If you have a child, or you've been around toddlers, you'll know for many, bath time is a big treat. The opportunity to splish and splash, to kick their little legs, blow bubbles, play pretend and basically cover your bathroom, from ceiling to floor, in droplets of watery fun, is something that truly makes for some great memories.
What most of us don't realise — even those of us who design play spaces every day — is water is also a valuable sensory play opportunity for children of all abilities. Offering a new texture and introducing various temperatures, sounds, effects on vision and light, and equally as importantly, triggering imagination, water play can help children better understand their own bodies and the world around them.
One of the greatest features of water play, is it doesn't discriminate. It educates and empowers, regardless of age or ability, making it a particularly inclusive sensory play opportunity for children who need some extra help with coordination and balance, or those who need to incorporate their wheelchair into their play experience.
With Australian temperatures soaring every summer, and winters becoming more-and-more mild, we have the perfect climate for outdoor water play. And while designers seek new and innovative ways to create inclusive spaces, few are more accommodating than the open and accessible layouts of water-based playgrounds.
So, what can you bring to children, families and communities by introducing water play parks in your area?
Water play offers incredible variety
Few play aids offer as much variety and diversity in experience as water does — which is what makes it so perfect for sensory play and learning. Some of the options you will commonly find in water play parks include:
Fog or misting: Tiny particles of water that move with the breeze, fog or mist is a great opportunity for children to cool down on hot days without becoming saturated! Providing a unique sensory experience, mist alters vision, introducing blurring, magnification, softening and even rainbows (presenting a great scientific learning opportunity) and allows children to feel the unique, soft and cooling texture of water that they don't feel with waves, puddles or sprays.
Water bubbling: Incorporated into lessons in many pre-schools for a very good reason, bubbling is an explosion for the senses of young children, presenting strange sounds, and contrasting feelings of pressure and flow, without the pace or energy of jets.
Jets: We've all been there, planting our backs in front of the pressurised jets in the pool or spa bath, and enjoying the gentle massaging feeling it produces. We love it, and children do to — that's why jets of different scales are often included in water play parks. From small, sporadic spurts of water children can engage with using their hands or feet, to giant spurts that need to be weaved through and dodged, children of all abilities can have fun, while also improving coordination, agility, reaction time and mental dexterity.
Pooling: Though most parks don't include swimming pools, they often include areas where water can pool and children can enjoy splashing, wading and sliding through water, making the most of its slippery texture.
Building body awareness
One of the most challenging and ongoing lessons for children is mastering their own body — figuring out how it works, why it works differently sometimes, and how external stimuli can affect things like their coordination, balance, vision and ability to navigate.
Water play allows exploration of the senses, combined with enjoyment, in a safe and purpose-built environment.
It encourages children to explore their bodies and abilities by, for example: showing them how their skin elasticity changes after ongoing exposure to water, helping them understand how surfaces (especially slippery ones) can challenge their stability, teaching them how the force and density of a substance can impact coordination and movement.
Water is truly inclusive
In presenting children with so many opportunities to learn about themselves and others, explore their curiosities, overload their senses and squeal in excitement, water play has one other very important benefit; it takes the focus off differences — because everyone is consciously or subconsciously exploring themselves and their own sensations.
Water play allows children of all ages and abilities to play together in the same space, with much fewer distractions from support equipment and much more focus on education, inclusion and enjoyment.
Water play in action
Accessible water play parks are popping up throughout Australia, and why not — our climate is perfect for it!
While water amusement parks and water play spaces are very different, the concepts are similar, and in San Antonia in the USA, park designers have taken accessibility to a new level, introducing the first water park designed specifically for people with a wide range of disabilities.
Within the park, all attractions are fully-wheelchair accessible, and incorporate a lot of the features we see being introduced to water-based play spaces here at home, such as surfaces with water cannons, mist, rain curtains and splash pads — much more wheelchair friendly than the wave pools and slides seen in less accessible parks.
The water park is due to open in June 2017, and will welcome anyone with a disability at no cost. Designers of the park even worked with a world-renowned university to create special wheelchairs that are water proofed and powered by compressed air, so park-goers don't damage their expensive, battery-powered chairs.
The world is slowly becoming more inclusive and equally accessible, and this park is an inspiring example of how our imaginations can be used to create something everyone can enjoy!
Get water play inspiration
To find inspiration on water park design and the exciting options that are now available, visit PlayRope's extensive product range.