Sand and water play for toddlers has many surprising benefits for development, such as enhancing motor skills, social and emotional awareness, improving language and speech, sparking creativity and improving concepts of mathematics and science. Sand and water play is sensory play, therefore it opens the opportunity for learning through curiosity, problem-solving, exploration and creativity.
We encourage our children to experiment with their senses to achieve the above mentioned psychological and emotional benefits, as well as the acceleration of cognitive development.
So, the next time that your little one is drawn to sand and water play, remember that it is a great learning opportunity for them!
To learn more about the surprising benefits of sand and water play in the early years, keep reading.
1. Enhanced motor skills
It is important in the early years of a child’s development that they develop and exercise their fine motor skills. Part of fine motor development is when children learn how to hold objects in their hands (i.e. a pen or a spoon).
Sand play activities offer children many opportunities to use and develop their fine motor skills. For example gripping the handles of the spade, scooping and pouring sand and water with their hands. Using tools like mini-shovels, rakes, buckets and more not only supports their fine motor skills but also helps to develop their hand-eye coordination. Forming these skills at an early age can help with feeding oneself, tying one’s shoes, zipping up jackets and holding a pen at school.
2. Improved language and speech
During sand and water play, children will often start a dialogue with their peers around what they are building or ideas they might be having. This offers a wonderful opportunity for language development and a teachable moment to share new ideas and increase vocabulary in a fun and relaxed environment. When a child is playing and experimenting with sand and water, often educators will ask them questions about their creations and encourage two-way conversation. These interactions a child has with educators and peers over sand and water play positively contribute towards their improved language and speech development.
3. Enhanced social and emotional awareness
It is no secret that nature and learning outside offer some of the best learning opportunities in the early years. The early learning setting is the best environment for children to develop their social skills and emotional awareness. Through sand and water play, they are encouraged to share, listen to and cooperate with other children. This supports their empathy learning and helps them to recognise emotions in others (and, importantly, how their actions can affect another’s emotions). Allowing children the time to explore the way they feel when playing with sand and water supports their emotional growth and ability to self-regulate their emotions; identifying what makes them happy, sad, excited etc.
4. Introduction to mathematics and science
Sensory activities like sand and water play are one of the most exciting types of play for little ones. Children’s sand play also lends itself to countless teachable moments, especially in mathematical and scientific thinking.
For example, we can introduce the use of measuring cups and weights when playing with sand and water, opening children’s minds to the mathematical concepts of measurement, weight, volumes and more. As well as scientific concepts, such as when dry sand is mixed with water it becomes wet, and then able to be made into different shapes and structures. The children and educators can extend this learning to a wider range of science and maths concepts such as hot and cold water, colour water, density when adding other types of liquids, sinking and floating, etc.
5. Sparked creativity
Perhaps the biggest sandpit play benefit is that it develops their imagination and enhances their creative thinking. Early Childhood specialists have explained how heightened creativity can in the long term support a child’s mental flexibility and ability to absorb new information more easily and can find a lifelong love for learning. Therefore, sand and water play has many benefits for the emotional and psychological development and wellbeing of toddlers.