By Robin Meisner, Director of Exhibits, Providence Children’s Museum
Splashing in puddles and bathtubs, floating sticks in rivers, building fountains at the Children’s Museum, water motivates engagement and learning for children of all ages. With no one right way to interact with it, water affords a variety of options for purposeful play – play that ranges from exploratory to fantasy to social. Water invites open-ended exploration and discovery, encouraging children to pose and answer their own questions. And adding a few tools – funnels, sieves, boats and the like – only increases the opportunities for fostering creativity, resourcefulness and problem solving skills.
Mesmerizing and therapeutic, water play contributes broadly to children’s healthy development. Through such play children learn cooperation, self-reliance, negotiation, confidence and conflict resolution. They ask, “What does water do?” and “What can I do with it?” – and discover both the possibilities and limitations of themselves and the world around them. Water especially offers opportunities to mess about with science – to engage, wonder, notice and question.
As Eleanor Duckworth (1996) says, “…one can familiarize children with a few phenomena in such a way as to catch their interest, to let them raise and answer their own questions, to let them realize that their ideas are significant, so that they have the interest, the ability, and the self-confidence to go on by themselves.”
Water is one of those observable phenomena – one that is intrinsically fascinating and the ultimate “loose part.”
More than 2 million children and caregivers have built fountains and dams, floated boats, splashed and explored in the Children’s Museum’s Water Ways exhibit since it opened in 1998. After more than 16 years of enthusiastic use, the underlying concepts of the exhibit have held up soundly, but the playspace needed a major upgrade, including mechanical/technology improvements and reimagined activities, to meet the changing needs of Museum visitors.
On November 8, children and their grown-ups will discover an entirely renovated Water Ways with imaginative all-new water play. They’ll splash, explore and playfully experience water and investigate its properties in different forms – liquid, ice and mist!
Photo credit: Providence Children’s Museum
Drawing credit: Valerie Haggerty-Silva