator, Commonwealth Parenting

In the early months and years of life children learn by getting their hands on and in all kinds of things. This early sensory motor stage is a wonderful time to introduce your child to science and math concepts through activities such as floor time, finger paint and water play.

Neurologists know that when children engage in sensory play they are stimulating neurons that fire, causing synapses to connect. I like to think of children’s fingers as if there are little brains on the tip of each finger. When these little brains get stimulated through play, neurons begin to fire. This firing of neurons excites the brain, causing it to grow bigger, stronger and more facile, setting the brain up for higher levels of cognition. One of the simplest ways to provide sensory play is through water activities.

Water play is not only incredibly fun for a small child, but it also enhances a child’s physical, cognitive, and social skills. When children pour water, they are improving their physical dexterity and hand-eye coordination. They extend their vocabulary as they learn new words and talk about what they are experiencing. They explore elements of science such as buoyancy and volume as they experience why some objects sink and others float. Children begin to experiment with math concepts such as greater than and less than, empty and full, and even fractions as they explore things that may be half full or quarter full.

Water play is easy to do at home. Just gather up a variety of plastic cups, toy boats and fish, a funnel, a turkey baster, some clean paint brushes – and watch how your child has fun pouring, playing and painting with water. You can also set up a water play area in your kitchen or backyard. Just pour two inches of water into a shallow plastic tub and add things that measure, float and sink. Having a little food coloring handy, to experiment with what happens when you add it to the water, is always fun. When children are playing with water it is always important for there to be constant adult supervision.

This simple and pleasurable play sets the foundation by preparing the brain for more complex concepts in math and science. Make water play an important part of your child’s day.