I love sticking Belle in front of the sink for some sensory play, especially when it is largely empty. A limited set of objects to play with means Belle uses each of them more intentionally: small containers are used to fill big containers, a spare breast pump flange is used as a funnel, a spoon redirects the water flow, a sponge regularly adds rainfall to the scene.
Cognitive: Water play provides a way to discuss concepts like full vs empty, hot vs cold, big vs small. We use cups to show comparative sizes: “which is bigger?” We also work on problem solving. If the faucet doesn’t reach that part of the sink, we can move the faucet, move the empty container, or use the spray nozzle. If things on the floor are getting wet, Belle can get a rag to clean it up. If the sink is filling, Belle can remove the stopper – or put it back when she wants it to fill. The key is to use the items within reach to manipulate the sink environment. Belle also uses it as the basis for imaginative play: a plastic figure needs a “bath,” for instance.
Fine motor: When Belle uses a straw to direct water to a specific place, the small, precise movements she uses work on her motor skills. Using the spray nozzle also develops hand strength.
Language: Water play encourages words with a tactile meaning: hot, cold, warm, cool, wet, damp, dry. Belle and I talk about the cognitive concepts using active verbs (“oh is that full? Could you pour it out? Spill it? Splash it? If you pour it into this bigger container, will this one be full?”).
Self-help/adaptive: On a full-size chair, Belle can reach the faucets and adjust the water flow and temperature herself. (On a toddler chair, she asks for help in specific ways.) She also practices dispensing liquid soap and wetting a washcloth to clean her hands and face. These skills – including the feedback loop of sensing and adjusting – are critical to hygiene and avoiding heat and cold injuries.
And, of course, water play is an excellent distraction while I chop or finish something outside her skill set!