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The value of sand and water play

Sand and water play is a vital aspect of any early years provision. It not only provides countless sensory benefits but equally valuable opportunities for exploration, manipulation and discovery as children experiment with digging, scooping, sieving, pouring and mixing sand with water.

Posted on Tuesday 30th April 2019

When children are exploring the possibilities and manipulating sand and water, they are certainly engaging in sensory learning. Making use of a number of senses at one time supports children’s learning as they take in information through a variety of forms and solidify their knowledge. Learning through a variety of sensory experiences can provide a concrete and more in-depth understanding of complex concepts, surrounding different materials and change of state for instance.

The sensory values of sand and water play provide a calming and even therapeutic experience for children as their senses are aroused. This certainly allows children to deeply engage in their learning, however slow or passive this may seem, children are relaxed and take-in information almost subconsciously through their senses.

Learning through STEAM with sand and water:

Sand and water play is the ideal activity for developing concepts surrounding STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths.

Whilst children engage with sand and water they are continuously experimenting with manipulating the consistency of sand, exploring how water travels and discovering how they can use different tools to affect change. This type of scientific discovery is vital for developing problem solving skills and understanding new concepts.

Children can develop mathematical concepts surrounding weight through a contextual, hands-on and active learning approach. This is developed when they experiment with changing the consistency of sand by adding water for instance. A supportive practitioner can ask open-ended and thought provoking questions or provide a running commentary to spark critical thinking.

Creativity and imaginative play:

Sand and water play can equally provide many opportunities for imaginative play and artistic creations.

The malleability, open-ended nature and sensory richness of sand allows it to be the perfect surface for drawing, early writing and to act as an art canvas. Children can draw and mark make in the sand using their fingers, twigs and feathers. They can take part in creative transient art as they arrange the natural materials they have found in artistic or systematic ways.

Water play lends itself to many interesting and artistic experiments. Children can add paint, food colouring or natural materials such as petals to make all kinds of creative concoctions and investigate with colour changes.

Sand and water can also provide an ideal space for small world play as children work out the best consistency for building sandcastles and homes. Adding small world figures and natural materials such as bark, foliage, stones and flowers can provide richness and detail to their small world creations. Children can add water to create rivers, lakes and ponds.

Whilst playing with sand and water, some children might be more interested in the construction aspects rather than creative or experimentation opportunities. Children can have a go at building bridges, mountains, digging tunnels and constructing towers. They may wish to add water-ways for flowing water across tunnels and under bridges. This once again links to learning through STEAM as children take on the roles of architect, engineer and mathematician.

Physical development:

Finally, let’s not forget the endless opportunities for physical development which sand and water can provide. Each of the above activities encompasses an aspect of gross or fine motor skill development. Children use shovels for digging tunnels, pat down the sand as they create a smooth effect and control their fine motor movements as they carefully write their names or make marks in the sand using their fingers.

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With thanks to Angelica Celinska for writing this blog. Angelica has 10 years of experience working in the Early Years and Primary sector with a Masters in Early Years Education from the Institute of Education, University College London (UCL).