Summer fun in the sun
With New Zealand boasting many beautiful coastal areas, rivers and lakes, it’s no wonder that a love for water is a big part of Kiwi culture. Babies and toddlers are particularly drawn to water, providing a play material of unlimited possibilities. It can be captured, coloured, frozen, melted, poured, splashed… the list goes on.
Staying Sun Smart
While water play can be enjoyed all year round, both inside and out, it is more inviting during the warm sunny weather. Prepare for a day outdoors, you can find other tips on sunsmart.org.nz or plunket.org.nz
- Plan outdoor play at either end of the day – The New Zealand sun can be harsh on toddlers’ sensitive skin, so best to head indoors or under shade when the sun is at its hottest, between 10am–4pm. This includes cloudy days too, as the sun can be just as fierce
- Wear sunscreen – Slop on plenty of sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and make sure you check the expiry date. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outdoors to any exposed areas of skin, and reapply every two hours or more often if they have been in water. Your toddler might be keen to have a go at applying it themselves first, but make sure you fill in the gaps afterwards. Ask your local pharmacy for individual advice around choosing sunscreens if there are any issues with skin sensitivity
- Choose suitable clothing – Slip on a shirt with long sleeves, choosing fabrics with a tighter weave and darker colours, which will provide more protection. If your little one is in and out of water, investing in a good rash shirt with sleeves is a great idea. Choose a sun hat with a wide brim or a cap with flaps. Sunglasses are a good addition too… if your little one allows it
- When you’re out and about – Encourage play in the shade, or make use of shade cloths, umbrellas, or shade tents
- Set a good example – Apply sunscreen together, show them your hat or sunglasses or let them try on yours. Seeing you practice sun safety will make your little one much more accepting of it
Now that your little one is sun safe and ready to go, it’s time to play. Water is a great vehicle for experimentation and can provide hours of entertainment. Try some of these activities with your little one this summer:
- Experiment with ice cubes – Freeze coloured water in ice cube trays and play with them in the bath, outdoor paddling pool or bucket. Watch them melt before your eyes and try fishing them out with your hands or a sieve. Freeze bigger portions in jelly moulds or ice cream containers, with a plastic toy in the middle, how long does it take for the toy to escape?
- Set up a water play station – The most common kitchen items make great water play tools. Have a rummage through the cupboards together to see what you can find. Funnels, plastic bowels and cups, slotted spoons, sponges, colanders and jugs are all great toys. You could even assign a few plastic containers specifically for play by poking holes in the bottom. One hole makes a long slow stream of water, what happens when you poke more holes in it? Fill up a small tub or paddling pool and away you go
- Try your hand at potion making – Colour bowls of water, or even add a mild scent. Pour different colours together, what colour does it make then? Add leaves and flowers from around the garden and stir your concoction with a big wooden spoon.
- Practice painting skills– Set up a bucket of water with a few paint brushes, or a paint roller if you have one. Help your little one paint the fence, side of the house or pavement. A spray bottle can be just as fun, and your toddler will find it hilarious if they accidently spray you instead!
- Make a water slide (for toys!) – Get a piece of guttering or spouting from your local hardware store and set up a mini water slide which runs into a bucket or paddling pool. Run water from the hose and send toy cars, dolls and balls sliding down. You could even set up two slides and have races. Which toys go the fastest?
- Create your own splash mat – Lay a tarpaulin or plastic sheet out on the grass and set the hose with a slow stream onto the mat. Make sure the mat is a little scrunched up to allow the water to pool in certain places. This makes a great area for splashing, rolling and stomping, or even relaxing
- DIY sprinkler – Sprinklers provide endless entertainment as your little one tries to jump over, through, away from and into the water. If you don’t have a sprinkler, make your own by attaching a plastic bottle with a few holes punctured in it, to your hose.
- Water balloons – fill up some balloons with water, tie them off and watch as your toddler tries to hold on to the slippery blob
While there is plenty of fun to be had in your own back yard, there are some great playgrounds around the country that have dedicated water play activities. Here are just a few, but check in with your local council to see if there is one in your area:
Water play is great fun, but it’s important little ones have constant supervision around water. Whether it is a bath tub or bucket, a toddler can drown in very little water, so vigilance is critical.
- Empty containers when your toddler is finished playing – Clean up can be part of the fun, with your toddler helping to pour the water down the drain and dry their toys
- Mop up the overflow – There is always going to be a few splashes after water fun. Make sure you clean water off slippery surfaces so nobody slips over. Your toddler might quite like tidying everything up with a towel
- If you’re in a big group of people, it can be easy to think someone else is keeping an eye on the kids. Take turns being the lead supervisor with other adults in the group, to ensure the little ones are actively supervised at all times
- Learning to swim –It’s best to get your toddler comfortable and confident with swimming early on to set them up for a life full of great water activities. Learning swimming skills can start from an early age, with water play activities like those above. Once they get a little older, formal swimming lessons can begin, where they learn specific techniques and survival skills
More information on water safety for under 5’s can be found here.