Water Play: Benefits and Where to Go

By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)

We’re all made of water, so it’s only natural that we would enjoy playing in it as soon as we can wave an arm or stomp a leg. Turns out that water play is extremely ‘fluid’ in its benefits to childhood development. If you, dear caregiver, know what you’d like to nurture in your little one, then the two (or more) of you will have a great time learning, growing, and playing with water.

Benefits of water play for the little body


Will this rock/leaf/toy sink or swim? What happens when this sand/dirt/clothing gets wet? There’s only one splashy way to find out! Through repetition, children explore cause and effect, practice their observation skills, and expand their creative thinking. These skills lay the foundation for a positive attitude toward problem-solving.


However children choose to play in water, you can find a way to relate it back to a lesson in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. If you’re heading to a swimming hole, bring a clear container and a magnifying glass, and marvel at the miniature forms life you’ll find in a small sample scooped up with care. Return that sample with just as much care, and you reinforce the importance for respect for the natural world. Whether at a creek or an urban splash pad, you’ll find ample opportunities to explore the effects of force (block the flow and feel what happens) and gravity. Bring along containers of varying sizes, and you can introduce the concepts of volume, displacement, proportions, and density.

Physical Development

Where to begin?!

Simple splashing encourages coordination (eye/hand and full body), balance, and motor skills (gross and fine). Since bodies of water guarantee a soft(er) landing, littles of all ages are emboldened to let go in their play. The extra resistance in deep-ish water builds up strength and coordination that will make ‘dry play’ seem easier by comparison. Even a bucket of water and a variety of different materials in the yard opens up possibilities for fine-motor play (pouring from one cup to another, squeezing out a sponge, and squirting out the contents of a repurposed eye-dropper) and tactile sensations (gritty sand, squishy cloth, and slimy nuggets of fruit).

I could go on: water play promotes social and emotional development, language development, and creative play. There are as many benefits as there are places to enjoy them. Speaking of which…

Water play around Portland, Oregon

If you’re looking for a new spot out of town, or just across town, one of these collections of sites will have what you need.

  1. Pools, waterparks and swimming holes is just that, a thorough list of natural and built swimming options all over the area. Each list item includes a basic description, an address, a phone number and a linked webpage address. If you’d prefer to stay in town, this is the resource for you.
  2. Map of 19 Great Swimming Holes within 3 Hours of Portland starts with an interactive map. Click on a point for a descriptions ranging from basic to pretty thorough, and a link to Google maps. Follow the latter for turn-by-turn driving directions.
  3. 8 Amazing Northwest Swimming Holes Near Portland aggregates thorough listings of outdoor options in local parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. Click on a listing for a solid summary and review.
  4. 25 Great Swimming Holes within 3 Hours of Portland lists options ranging from day trips to overnighters. Each entry includes a basic description of the natural swimming spot and an estimated driving time.
Keep it local, really local

On those sweltering weekday evenings when inside feels warmer than outside, but it’s too late to go anywhere, don’t overlook the humble play pool, water table, or bucket. You can have plenty of fun, and promote many of the benefits listed above, in your yard or neighborhood park. Personally, I’m a big fan of wriggling into a soaked t-shirt (with many dramatic gasps) and then whiling away the time with my son in all three or four inches of water. It sure beats air conditioning.

Safety Tips
  • Don’t leave young children unattended near water — including in the home.
  • Take a CPR class for youngsters.
  • If you’re at a private pool, completely remove the cover, and don’t let children play on the cover.
  • Enforce rules around the pool. No running or dunking.
  • Flotation devices are not a substitute for adult supervision.
  • Life jackets should always be worn when riding on a boat.
  • Swimming lessons are meant to increase a child’s comfort level in the water. They don’t replace supervision.

Learn more about the benefits of water play in early childhood development.

  1. https://pathways.org/blog/splish-splash-the-benefits-of-water-play-for-children/
  2. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/importance-sand-and-water-play
  3. https://www.kidsclubchildcare.com.au/5-benefits-of-water-play-in-early-childhood-development/
  4. http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=374


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