Summer in the Pacific Northwest is a magic time for children. Long, warm days invite outdoor play and an opportunity to cool off in the sprinkler or wading pool. Children in childcare centers are often limited in access to the joy of getting wet.

Providing access to outdoor sprinkler time in a childcare center requires several components to assure the safety and enjoyment of all the children. They must be clothed in garments and shoes that won’t be ruined by getting wet; they must have dry clothing available to change into; sunscreen must be applied prior to the activity; there must be towels available for drying off and warming up; there need to be sunny and shady areas available; the center must be equipped with sprinklers and hoses; there must be a high level of adult supervision as the excitement generated by water and sprinkler play creates situations in which children tend to be unaware of their surroundings and accidents are more likely to occur. Many childcare and early learning centers simply do not have the resources to provide this sensory experience. For those that can, it is a wonderful treat for children. Splashing in puddles is one of the great joys of childhood.

Not only is water play fun, it provides many opportunities for learning. Whether in a wading pool, water table, hose, sprinkler or puddle on the ground many science concepts are explored during the play experience. Children explore the characteristics of water. It looks like a solid in a pool, but cannot be picked up with one’s hand. Physics concepts such as observing that upon entering the pool the water level rises and upon exiting it falls, some things float and some sink. As children splash the water level gradually falls and must be replenished. The ground around is wet but the water cannot be touched or splashed as it is in the wading pool or water table.

Children experience the properties of force by comparing how water from a sprinkler feels vs. directed spray from a hose. They learn how cold water on the skin feels and how the body rewarms itself. At the water table or in the wading pool as children pour, squeeze, squirt and splash they experiment with cause and effect, develop hand eye coordination and exercise small muscles. Running through the sprinkler encourages large muscle development. Social learning occurs through taking turns, sharing water toys, talking to each other and their teachers about the experience. Water play is fun and exciting and can be relaxing at the same time.

In childcare and early learning centers educators know that “glorious messes” provide opportunities for fun, exploration, development and learning. Water play is one of the most glorious.