Whether you’re at the beach, by the pool, or simply in the comfort of your bathtub, playtime in the water is a wonderful opportunity for you and your little one to bond. But making a splash together isn’t just a fun way to create fond memories. Research shows that water play actively promotes many areas of development for babies and toddlers.
Developmental Benefits of Water Play
Your little one’s sense of touch plays a major role in how they perceive their surroundings. Playing together in the water gives them the chance to safely experience different temperatures (warm, cooler, cold) and textures (slippery, wet, dry). Depending on where you are, your child can also experience some fascinating new scents and sounds.
Motor Skills Development
Whether playing in shallow water, swimming with mom or dad, or running through a sprinkler, water play gets little bodies moving!
In the water, actions like gripping and squeezing (wet toys, sponges, or sand) promote grasping and fine-motor strength. Water resistance also provides gentle exercise for little limbs, especially when your child is cycling or paddling.
Supervised periods of sitting and standing in shallow water can help a baby learn how to support their body by preparing them to independently bear weight. The water’s support and your careful guidance can gently relieve some of gravity’s pull, letting your baby practice stability and balance.
Playing in the water allows your child to experiment with new concepts, especially when playing with toys. Container games promote an early understanding of concepts like “empty” and “full.” Little ones can experiment with objects that either float or sink. Actions such as turning a bathtub faucet on and off, or draining water by removing the plug, are early demonstrations of cause and effect.
Water play offers unique opportunities for pretend play: Using shells as boats at the beach, creating a storyline with floating fish toys in the bath, or taking on the role of a mermaid in the pool… water presents new ways for little ones to use their imaginations.
Playing together in the water promotes closeness for you and your baby, because it is one of those precious times during which they require your undivided attention. While this is necessary for safety, it also gives you uninterrupted time to focus on meaningful interactions.
Keep these safety points in mind for water play:
- The water found in public swimming facilities is usually pH balanced and perfectly safe for little ones, but be mindful of water that has too strong an odor or appears to be discolored. The same goes for ocean water.
- A baby’s skin and face can be extremely sensitive to concentrated irritants.
- Neither pool nor ocean water should be ingested.
- Babies and toddlers can drown in less than three inches of water, so always supervise!
- If water play involves swimming, review the swimming safety tips in this article.
Water play is an invigorating opportunity to spend time together while supporting your little one’s development. Looking for fresh ideas to maximize the benefits of water play? You’ll find several in our BabySparks program!