Children + Water: An Equation for Summer Fun!


“Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world.“ — Oscar Wilde

by Billie Bidelman Little

Simplicity rules when it comes to choosing activities for young children in the summertime. You’ll want to seek out summer camps, sports opportunities and the new Animal Secrets exhibit at Discovery Center – but don’t ignore the joys of a lazy afternoon in the backyard when you’re looking for creative play value.

I think we would be surprised if toy manufacturers posted a “Play Value” sticker on the cardboard packaging of their products.  This ‘value’ would be a figure, calculated in hours, printed on a red circle or sticker, to indicate how long the toy inside would engage a child of the appropriate age. From my experience, a cardboard box in the hands of a creative child might have even a higher value than the latest stuffed animal or doll. But the simple joy of boxes is a topic for another day.


My recent simple ‘find’ for hours of summer play value came from the kitchen. It is a large metal mixing bowl, long plastic spoon and a set of measuring cups.  I recently filled a bowl with lukewarm water and took it out in the backyard, placing it on a low plastic picnic table.  I suggested my grand-twins might do some cooking.  Within minutes they were stirring the water with the long spoon and taking turns filling the cups and spoon with water and dumping water here and there.  There was talk of blueberry cake and chocolate cake – birthdays and cupcakes.  There were invisible creations carried to me to sample and sips of beverages offered from the plastic spoon. I read a magazine while the boys played nearby, content that they were learning the basic principles of fluid mechanics while I relaxed.

Depositphotos_2961k055_S[1]aAfter an hour of this, Caleb ran to the flower bed and brought back a big clod of dirt.  This was added to the bowl with great gusto, and another hour of play ensued – This time things were a bit dirtier, but I reassured the boys that we’d clean up later. (I think this was their first hands-on experience with the equation Dirt + Water = Mud.  The water to dirt ratio was still fairly high, but diminished as both boys began plopping more clods of dirt into the water.  After a while, they asked for fresh water and we dumped the bowl out and started anew.

Two hours of chatter and action later, it was time to rinse the bowl, gather the implements and wash hands in soapy water at the sink. The afternoon reminded me that there is no toy as entertaining as a bowl, some cups and spoons, water and a good imagination.

Change out water-play ‘props” frequently to add play value and to grow vocabulary. Make certain the objects are age-appropriate for your child and always supervise children near water – even a bucketful in your backyard. Don’t want a watery mess at home? Water play is front and center at Discovery Center with loads of opportunities for exploration by kids of all ages.


Try these props for Water Play:

IMG_5082bulb turkey basters
sieves and strainers
slotted spoons
cooking whisks
measuring cups and spoons
fishing bobbers
popsicle sticks
cooking tongs
small plastic pitchers
margarine or butter tubs
plastic fish and plastic figures
squeeze bottles
medicine droppers
rubber washers and jar tops
ice cubes
marbles (for older children)
rubber or foam balls
ping pong balls
egg beaters
aquarium nets
aluminum foil balls and boats
soap samples