Friday, February 1, 2008

Playing IS Learning: WaterWays - Water Flows

Because there is no “right” or “wrong” way to play with water, the opportunities to learn (and have FUN) are endless! Within the WaterWays neighborhood, one can truly follow the child’s lead and facilitate multiple skills from across the domains of development by capturing, redirecting, observing, and controlling water.


Inside WaterWays, the Water Flows exhibit was specifically designed to introduce children to and help them better understand the concepts of buoyancy, displacement, and volume and space.

-Buoyancy describes the force that makes an object float. When an object’s upward force (buoyancy) is equal to its own weight, it will float. If its own weight is more than the upward force, it will sink.

-Displacement is also related to whether an object will sink or float. It describes how if an object is placed in a cup of water, the water level will rise. If an object weighs more than the water it pushes away, it will sink; and if an object weighs less than the water it pushes away, it will float.

-Volume is the amount of space “matter” occupies.


The following is an observation made in the Water Flows exhibit. How does this child engage with the concepts mentioned above?

A three year-old uses a small pitcher to pour water into a small toy boat sitting on a ledge. He fills the boat with water. The child then puts the boat into the water—it starts to sink and finally turns over. He again picks up the boat, places it on the ledge, and fills it with water. However, this time before he places it into the water he pours the water out. He then places the empty boat onto the water—this time the boat floats upright. Later, the child pushes the boat back and forth and the boat begins to fill with water. The child notices this, picks the boat up and dumps the water out to empty it. He places the boat back in the water and watches as it floats again.

After initially placing more water (weight) into the boat and then watching it sink, this child may have asked himself, “Why does it do this?” While he probably didn’t understand the scientific concepts of buoyancy or displacement, he was discovering the foundations behind them. Through experimentation, the child observed that by removing the additional weight (water), the boat was able to float.

Here are some additional suggestions on how to facilitate scientific understanding in Water Flows:

-Observe how your child uses the materials in the water and join in the fun (i.e. if the child pours water into a water wheel, pour water into the water wheel).
-Model how to use materials or a specific concept
(i.e. using the water pump or inserting pipes into a water spout).
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. ask, "What would happen if you tried turning the funnel this way?")
-Suggest challenges (i.e. "Why did the boat sink?" "How many cups of water will fit in this container?" or "Which pipe do you think the shower water comes from?")


In addition to providing children with great opportunities to learn scientific concepts, Water Flows also provides children with multiple opportunities to create their own unique experiences within other areas of learning (math, creativity and arts, etc.).

The following observation illustrates one example of how a mother follows her child’s lead in Water Flows and facilitates play related to math.

A mother watches her child pick up a strainer at the tub and use it to pick up a small ball floating in the water. The child bounces the ball in the strainer a few times. The mother imitates the child, picking up another strainer and using it to pick up another small ball floating in the water. She shows her strainer and ball to her child and bounces her ball similarly. The child then bounces his ball into her strainer. “Now I have two,” the mother says. She tries to bounce one back into the child’s strainer. It falls in the water. The child picks it up with his strainer and begins bouncing it. The mother asks, “How many do you have?” The child answers, “one.” He bounces the ball into her strainer.

Here are some other ways to facilitate math experiences in Water Flows:

-Challenge your child to see how many of one kind of object she can find in the water! Children can sort objects (balls, boats, animals, cups, etc.) by size, color or shape.
-Similarly, suggest that you and your child together count how many of one kind of object he can find in the water (balls, boats, animals, cups, etc.). You might even count how many cups of water it takes to fill one of the shape buckets.
-Model math vocabulary! Make sure to use words like "empty," "full," "half," "whole," "more" and "less" as you explore Water Flows together.

How Learning Comes in to Play - At-Home!

Take home the fun and extend your child's learning experience using the following Water Flows at-home activity ideas:

-Create your own water tub at home! Fill a small plastic tub with water and add a few objects to manipulate and explore (soup ladle, turkey baster, strainers, funnels, empty butter tubs, small whisks, measuring cups/spoons, empty ketchup bottles, bath toys, corks, styrofoam pieces). Safety Note: Make sure to share and supervise your child as he/she explores water at home.
-Add salt to the water. How does this effect object's ability to float? sink?
-Punch holes in bottoms of empty milk cartons to make sieves for water play.
-Create your own boats using different kinds of materials (wood, aluminum foil, paper plates, styrofoam). Gather some pennies and see how many your child can place on his/her boat before it sinks! Try moving the pennies around on different locations of the boat for a different effect.
-Don't forget to save time for fun in the tub! What can your child find in the tub that sinks (i.e. full bottles of shampoo/conditioner)? floats (empty bottles of shampoo/conditioner, soap)?

Stay Tuned!

In our next entry, we will spotlight the Water Falls exhibit in WaterWays. We will look more closely at how children use this exhibit at DCM to learn more about controlling and changing the directional flow of water. We will also discuss some additional activities related to similar learning concepts that can extend learning at home.

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