Water Play for Your Preschooler – It’s Not Just Fun & Games! 

A preschool aged boy is standing on the steps of a pool with a yellow ring float around him and a striped beach ball next to him.
A preschool-aged boy is standing on the steps of a pool with a yellow ring float around him and a striped beach ball next to him.

Editor’s note: Swimming/ water play isn’t just a refreshing pastime for the hot summer months; it’s a great way to encourage learning and skill development that both you and your kiddo who is blind or low vision will enjoy! Amanda Bernath, Early Intervention Specialist and Orientation and Mobility Specialist, shares how to make the most of water play! 

Summer is in full swing and it’s my favorite time of the year. School demands are relaxed, our schedule has freed up, the sun is shining, and the water is calling our name! As Floridians, it’s not surprising my kids and I love a good romp in the pool. For those of us in the Southeast and Midwest especially, the sun has been, well… overachieving lately. With heat advisories almost every day and temperatures regularly hitting triple digits, the only acceptable outdoor activities for us this summer have included water and swimming.  

Playing in the water is certainly a refreshing way to enjoy special time with your “littles” on these hot summer days, but it’s not just fun and games. There are also plenty of development opportunities and learning to be had – shhh…I won’t tell if you won’t! 

Considerations before you jump in 

Before you get started, doing a little bit of homework and preparation can go a long way toward making your time together more meaningful, productive, and fun! 

  • Check with your child’s eye care specialist regarding any recommended protective gear or precautions related to your child’s specific diagnosis. 
  • Find sunglasses or a hat with a brim for the kiddos (if they will tolerate it) AND for you! Make sure that any new sunglasses purchased have a UV filter sticker on the lens. These filters protect both young and not-so-young eyes from progressive sun damage. You can learn more at The Sun, UV Light and Your Eyes
  • Sunglass goggles may be another option to consider if standard sunglasses are rejected. Goggles are helpful protective gear for all little eyes and are often preferred by children who are not too keen on getting water near their sensitive eye areas. 
  • If your little one is sensitive to sunlight, you might consider joining an indoor pool or plan your outings around a time when the sun is not high in the sky. 
  • There are many possibilities for water play environments. A bathtub, kiddie pool, traditional swimming pool, the beach, lakes, ponds, or even fresh rain puddles are all places to consider – each with their own unique opportunities for learning and concept development. Mix it up! 

Stay relaxed & keep it safe 

You don’t have to build a spreadsheet to plan out your goals for swim time – don’t stress or overthink it.  Have fun with your little one and maybe start off by teaching safety.  

  • As age-appropriate, explain the natural or planned consequences of not obeying whatever safety rules you determine are best for your child and swimming environment.  
  • You know your child and their abilities best, so make your own set of concise safety rules and repeat, repeat, repeat (it’s what we parents do best, right?). 
  • For older preschoolers, take some time to let your child orient to the swimming pool and surrounding area to identify potential hazards. Check-in with your child’s Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Specialist for helpful tips specific to your child and the location. 

Water play, swimming, and the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) 

As the parent of a preschooler, you may be at the beginning of your experiences with blindness and low vision and may not have much information on what exactly the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is and why it matters. The ECC is a curriculum designed to address the specific needs of people who are blind or have low vision. More detailed information can be found here: The Expanded Core Curriculum for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired.  

Here are some activity ideas and a list of ways you can use water play and swimming activities to support and encourage your child’s development in many of these curriculum areas – just by playing with them in the pool!  

Orientation & Mobility (O&M) 

  • You can promote mental mapping & spatial/environmental awareness by: 
  • Using a brightly colored towel or a speaker playing music to mark an important location (like the door to the inside or the chair holding your belongings). 
  • Exploring the pool area together and discovering landmarks along the way (the railing by the steps, the hum or gurgle of a filter, different textures on the patio, etc.). 
  • You can help increase your child’s body awareness, coordination, spatial awareness, and provide opportunities to improve their muscle tone through:  
  • Blowing bubbles and feeling them pop (with face, hands, or other body parts) 
  • Floating practice 
  • Encouraging your kiddo to submerge most of their body during playtime (“dive” for toys on the steps, hold them in deeper water and let them squirm around and move their limbs freely, etc.). This makes it a weightless activity; it’s usually easier to move limbs and body parts underwater, where they may not be able to practice using those same muscles groups on “land”. 
  • Twirling and flipping underwater for older preschoolers who have breath control. 

Social Interaction 

  • Encourage reciprocal play by copying your child’s movements or sounds (like happy squeals and laughs, gentle splashing back and forth, etc.). 
  • The public pool is a place to make friends! This will become more practical as your child grows a little older, but it’s never too early to take advantage of opportunities that may arise to engage a friendly child/parent duo. 

Independent Living 

  • Set a timer together to mark the beginning and ending of swim time. This can be incorporated into a routine to work on time concepts (for example: lunchtime is always right after swim time). 
  • The bathing suit is a special type of clothing meant just for outside water activities (but not usual attire for inside bath time). Have them “help you” find their suit in the dresser, put it on, and put their dirty clothes in the hamper. 
  • Practice search grid patterns on a step while looking for a slightly submerged toy. 

Recreation & Leisure 

  • Just participating in pool time accomplishes progress in this subject area! You are letting your little one explore an option for free-time use that may or may not end up being a favorite pass-time as they grow.  Either way, they will learn something about their preferences, which is a win! 

Self Determination 

  • Offer opportunities for your child to request and refuse assistance throughout the swim activity – from getting dressed, to putting on goggles, to locating their toys, towel and all the things in between. Increased independence helps promote self-assertion and the discovery of personal abilities. 
  • Allow your kiddo to work through problem-solving and decision-making opportunities as they arise through your time in the pool (such as: How do I get that dropped toy? Do I want to play on the steps or hold onto Daddy in the deep end?). 

Follow their lead 

Some children turn into little fish and will gladly let their fingers and toes morph into prunes before electing to leave their splashy fun. Others may prefer just a few minutes at a time in the water before announcing that they’re “all done”. Roll with their cues! It’s all part of their early learning, exploration, and budding self-determination.  

Pick one or two activities or skills you want to introduce or reinforce, and enjoy playing as you do it! You will likely be surprised at how many other meaningful interactions and skills naturally happen in addition to the planned ones. 

Go play! 

Whether it’s in a bathtub, pool, or out in nature, swimming and water play has tremendous advantages to offer you and your kiddo. Find some water to play in this summer. Enjoy the time with your little one and feel good about the fact that you’re supporting their development and learning in the most impactful way – through play! 

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