Children love water play. Recently I attended a wonderful presentation and workshop by the legendary Tom “Sensori” Bedard who is currently touring the UK and Netherlands. He writes the blog Sand and Water Tables. It’s very niche and all about engaging children through well-thought out apparatus and creations at the sand and water trays.
I’ve added text to the first few photos to help explain the layout and thinking a little more. However I’m posting these on my Facebook page so you can have a better look.
Tom has developed a simple system for setting up play-based learning experiences. He has spent hours observing and recording children play. However it is all indoors. I work almost entirely outdoors. Naturally we both wanted to explore how his principles and advice can be applied to an outdoor context.
By chance, I have been working with a local nursery on a series of outdoor experiences. We had already decided that this week’s session was going to be looking at ways of developing water play. So I thought that this was an ideal opportunity to try out some of Tom’s suggestions and to see what happened…
You can view Tom’s exact advice on the LH column of his blog. One of his first points is that we need to think vertically and horizontally. By tradition, water walls are vertical surfaces and water trays are horizontal surfaces. However on a piece of play equipment you have both! And lots of each!
Tom also discusses the value of levels. Again, the play frame automatically provides these elements. We kept the steps and raised platform free from equipment other than a bucket of water at the end. This meant that children only had to negotiate each other and not objects whilst up high.
Tom also flags up the value of inclines – or slopes. These can be gentle or steep. A play frame also provides plenty of opportunities to create inclines of different sorts. In the photo above, you can see the magnificent water ramp protruding out. This stayed in place quite naturally but we added a little duck tape to provide additional security.
Tom also talks about the need for a pail or bucket so that children can transport water from a tray to the pail and vice versa. On such a large scale, we made do with the black water trays which were great even if they were more about breadth than depth, it enabled lots of children to access them – perhaps I should refer to these as “horizontal pails.” I deliberately put ones at places where I anticipated children would like to pour water – such as down inclines!
Bamboo guttering also provided inclines. We created the traditional water wall in one area with guttering but the climbing frame enabled this to capitalise on horizontal flow too – by sticking out of the climbing frame. The crystal tubes allowed children to observe coloured water flowing in all directions.
Tom had mentioned about how water flows differently when travelling down bubble wrap. By chance I happened to have a perfect slide-sized piece. This was duck-taped down. I put the jerry can at the top and secured this with super-strong velcro. This amazing stuff kept the can upright and accessible by the children who learned quickly how to turn the tap on and off. Interestingly as the afternoon wore on, the children began to ignore the can and preferred transporting water up the steps and tipping it directly down the slide from above.
Some children chose to pop some of the bubble wrap. This turned into a fascinating experience because these bubbles then filled with water and could be pressed to release it after each water flow had passed by. I had wondered whether the children would get frustrated at not being able to slide down the slide but this was not an issue. I think there was too many other things happening!
There were lots of features for the children to explore. The apparatus was set up in advance of the afternoon session, thanks to the willingness of the nursery staff to enter into the spirit of the adventure! Above you can see how we used the siphon. By attaching a funnel to the top, it became a DIY fountain. Squeeze the blue part and watch what happens!
Holes matter to children. They will spend hours exploring holes. The play frame had lots of holes in it but we added some interesting ones using the bits of guttering. Look how the child in the above photo is able to put his hand right inside. We had a few Duplo figures which were also part of the play for some children.
Underneath the water ramp you can see a little cubby hole! This allowed for a quieter play area and we had also put a water tray in there! Lots of children visited this area during the course of the afternoon but this was managed by the availability of space in that only one or two children could fit in there at any one time. Tom alludes to the need for creating spaces within places and apparatus.
In line with Tom’s guidance, we also placed a variety of loose parts in two areas, one at either end of the climbing frame. This meant that children could add to the play in ways they wanted to. The carrying buckets (from Poundland) were most popular. They were smaller than your 5 litre pail but bigger than your average sand castle bucket.
Now, we also had more than one water station! Oh yes! There was a traditional water tray across the space which allowed for a group of children less interested in the hubbub of the climbing frame to get on and experiment.
There was also a water container placed beside another “remote” water station so that children could fill up and transport water to the climbing frame.This water station was an “up and over” water wall. You can see this to the right in the above photo. Tom talked about children needing to experience reaching high. In order to do this, the children used their initiative and helped themselves to a bread crate. Some even went up on the wall itself. It didn’t seem to matter to any child that they could not see the water once it had been poured down the funnel. The act of getting up and tipping out the water seemed to be the point of the activity.
The children enjoyed being able to help themselves to water. As Tom had said, the amount of water flying around was surprisingly little. The children want and choose to transport water between places purposefully. They also enjoyed helping each other out.
We witnessed a high degree of social interaction between the children. We did not limit numbers of children at any place – the children self-regulated this without adult input and largely through common sense.
Many thanks to Tom for all his advice and suggestions – his presentations were superb. The ensuing play was a pleasure to witness and has further inspired me to explore creatively his elements and axioms.
In case you are wondering, almost all the equipment you can see comes from the Cosy Catalogue. They didn’t sponsor this post. It just happens that they stock lots of good open-ended resources which facilitates this type of water play.