PLAY is an important part of a child's development. It not only helps a child with physical development, but also mental, emotional and social development.
Playing outdoors with water and sand and on the grass also helps the child with sensory development.
“We may not realise it, but there are children who are sensory defensive – they don't like it when their shirt is wet or their hands are dirty. That's where sensory play comes in, to help them get used to touching the water, sand, grass and anything else,” says Liz Zainon, an occupational therapist at Sprouts childcare and development centre.
According to her, children who lack sensory play might have sensory issues and become defensive about touching things like water and grass.
“You can easily spot them. When you go to the beach, they will squeeze their feet and refuse to walk on the sand. There are even kids who are afraid of bubbles because they haven't been exposed enough to it. They will resist anything to do with water, bubbles and foam, so bathing and brushing of teeth becomes things they don't want to do.
“Parents should give the kids a chance to explore through all sorts of play. Kids need to be exposed and to explore variants of play,” adds Liz.
Here are some skills that children learn through play:
Gross motor skills – Learning to use big muscles when rolling, sitting up and standing.
Fine motor skills – Learning to use smaller muscles to pick items up and gripping them, and making use of the wrist.
Communication skills – How to have a conversation, talk and listen, as well as follow instructions.
Social skills – How to take turns, share, and play together.
Here are some water play activities that are beneficial to children under five years:
1) Car wash
Through play, children can learn about a daily living skill and once they are bigger they can help more with washing dad's and mum's car, thus learning responsibility, too. By learning to wash at this young age, kids will develop their motor skills when they lift the sponge and squeeze it, as well as when bending over the bucket and reaching for different parts of the car.
2) Watering the plants
This is a learning skill where they can learn about taking care of plants and about being more alert of their surroundings. Filling the watering can and pouring the watering will also help develop their fine motor skills.
3) Playing with water guns
This will help them improve their fine motor skills because of the hand manipulation when they fill up the water pistol and pull the trigger.
4) Throwing and catching a wet sponge (in a group)
This activity is good for hand-eye co-ordination. In addition, because it is a group activity, it also encourages listening and understanding skills and following instructions plus social and communication skills. Children will also learn to be patient and take turns.
5) Race to fill a bucket with bottles of water
This activity teaches kids to understand the rules of a race and helps them follow instructions. They will also improve their fine motor skills and they need to concentrate to fill up the bottle and bucket. Lifting the bucket will involve gross motor skills and trunk motor skills (the way you stand, walk, your posture and gait).
6) Water balloon on a wooden spoon race
Trying to balance a balloon filled with water on a wooden spoon will help your child develop his or her fine motor skills and concentration. The kids require good concentration and hand-eye co-ordination to fill the water in the balloon. Then they would need stabilisation of the trunk to balance the balloon on a spoon.
7) Water dodgeball
Liz says this is a very good activity as it helps children in various ways. Firstly, they must be very good with their gross motor skills. They need to stand, run, be alert, and follow and understand instructions. They need core muscle stability as well.
“I would encourage this activity to increase their awareness, alertness and attention,” says Liz, explaining it is also good for communication and social skills.
8) Pass a wet sponge in a circle as the music plays and when the song ends, the person left holding the sponge must squeeze it over their own head
This game is good for developing gross and fine motor skills as it involves them squeezing the sponge. It is also good for sensory development. In addition, it will help develop communication and social skills as kids will learn to be patient and how to lose gracefully.
9) Scavenger hunt in the pool
An underwater scavenger hunt is good for the development of gross motor skills and visual perception.
“Some children have a problem with this. Even though they know there are two different things in front of them, they can't really understand what they see,” says Liz.
10) Contest to see who can make the biggest splash in the pool
This activity can be a lot of fun and needs hand and body movements (gross motor skills) to make a bigger splash. Children will also learn social skills as they will have to wait for their turn.
According to Liz, not all parents understand the importance of gross and fine motor skills as well as sensory play.
“Some parents don't really understand that fine motor skills are important for the child's handwriting. It is one of the skills needed when a child wants to go to school,” says Liz.
She advises parents to incorporate play into the child's daily activities. A daily task like bathing need not be a chore; it can be fun if toys and bubbles are introduced.
“Think about the activity and how you can make it enjoyable. Parents should let the child play and lead in the activity. Parents shouldn't always be so strict in making their kids listen to them, even during play time.
“And even though you give them the opportunity to play, parents still need to be the mentor and supervise them and monitor them. This is a good time to teach them skills as well,” says Liz.