By CELA on 16 Feb, 2020

There are many benefits to introducing water play both in connecting children to a natural element and opportunities for learning. While some regions have recently experienced flooding and may have replenished their water tanks, we mustn’t forget that much of Australia is still in drought. The ongoing drought and water restrictions mean that early childhood services need to be especially careful about how they set up water play.

The crucial question is, “How can early childhood services ensure that children have adequate access to water and make connections with the water cycle, whilst developing responsible habits surrounding water use and conservation?”

Amplify answers this question with advice from the experts.

Natural and Scientific

As we endure hot days, playing with water is an attractive relief for children. It’s a wonderful way for children to connect with nature and it can also provide unique learning experiences.

“Water is at the root of all life; without it we cannot survive and as such it connects to us in a root way,” writes Claire Warden, Nature Pedagogy educator.  “Outdoor play should allow children to be surrounded by water-based experiences from jumping in a puddle to hearing it trickle over stones.”

Early childhood program co-ordinator at Canberra’s science centre Questacon, Belinda ‘BJ’ Anyos says that playing with water can lay the foundation for basic scientific understanding.

For example, just by pouring water from one container to another, Ms Anyos says that children are learning hand-eye coordination, the concept of filling up, transferring volume from one to another, cause and effect, and so much more.

“Water play could introduce concepts like cause and effect, basic math skills like full and empty, and could improve language development,” says Ms Anyos. “Words like drizzle, droplets, deep and shallow, slippery, slimy, cool and warm are all words that children could learn when playing with water.”

Respectful water play grows from a connection to the environment

Jackie Iliff, outdoor educator at a community based preschool in Sydney’s South believes that respectful water play cannot be taught to children until they have respect for the environment in which they live.

“Children have a natural curiosity and this is evident when they discover living things in our environment,” explains Jackie. “By supporting this curiosity and fostering their interest we are developing a sense of wonder. When children are supported they ask questions, explore, hypothesise and investigate. When children understand the role that water has for keeping our entire natural environment alive from plants to animals to humans they can then understand why we need to conserve the water that we have.”

Facilitating water play in a respectful way

In addition to building a connection with the environment, there are many ways facilitate or encourage respectful water play, including:

  • Use playing with water to explore and discuss questions like: Where does water come from? What forms can it take? What is it used for? How much should we use?
  • Fill a large container or basin with water, place jugs, funnels, animal toys to play with and let children know that this needs to last all day, or all week.
  • Recycle water used in water play to water the garden, make this part of water play and involve the children.
  • Recycle water that has been left in children’s drinking cups at the end of meal time for watering the garden.
  • Add small bowls to the sinks under the taps where children wash their hands and use this for watering the garden.
  • Install a rainwater tank or large vessel with a tap near sand or digging areas to create mud, but instruct children that they need to use the water carefully as once it’s gone there will be no more until the next day/week or until it rains (depending on your level of water restriction).
  • Use tubs or buckets to clean craft tools such as brushes instead of running water.
  • Use mulch on gardens and plant water wise plants.

“Mulch mulch mulch … our natives are mulched with gum leaves, and our edibles are mulched with worm castings, sugarcane or woodchip.”
Renata Harris, Yulara Childcare Centre Director

Education strategies

  • Discuss ways to save water with the children.
  • Show them how to be mindful about water use when washing their hands.
  • Instruct them on how to use the half flush button in the toilet.
  • Measure water to show children how much is being used.
  • Discuss limits to water use eg ‘only one water barrel in the sand pit that has to be used carefully’, or ‘when the tank is low we need to use less water until it rains again’.
  • Read picture books about how precious water is and what drought is.
  • Connect with and support another service in a drought affected community.

“Our preschool has recently supported a preschool in a rural area that is going through drought,” says outdoor educator Jackie Iliff. “Talking to the children about this service, showing them photos and including them in brainstorming ways in which we can support these children has given the children concrete evidence of what the drought looks like and the impact it has.

“From all of our discussions the children have decided that water play during this time is not necessary and they can play in other ways. We will fill up a trough with minimal water to support children that have sensory needs and are using other materials such as slime and shaving cream. Ice is another way we incorporate water play and we use the water at the end of the day to water plants.”

Books and resources:

‘How we use and save water’ is a lesson sheet from The Water Corporation of WA – it’s full of great water education ideas and activities.

Why should I save water?
Jen Green


One Day Closer to Rain
Amy Naefart


Big Rain Coming
Katrina Germain


Big Rain Coming – maths science lesson plan


Water saving infrastructure ideas

  • Install low flow taps and dual flush toilets in bathrooms.
  • Install rainwater tanks for flushing toilets, laundry and watering the garden.
  • Include a water level indicator on tanks so children can see how much water is in the tank.
  • Buy low water use appliances.
  • Conduct a water audit (available from water companies and sustainability shops).
  • Apply for grants to buy tanks and other water-saving infrastructure.
  • Mulch garden beds and install dripper systems.
  • Use the eco cycle on dishwashers and washing machines and only run when full.

Many of these ideas are drawn from an excellent factsheet produced by Early Childhood Australia Victoria in 2008. Water Play is Essential – as it says:

The young children of today are the leaders of the future who will be responsible for adapting to and coming up with innovative ways to conserve water in Australia. Water is a precious resource and we have to use it more sustainably and not waste a drop.

For more information:


  • Canberra Times Water play isn’t just a cool way to beat the heat
  • Warden, C. Nurture through Nature 2007 Perthshire Scotland, Mindstretchers
  • Young, T. and Elliot, S. Just Discover, Connecting young children to the natural world, 2004 Melbourne Tertiary Press

About CELA

Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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