Water: The Ideal Early Learning Environment: Throughout 2008, EP Will Explore the Benefits of Aquatics Therapy and Recreation for People with Special Needs in This 12-Part Series, Entitled "Aquatics Therapy and Recreation."

Article excerpt

Bathtub, sink, bucket, bowl, wading pool, swimming pool, sprinkler, and faucet--all offer entrance into the ideal learning environment of water! That wet liquid found almost everywhere can be used to engage activity, focus attention, stimulate response, foster development, and reinforce learning. For the young preschool child water learning activities, those activities taking place through interaction with water, can help develop physical fitness, facilitate motor development, reinforce perceptual-motor ability, encourage social development, and enhance self-esteem and confidence. Here's how.

Creating a Water Learning Environment

Water is the prime ingredient, therefore, a source of clean water is a must. This might be water in a bathtub or bathing basin as well as water in a bucket or several bowls. A wading pool works fine. A swimming pool has possibilities. Consider the needs of your particular child. Swimming pools are large with lots of stimulation and noise. Air and water temperature are hard to control to suit individual needs. For some children, using a bathroom or laundry room may be a better choice as environmental factors can be more easily controlled. Even buckets and/or bowls on a waterproof tarp can work well.

Air temperature should be warm enough so no one becomes chilled. Eliminating drafts from open doors and windows as well as from heating and ventilation systems, helps. Water temperature, if using a tub, should be comfortably warm but not hot. If using buckets and bowls, water temperature can be neutral, as warm water will quickly cool anyway. Children can share water. However, if using buckets and bowls and the activity includes putting the face into water or if a child has a cold or drools, each child should have his or her own water source.

For safety, have a phone at the activity site. Never leave a child unsupervised in a water learning setting. A small child can drown in a very small amount of water. Learn infant/child CPR.

Planning Activities

Water learning is not free play. For learning to occur, activities must have goals and structure. Bath time is a great time to include one or two water learning activities. Everyone is wet already. However, remember, this is play with a purpose. Follow this general planning process for learning success:

* Select your learning goal. What is it you want your child to learn? Is there a goal from physical or occupational therapy to reinforce, such as arm strength or grasp and release? Is there an academic goal to reinforce, such as color recognition or counting? Is there a perceptual-motor component to reinforce, such as body image? Does social interaction, sharing for example, need facilitation?

* Select activities that are structured to focus on the goal chosen. A few examples are found in the table on the opposite page.

* Select water and child appropriate equipment. All equipment should be child safe: no very small parts a child could swallow, no lead paint on toys, no stuffed or fabric toys. Plastic buckets and bowls, along with a variety of pouring devices, sponges, and cloths, are common household items. Be sure all are clean. If not in a pool environment, select activities the child can accomplish in a seated, reclining, or kneeling position. Once water is in use, the surrounding floor will become too slippery for safe walking.

Implement the Activity

Staging the activity can be complicated.

Here's a general plan to follow.

1) Assemble the equipment.

2) Prepare the water.

3) Get yourself dressed (you will get wet--be prepared to smile when that happens).

4) Take the child into the activity.

Present the activity in a success oriented format. Ask the child engaging questions such as: "Can you pick up the blue chips?" or "Can you scoop the water?" Avoid specific directions. Let the child determine his or her level of engagement. …