Water fascinates young children. Whether the water is in small or large quantities, however, it is always important to think about safety when water is involved and to ensure that young children are properly supervised. With this in mind, let's talk about water play.
A small bin full of water placed on a table affords hours of learning. I have found that when my class of four year olds were involved in water play experiences, there was no such thing as limited attention span! It's a simple three step process:
1) Provide objects for children to explore with, such as:
2) Join in the fun:
3) Talk about what you and the children are observing, for example:
Sometimes, step 3 is difficult to do in the midst of the activity, because the children can become so engrossed that they don't have time for you! That's a good thing, so what I would do in my classroom was to take a few pictures of the children as they played; then I showed the pictures afterward and posed questions about what they were doing or what they observed. This discussion helps children to construct understandings and learn to describe ideas like liquid, density, buoyancy, measurement, matter, and weight -- all physical science concepts that they will need in the later grades. They won't yet necessarily be able to use or understand those words, but through exploration, children will have gained experience with the concepts that the words stand for.
Of course these days you don't have to limit yourself to still pictures -- you can capture and present short videos that illustrate the things you want the children to observe and discuss.
You don't have to do this activity with a bin or water on a table; it can be perfect for bath time and the subsequent bedtime conversation.
As with many science topics, there are some wonderful children's books about water; one of my favorites is Water's Way by Lisa Westberg Peters. Share this book with your child to help develop his or her understanding about evaporation, condensation, erosion, and how water flows -- through text and pictures that are designed for a young child's reading level.
Here are some other ideas for water explorations:
Remember, you don't have to be a science teacher to teach concepts like these to young children. All you have to do, really, is create or put them in an environment with interesting things to explore and objects to explore with, and then be as curious and interested in what they see, hear, touch and do as they are. Meanwhile, you will be planting seeds of understanding about physical science concepts that children will formally encounter in school before too long.