Water play offers multiple opportunities for learning for babies. When your child plays with water, he learns new words. When he splish-splashes in the tub, or tosses toys into a bucket of water, he discovers what floats and what doesn’t. Water play gets his whole body moving. He can even observe cause and effect in action (Hey, when you turn that thingy, the water stops flowing) and witness the change in the force and sound of running water (Wow, magic!).
But don’t add just ordinary water play to your tot’s day at bath time. Grab some inexpensive water-worthy toys—plastic cups, spoons, bowls, sieves, colorful balls, and pots and pans to dip, drop, sink, and reach for. Then, slip in a science lesson or two. Check out the ideas below. Remember: never leave baby unattended in or near water.
- Demonstrate opposites. Because showing is better than telling, start teaching your tot the difference between big/small and empty/full, using measuring cups in different sizes. You can buy colorful cups made for tub time, or use your own plastic kitchen accessories. Fill a large bowl or small bucket with water and start the fun! Encourage her to experiment.
- Paint with water. Babies love brushes and art. You love clean-up time? Not so much. But “painting” with water will keep you both happy (even if you must wipe up a puddle). Fill a plastic cup with water, give your toddler colored construction paper and a brush, and let her go to town, fine-tuning her motor coordination and refining her artistic eye.
- Host a bubble bash for two. It’s impossible not to smile at bubbles floating gracefully into the air, and babies find this thrilling. Blow bubbles using different-sized wands. Talk about sizes (again), and help boost vocabulary with words like high/low, up/down, wet/dry, and again and sticky. Older toddlers will love chasing bubbles and trying to pop them. Congratulate yourself for providing fitness moments.
- Squish deflated water balloons. For a sensory delight, fill balloons with a small amount of water, just enough to allow some expansion. Tie the ends in a knot. Place the balloons in a bowl. Let your little one experience a sensory extravaganza, squishing and squashing them this way and that. Kids love the feeling of gently squeezing water balloons between their fingers. (Remove any popped balloons immediately, as they pose a choking hazard.)
- Talk about global warming. OK, not really. But it’s never too soon to introduce a low-key lesson in basic science. When your baby is in her high chair, give her a few pieces of crushed ice in a plastic cup. She’ll watch in awe as she tries to pick them up, chase them around the tray with her chubby little fingers and, finally, see them “disappear” as they melt. (Be sure to use crushed ice and not ice cubes for this activity so as to avoid a choking hazard.)