The Wonders of Water and Sand
Children learn from many different forms of play, for instance functional play which is when children are constantly testing their environments, symbolic play which is when a child uses one material to represent another object, Constructive which is when children are creative and form something that is new and dramatic play. These forms of play can be displayed either alone in solitary play, alongside another individual in parallel play, observing others playing and incorporate your own ideas into the activity in associative play or even cooperating with other by building off everyone’s ideas to create something new in cooperative play. All these stages of play can be demonstrated and expanding through playing with sand and water.
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From infants to adults, children of all ages can take part in sand play. Sand is therapeutic, non-threatening and has no expected end project. It is something that everyone can dig their hands and toes into, in fact, “it's one of the few manipulatives that truly allow children to explore their imaginations, it’s a material found almost everywhere on earth, and children love playing in it” (King, 2005). For infants in this case it provides them with new textures for them to crawl in, they can simply sit down or move around, they involve their sense of touch by feeling the sand and digging their appendages into the dirt (Crowther, 2016, p. 89). As infants grow and become toddlers, they develop the ability to incorporate tools during their functional and symbolic play experiences. Using different instruments, toddlers begin to investigate sand further by using tools for activities such as tunneling, smoothing and experimentation, often repetitive play will become part of this process. Older toddlers incorporate tools into their symbolic play, they build off experiences that they’ve witnessed and begin to use other materials to represent different objects (Crowther, 2016, p.89). This symbolic play continues into preschool.
As toddlers’ transition into preschool students, symbolic play continues, yet becomes more complicated and “less reliant on props” (Crowther, 2016, p. 89). This would be a good age to introduce books to support sand play. Representational play becomes dominate within this age group where “role designation [is] involved” (Crowther, 2016, p.89). Representation play continues into school age children, but with the involvement of maps, scripts and plans.
The value of sand play is as mentioned above, it is therapeutic and non-threatening, it offers comfort and familiarity to the children. It offers an amazing learning experience for all ages, children learn how to measure different quantities of sand using different containers and compare the amounts of sand within each container or even compare their creations with others. Children further develop their creativity, by being given the opportunity to mold what they like (Crowther, 2016, p. 80-81). The great thing about sand play is that, “when sand is wet, it can be shaped” (King, 2005). Children learn new vocabulary and words for items found within the sand like flowers and develop problem-solving skills
For a facilitator to encourage this learning experience, they have many things that they must attend to. First, children need different shaped molds and sized containers that are age appropriate and safe to assist with play in the sand involving tunneling, molding and filling and pouring. These said containers and items should be properly be sanitized and stored with a label clearly specifying what it is or for. A facilitator should be involved with the child’s play and express enthusiasm towards the activity and give credit when it is due. While being an active participant, the facilitator should keep the area as clean and sterile as possible and can even invite the children to assist with the cleaning process, forming another addition to the learning experience (Crowther, 2016, p.82). Sand, being an amazing tool to assist with learning falls hand in hand with water which offers a similar experience.
Water offers children a similar experience to that of sand. It is therapeutic as well and non-threatening, and all ages are familiar with it. It provides infants with a sensory experience of free exploration through splashing in the pool and grabbing the floatie toys placed in said water. This free exploration is demonstrated with toddlers as well, however, toddlers are more mobile. This mobility allows them to run through sprinklers and splash around repetitively, demonstrating repetitive play. Everyone is familiar with water, with washing, brushing teeth, doing dishes, and toddlers mimic these actions when given water to play with (Crowther, 2016, p. 112).
This changes when children reach preschool, they begin to experiment with solitary, associative and parallel play. They begin to discuss what they are doing and a happy to “share their discoveries with adults and peers” (Crowther, 2016, p. 112). Preschoolers enjoy discovery and will drop toys and containers into the water to see if it sinks, they will also participate in repetitive play by filling and pouring different sized containers. When the children transition into school age, water play becomes a means of solving problems. They begin to create new things like lakes and rivers and state to understand different states of water. They work to solve problems and create new things (Crowther, 2016, p.112).
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Water is an extraordinary medium to play with and learn from, it is soothing and is open ended. Children learn new concepts from the act of playing with water, they discover bubbles, that water moves, how to create man made lakes and much more. Through the discovery of new things through the use of water, children further develop their fine and gross motor skills while “stimulating cognitive development as well as fostering cooperation, communication, and dramatic play” (Dinwiddle, 2005). Furthermore, it promotes the development of new language skills and introduces children to new experiences, expanding their creativity (Crowther, 2016, p. 104-105). It is the instructor’s job to ensure that the children that are taking part in this activity are in a comfortable environment.
As a teacher, it is our job to ensure that the children in our care are in a comfortable and explorative environment. Educators should promote an environment that emphasizes cognitive growth. They should facilitate activities that assist with a child creativity, encourage problem solving skills, gives children the opportunity to experience and observe nature and expand on the language skills that they already have. All of this, however, cannot be done unless in a safe environment, for both sand and water play.
An environment that involves sand and water play should be in a safe and sterile environment. Toys and containers should be cleaned after use and be age appropriate. The sand and water bins should be the correct height for the age group using it, to avoid the children losing balance and falling. The boxes, if indoor should be placed on a tile floor, for easy cleanup. In addition to this, children who have a virus or infection should stand clear of the water table to avoid transfer of illnesses (Crowther, 2016, p. 106). In conclusion, sand and water play are extremely important to the development of children.
- Crowther, I. (2016). Creating effective learning environments (4th ed). Toronto, ON: Nelson Education, Ltd.
- Dinwiddle, S. (2005). Playing in the gutters: Enhancing children’s cognitive and social play. Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2005/playing-in-the-gutters-enhancing-childrens-cognitive-and-social-play
- King, R., Arch, M. (2005). Playing in the sand – Naturally. Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2005/playing-in-the-sand-naturally
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