Summer has always been my favorite time of year, with its longer days, higher temperatures, and lots of outdoor fun in the sun. One of the easiest ways to keep the kiddos cool when enjoying some hot summer fun is to incorporate water play into your outdoor time. Whether splashing in a water table, exploring a nearby creek, or relaxing by the pool, water play has numerous benefits for our growing kiddos. Read on to discover these benefits along with ways you can incorporate water play into your summer fun and tips for doing so safely.

**Please note: With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions are still in place for many parts of the country. Please take note of your local regulations before traveling, and practice safe distancing whenever recreating near others outside your family.

Photo: Jessica Human

5 Sneaky Benefits of Water Play for Child Development

Gross and Fine Motor Development

Lifting buckets, swimming in a pool, jumping in puddles, and running through sprinklers are wonderful activities for gross motor development as children work on strengthening their large muscle groups. Pouring, squirting, and stirring water are all examples of fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills that water play provides.

Cognitive Development

Looking to include some stealthy learning experiences this summer? Water play provides numerous opportunities for children to problem solve and learn math and science concepts simply by playing. Children can learn what materials sink or float, how many small cups of water will fill a bucket, or how different types of rocks splash in different ways in a lake.

Creativity and Imagination

Add water to various containers and you get potions, a witch’s cauldron, or flower petal soup. Add a dose of imagination and a shallow creek becomes lava they must avoid by jumping on rocks, or their water table becomes a car wash for all their toy cars. There is truly no limit to the creativity that can be sparked by adding a little water!

Language Skills

While their imagination is at work, talk to your kiddos about what they are creating or what they see in the water. They’ll build their vocabulary, communication, and collaboration skills by working with you and other children to create stories and pretend play with water.

Energy Release

Encouraging kids to swim around in a pool, run around in the sprinklers, or climb and explore near a creek are fantastic, fun ways to release some of their boundless energy. Water can also help children calm themselves down through the repetitive motions of scooping, pouring, or running their hands or feet through the water. These therapeutic effects can lead to improved mood and better sleep for kids and adults alike.

Photo: Jessica Human

5 Easy Ways to Include Water Play in your Summer Fun

Water Table (or large bucket)

All you need is a water table (or a plastic bin or bucket will do) and some plastic containers from your recycle bin, and you have hours of fun right in your backyard or balcony!  Add measuring tools, water beads, bath toys, kitchen utensils, etc. for extra creativity.

Sprinklers and Water Toys

Some of the best childhood memories involve running around the yard, jumping through sprinklers, sliding on the slip and slide, and avoiding water squirters and water balloons. Did you know there are now blow-up splash pads you can set up in your yard?!

Pool Time

Whether it be a community pool, a backyard pool, or even a small baby pool, swimming and splashing are a wonderful way to cool down and have fun.

Creek and River Play

Summertime adventures that lead to a creek or river for the kiddos to splash in are a favorite among our Hike it Baby community! Whether you look for water critters, investigate the sound a rock makes when dropped in the water, or simply wade in to cool off, a creek/river is a great option on a hot summer day.

Head to the Beach

Enjoy a family outing complete with sandcastles, tide pool exploration, and splashing in waves. Don’t live near the coast? No problem! Lake and river beaches can provide a fun adventure without the drastic changes in tide.

Photo: Monique Vargas

5 Tips for Safe and Comfortable Water Play

Discuss water safety with your kiddos

This is especially important around pools (no matter how small) and bodies of water (rivers, lakes, and the ocean). The Red Cross has put together various short videos that cover water safety topics for kids.  For younger kiddos, check out these engaging water safety picture books to help teach the importance of water safety.

Keep an Eye on the UV Index

Ever wonder what the UV index reading on your weather app means? The UV (ultraviolet) index was created as a way to inform people of the risk of ultraviolet radiation exposure when planning outdoor activities The levels are generally strongest during midday (between 11 a.m.-4 p.m.). At these times, especially in late spring and summer, the damaging effects of the sun are strongest and hardest to avoid. Wearing extra sun protection at these times or planning outings during non-peak UV levels is safest (especially for little ones!).  Check out this article for more information.

Apply (and Reapply) Sunscreen

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for a sunscreen that has three main components: Broad-Spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays), water-resistance, and an SPF rating of 30 or higher. For infants and children, mineral-based sunscreens (containing titanium oxide or zinc dioxide) are generally more appropriate since they are less likely to irritate the skin. Just remember to reapply every two hours or right after swimming or excessive sweating!

Wear Sun Protective Clothing

Is sunscreen not really your thing? Or maybe your kiddos are like mine: whirlwinds of activity and nearly impossible to wrangle when they’re having fun in the sun. You can purchase breathable clothing that completely covers the body and utilizes fabrics that block the majority of the sun’s radiation (usually with a rating of around UPF 50). Top it off with a UPF Sunhat and you’re all set! Just remember that you still need to apply sunscreen on any exposed skin.

Bring a Spare Set of Clothes

Or maybe two! Small children cool down far faster than adults, especially when wet. Having dry clothes available when finished with water play can keep everyone comfortable and happy, especially when away from home.

For more information on sun safety, check out this article on sun protection. We hope you find ways to incorporate water play into your family summer fun. Be sure to share your experience and tag @hikeitbaby on your favorite social media platform.


Hike it Baby is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to getting families outdoors and on trails across the U.S. and internationally, supporting, educating and inspiring families through their more than 300 communities across North America. Since its grassroots inception in 2013 in Portland, Oregon, Hike it Baby is now a growing community of 270,000 families and 500 volunteer branch ambassadors hosting more than 1,600 hikes per month. More information, as well as daily hike schedules, can be found at, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.


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