What’s in your… water area?

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By Fe Luton

In this series Fe Luton explores the ways in which you can set up and run areas of continuous provision. Ideas for organisation, resources and planning are explored.

water play

How should my water area be arranged?

We often bundle sand and water into the same section of our planning, however, they are completely different and need to be planned for and developed separately. They can (and should) also both be offered on different scales – a large scale water container either inside or outside can be complemented with smaller water play, or ‘non-contained’ water play, such as with a hose, or in puddles.

Water play tends to open up opportunities for experimental play (filling, pouring, floating, sinking, absorbency), exploration and mathematics, but it can also be used to cover all aspects of the curriculum. The real key to an effective water area is to ensure that children are not just practising skills but developing new ones!

Consider the following when organising your water area:
  • Don’t be prescriptive! Water is a basic natural material that we should make sure is used without constraint or with the expectation that there is a ‘correct’ approach to its use. The main basic skill you are enabling is the exploration of water and its nature
  • Water is by its nature a fascinating substance and children are generally drawn to it (how often do we have to set boundaries on the number of children in such an area at one time – this in itself is a great opportunity for development of the language of negotiation). Find a way that works for you and your children, such as having:
    • 5 aprons available for 5 children to use – children will quickly learn the art of negotiation and understanding of fairness so that they can organise this themselves
    • a specific day or session that named children can use it, although this can be quite restrictive
    • a maximum time limit for being in the area (though long enough for meaningful exploration and concept development)
    • a waiting list!
    • plenty of water play (eg inside and outside water play for 5 children at each station enables a third of the class at a time to be engaged with it) smaller individual trays, baby bath, and basins
  • Make sure resources are not too prescriptive and are easily accessible so that children can develop their ideas and test out hypothesises
  • Don’t forget to include resources that will also develop both gross and fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination – having mops, sponges and cloths for cleaning up also develops motor skills!
  • Consider the importance of language development in water play – the limiting factor of space naturally leads to the development of cooperative language as well as learning to negotiate. As children play, they will use and learn specialist words for equipment, observations, positional language and scientific concepts
  • Consider safety issues: don’t use things that might easily break, rust or that have sharp edges. Also consider the potential dangers of straws and things you add to the water (eg soap) that might cause skin reactions. You also need to consider slippery floors
  • Try to have equipment stored in slotted trays with a water-catching tray or towel underneath to ensure that resources dry properly. Children should easily be able to self-select resources as a result
  • Encourage children to suggest items they would like included in the water area and try to change and modify resources to keep children interested, inspired and excited about the area – it is very easy for water to stagnate and become a low level learning experience
  • Aprons should be water area specific and stay in situ – especially if you are monitoring the number of children in the area by limiting the apron numbers. It can be helpful if you do have such a system, for the water aprons to be different to the art area aprons
  • Consider the use of natural, outdoor resources in outdoor water play – adding in grass for example
water toys

What resources should I have in my water area?

Fantasy/imagination Sensory Motor skills
Small play characters Objects made from the same material, eg wood, plastic, metal Tongs
Rubber/plastic fish/sea creatures/frogs/ tadpoles/ducks etc Objects of the same colour Nets
Boats Transparent, shiny or opaque objects Scoops
Rocks/pebbles Bubble bath Hand whisks
Shells Food colouring Basting bulbs
Food colouring Essential oils: lemon, lavender or peppermint (check health and safety) Egg beaters
Cups & plates Glitter Medicine droppers
Cutlery Changes of water temperature, eg Ice cubes Squeezy bottles
Washing up brush Cornflour Sponges
‘Treasure’ String Foam or rubber letters and numbers
Foil shapes Pasta Sugar shaker
Dolls/dolls clothes Bottle brushes
Clothes line/pegs Spray bottles
Wash board Rubber gloves
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