Young children are attracted to water play both at home and in nursery. They love to wash up in the sink, watch and feel the flow of water from a tap, splash in puddles, paddle in the sea and play in the water at bath time. This area of provision in the nursery, when well resourced, will offer exciting opportunities for exploratory investigations and a lot of fun experiences. It can also be a fertile context for imaginative play and role play, and particularly rich in mathematical learning opportunities.
Settings should aim to provide:
- a water tray - large and deep enough for satisfying investigations to
take place, and a stand (at child height)
- a plank or shelf to rest across the tray
- waterproof aprons
- containers (varied in shape, graded in size - some transparent), such
as jugs, cylinders, buckets
- plastic bottles with holes in the bases and sides, slotted spoons,
colanders, tea strainers
- waterproof tape (for marking water levels)
- pumps, tubes, water wheels, siphons
- squeezy bottles and soap dispensers
- tea set: tea pots, cups, bowls, spoons, whisks, ladles
- small-world equipment - for example, sea creatures, boats, people
- natural materials such as loofahs, driftwood, pebbles, sponges, pumice
- watering cans, fishing nets
- plastic letters and numerals
- ice shapes containing materials and objects - for example, glitter,
sequins, sand, pebbles, buttons
- food colouring to colour water
- pertinent information and storybooks displayed in a waterproof stand
- a mop and bucket
In this area, children might enjoy:
- immersing hands in water, splashing, scooping, pouring and trickling
- filling and emptying containers
- mixing materials with water
- making ice lollies
- creating small-world environments - for example, sea world, swimming
- pretending to prepare food, hold tea parties or serve drinks in a cafe
- creating waterways and finding ways of transporting water, and moving
objects through water
- making locks and dams.
The learning that might take place in this area includes:
- exploring the properties of water
- learning about water as a physical force
- finding out about processes, such as water freezing and thawing, wet
- looking at absorbency and water repellence
- learning about displacement - for example, water spills over the top
of a cup when a pebble is dropped into it
- comparing water levels and beginning to understand the concept of
measurement - for example, it takes three cupfuls to fill the jug
- beginning to use language such as 'full', 'empty', 'big', 'bigger'
- using numbers and counting in the course of play
- asking questions about why things happen and how things work
- experimenting and making predictions about what might happen
- drawing simple conclusions to own investigations
- articulating thinking and engaging in sustained shared thinking with
- responding to challenges and problem-solving - for example, 'How can
this small-world person cross the water tray without getting wet?' or
'How can we stop the water leaking through the hole in the bottle?'
- talking about the features of natural objects and creatures that can
be found in water
- recreating real-life experiences and using one object to represent
- exploring different roles
- working co-operatively and collaboratively, taking turns and sharing
Organisation and location
- The area should be part of continuous provision and be available to children on a daily basis for extended periods of time.
- To minimise health and safety risks associated with transporting water, the area should be positioned near to a tap.
- Flooring should be non-slip and easily mopped. If possible, surrounding wall surfaces should be tiled or water-resistant.
- Children's self-initiated investigations often lead to sand and water mixing, and practitioners may decide to position the two areas in close proximity.
- Open shelves at child height are ideal for encouraging children to self-select equipment. Plastic baskets or boxes (with holes to allow for drainage) are practical storage containers.
- Some equipment may be presented to children on shape silhouettes to ease the tidy-up task and to enhance learning. These should be fully waterproof (for example, laminated).
- Hooks should be available at an appropriate height for the storage of aprons. These may be limited in number according to how many children are permitted to work in the area.
- Practitioners should plan to spend time in the area to observe children, work alongside them, engage with them and to evaluate provision.
- If possible, teams should ensure that a tap is installed in the outdoor area and a hose-pipe is purchased.
- As with most areas of provision, the outdoor area enables children to work on a larger scale. A series of trays and containers provided at different levels and connected by lengths of plastic guttering and half-pipe will inspire children's water investigations and engage them for long periods of time.
- Activities such as washing the dolls' clothes and hanging them out to dry are more easily undertaken outside, while they encourage exploration of concepts such as 'wet and dry' through role play.
- Buckets of water with decorators' brushes can provide children with fun opportunities for mark-making on tarmac or flags outside. Children will be fascinated by the disappearance of their marks as the water evaporates!
- The outdoor area has the added advantage of enabling children to experience and investigate water in the natural environment. A rainstorm will provide puddles to jump in, dripping water from trees and muddy areas to explore. Containers can be used to collect rainwater, which can then be used by children for watering the garden water in dry spells. Snow and frost offer opportunities for talking about water freezing and thawing. Protective clothing such as splash suits and Wellington boots are a useful addition to equipment.
- Practitioners should always be mindful of the dangers and health and safety issues around the provision of water, and a risk assessment should be drawn up to address these.
Jane Drake is a children's centre teacher for Leeds
Links to EYFS Guidance
- UC 1.1 Child development (a competent learner)
- PR 2.3 Supporting learning
- EE 3.2 Supporting every child
- EE 3.3 The learning environment
- L&D 4.1 Play and exploration
- L&D 4.2 Active learning
- L&D 4.3 Creativity and critical thinking
- L&D 4.4 Areas of learning and development (particularly PR&N, K&U and