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Sand and Water Play

Dear Debi,
My kids LOVE to play outside with our water table! They use boats, dolls and even animals. But I canít get them to play anything else. Should I be concerned about this or is it okay for them to play this way all the time?
Jordan, Lomita, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Provide frequent opportunities for sand & water play
  • Sand & water play encourages exploring and problem-solving
  • Add household items to sand & water play
Expert Advice
Mike Salas
Mike Salas
Pre-K and Kindergarten teacher
Sand and water play can be important for a childís development. They learn science from pouring and measuring and seeing the consistency of how the water changes. Plus you get so much cooperative play. Sand and water is completely a hands-on experience that is open-ended. Youíre only limited by the things you donít put out. The kids can put toys to fish in, or they can make mountains and islands. They can put rocks in the water and work with density and weight.

Sand and water play should be a center that is open like the block area or your art area. It should be part of every day. My kids love the sand and water so much they ask for it no matter what the temperature. Iíve had kids that wanted to take their jackets off in the 45 degree weather just to play in the sand. They just love it, and they do amazing things with it. Iíll put rocks and pieces of big wood in the sand and theyíll make bridges. The more you put out there, the more youíll get them engaged in new things.

Water in home day care itís a little tougher cause youíre inside. But there are black tubs that hold gallons of water and you can put them by your kitchen table where thereís linoleum. You can put different sized containers in there or plastic fish or men. Some teachers donít like to make it available every day, but they have to explain to their kids how to use it. Tell them you want the water to stay in the tub. You have to guide them through the process. Then theyíll do it every day.

Sand and water play can also be helpful in teaching kids about the environment. You can extend the activity by talking with older kids about how rivers and lakes form. You can discuss how the ocean gets polluted when the storm drains run to the ocean.

Since water is soothing, it can be a great activity for kids with attention deficit disorder (ADD) or some type of hyper active trait. Thatís why I use warm water, since itís soothing. With sand, itís great to have the kids molding things. I usually put water in there and not make the sand really wet. Kids with disabilities can exercise their gross and fine motor skills. They can use their whole arm and make a mountain. Waterís great for toddlers, but not with soap since they like to put things in their mouth. Put some containers and dinosaurs in there. Toddlers are notorious for scooping up the water and dumping it out.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 5 years
We do sand and water play both indoors and outdoors. Outside, we have a sand box for them to play in. Weíll bring out tubs with water, and sometimes theyíll mix the sand with it. When you are indoors, itís important for them to have sand and water play because itís a sensory stimulation that they need. So we place a plastic mat on the floor and we put their toys or material on top of it.
Child care provider for 4 years
My kids love playing with sand and water, too. I have a sand and water table, but you can also use dishpans and fill them with sand and water, and use them inside or outside. Outside, I have a huge sandbox that the kids can get into. My water table is about 3 feet off the ground, about 4 feet long, and itís just a deep water bin that you can put anything in. You can put in rice or birdseed or beans.
Carol (Woods)
Carol (Woods)
Child care provider for 13 years
I donít allow my grandson to play with water too much, because he is still at an age where he is trying to balance himself. I do let him water the grass and the plants. Even when Iím hosing down the steps, I let him put on his rain boots and we talk about keeping the steps clean and helping the grass grow. I think itís good to let them play with water in different environments. When they are using it in everyday activities, they learn about their environment.

Sand and Water Activities Featured Activity:
Sand and Water Activities
Sand and Water Play Featured Video:
Sand and Water Play
Topic: Play & Creativity
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Related Episodes
At-Home Activities
Everyday Science Activities
Outdoor Play
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
PBS / The Whole Child / Toys & Play Equipment
PTA & The Importance of Play
The American Association for the Child's Right to Play
The Colored Sand Company
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