It's such a simple thing and can easily be forgotten or taken for granted, so I am going to take a moment to think about some of the many fun and stimulating ways that water trays can be used to promote children's learning across the curriculum...
ContainersWe use all kinds of different containers in our water tray, from clear pop bottles to opaque yoghurt pots and a variety of shapes and sizes! Playing with these allows the children to experiment with scooping and pouring, investigating light and what they can see and it also encourages them to begin to understand about volume as they transfer water from one container to another.
Funnels and Tubes
Funnels and tubes can be used along with bottles and containers,or can be provided as a separate activity, to allow the children to problem solve and use trial and error while connecting tubes, or working out a way to allow the water the flow through them.
Sieves and colandersAnything with a few holes will do! The children at my nursery love to pretend to make it rain by holding the sieve or colander up above the tray. This encourages talk about the weather and could lead on to learning about the water cycle. Children can also be encouraged to listen to to sounds as the water falls back into the tray.
How fascinating to see how a sponge absorbs water, and how satisfying to squeeze all of the water back into the tray! This simple and fun activity promotes fine motor skills and muscle development.
Baby dollsFill the water tray with some warm, soapy water, provide some flannels and a couple of dry towels and maybe a few baby sized bottles. Then introduce some (washable - non electronic!!) baby dolls!
The girls in my nursery class adore babies and want to play Mummy and Baby games all of the time.
This encourages the children to think about how babies are cared for, and also how we care for ourselves and our own bodies.
Why not provide some small bottles of watered down food colouring and allow the children to mix and experiment with colour?
SmellsAt my nursery we are lucky enough to have our very own herb garden. We recently picked a lot of home grown fresh mint and added it to our water tray to create a wonderful smell! You could also use peppermint essence, vanilla, fruity soap... the possibilities are endless!
Melting IceThe water tray is a great area for the children to investigate temperature. They could be allowed to mix warm and cold water. You could also add ice cubes to either cold water, or warm water. This allows the children to predict what will happen, and also introduces them to the different forms that water can take.
Floating and sinkingOf course, providing a range of materials - some that will float and some that will sink, is a fantastic learning activity for children. It allows them to predict outcomes, and to test out their theories. You can also provide opportunities for children to change the items, for example "if i fill the boat with bricks, will it still float?"
MirrorsWhy not learn about reflections and light by providing some large and small mirrors in the water?
TexturesHave you ever tried adding soap flakes to water? It makes a fabulous goopy texture which your children will love to explore. You could also use this activity to promote descriptive language.
Of course, there are so many other ways that a water tray can be used! And don't forget all that wonderful 'splishy splashy' language!