The importance of water play for and with children has long been established. Theorists, including Frobel, Dewey and others identified that water play contributes to laying the foundation for logical mathematical thinking, science reasoning, and cognitive problem solving (Dietze & Kashin, 2018; Charlesworth, 2015). Water play provokes children’s sense of curiosity and wonderment when they splash, pour, measure, make streams, and observe how water moves differently when hand and foot movements are made within it. Water play has also been associated with being therapeutic and a soothing experience for children, thus reducing their stress levels. Think about how the water experiences pictured below offer children opportunities to extend their knowledge about math and science principles, and the new vocabulary that may be developed, through their play, explorations and interactions with their peers and water. Now examine their body movements and think about, how having access to water may also influence children’s’ health and wellness, both physically and emotionally.
The connection between Blue Space, Water play and Children’s Wellness
Physical environments and the attributes of the space influence how children and adults connect with and engage within that space. Ideally, outdoor environments offer children opportunities to tinker, play, experiment, revise, wonder, reflect, discover, question, innovate, question, invent and incorporate their new discoveries in their current and future experiments (Dietze & Kashin, 2018; Dietze & Kim, 2014). When spaces ‘speak to children’ they positively influence their psychological health, physiological functioning and restoration skills (Berto, 2014; Mishra, Bell, Vassiljev, Kuhlmann, Niin & Grellier, 2020).
It is well documented in the literature that outdoor environments – especially those classified as green spaces – have many health benefits for children, including contributing to their brain development, mental health dispositions and in using their physical body in a variety of ways. As well, researchers connect green space to children’s increased attention and concentration capacity and lowering of their stress levels (Browning & Rigolon, 2019) in both early learning and academic settings.
Now, similar to the research that aligns green space with children’s health and development, there is a growing focus on how blue space contributes to children’s health and wellness (Mishra, Bell, Vassijev, Kuhlmann, Ninn & Grellier, 2020), including as an intervention to address the rise in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and anxiety disorders. In essence, children require access to blue space as it contributes to increasing their physical activities, psychological restoration (Gascon et al., 2017) and in establishing or strengthening social norms and cohesion with peers. These are important factors in setting the blue print for children’s determinants of health. For example, Depledge, Lovell, Wheeler, Morrissey, White, & Fleming (2017), identified that having interactions with water in various ways, reduces the stress hormones, which strengthens mental health, including the development of strong self-regulation skills.
From a child development perspective, the values of blue space must be considered in all types of environments for and with children; from early learning and child care programs, to community outdoor places such as nature parks, to family environments. Blue space must now be viewed as a major contributor to children’s development including their self-esteem, risk taking, confidence and in forming skills for later academic learning.
Figure 1. Children's Experiences and Learning in Blue Spaces
When children have exposure to water experiences, especially in an outdoor environment, the combination of space, the natural light, the sense of freedom and the open-ended options for exploration, lead to triggering new innovative and investigative options. It may look like purely children’s play, but to children, the benefits are life long.
Figure 1 Children’s experiences and learning in blue space
Drawing upon the work of Mishra, et al., (2020), I illustrate in Figure 2, how blue space contributes to children’s health and in making connections to their environment. I further illustrate that children’s experiences in blue space contribute to setting the foundation for their later academic performance.
Figure 2. Blue Space Attributes and Its Contributions to Children's Health and Academic Foundations
Figure 2 Blue space attributes and its contributions to children’s health and academic foundations *Attributes of space and health determinants have been adapted from the work of Mishra, (2020).
Water play and experiences offer children immense opportunities to make connections with their sense of place and space. The ecological, scientific, social value, cultural, creativity, language, and related values that children learn and gain from water play must not be underestimated. Research findings clearly indicate that water play contributes to children’s later academic success. Therefore, it would seem prudent for policy makers, educators, landscape architects, play space designers and others, to ensure that children are given the opportunity to interact with water. Blue space, because of its many positive attributes, must now be made high priority when creating environments for children, families, and communities. An investment in blue space will contribute to building healthy, thriving communities.
- Berto, R. (2014). The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: a literature review on restorativeness. Behavioral sciences, 4(4), 394-409.
- Browning, M. H., & Rigolon, A. (2019). School green space and its impact on academic performance: A systematic literature review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(3), 429.
- Charlesworth, R. (2015). Math and science for young children. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
- Depledge, M. H., Lovell, R., Wheeler, B. W., Morrissey, K. M., White, M., & Fleming, L. E. (2017). Future of the Sea: Health and Wellbeing of Coastal Communities.
- Depledge, M. H., Harvey, A. J., Brownlee, C., Frost, M., Moore, M. N., & Fleming, L. E. (2013). Changing views of the interconnections between the Oceans and Human Health in Europe. Microbial ecology, 65(4), 852-859.
- Dietze, B., & Kashin, D. (2018). Playing and learning in early childhood education. Toronto, ON: Pearson Education Canada.
- Dietze, B., & Kim, B. (2014). An assessment tool in support of creating children’s outdoor play environments with a sense of wonder. Province of Nova Scotia; Department of Health and Wellness.
- Mishra, H., Bell, S., Vassiljev, P., Kuhlann, F., Niin, G., & Grellier, J. (2020). The development of a tool for assessing the environmental qualities of urban blue spaces. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 49 (2020).