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The antidote to Early Years Childcare: Sand and Water

Children enjoy using sand and water.

Everyone knows early years settings have to buy special sand which has been trained to get inside children’s clothes all by itself. It can also leap unaided into any orifice – eyes, ears, nose, mouth. Some sand is even able to move about the setting independently and it can appear – as if by magic (because of course everyone expresses absolute amazement) in the home corner, on the carpet, in the reading area, in storage boxes and trays and even in the far corners of deep, dark cupboards. And of course it particular enjoys spending time in children’s pockets.

Water also seems to have a magical quality. It is able to create damp patches and puddles throughout the setting. Staff are trained to always carefully investigate damp patches and it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what their source is – not one of the more enjoyable aspects of our work!

Water is also able to soak children from head to foot even when they claim they haven’t been near the water tray and, because of the atmosphere in a early years setting, water has an increased density of wetness so that one children merely dipping their finger in the water results in having to change 5 children’s wet clothes. Water can also leap out of the tray and splash any other activity absolutely anywhere in the setting, even moving through brick walls.

Most children prefer to play with water in the sinks by the toilets anyway. Here it can really go to town joining forces with paper towels to create blockages which in turn create wonderful floods which usually go unnoticed until they are really deep and swishy. And of course when staff finally catch on that everyone’s trampling around in 5 inches of water each and every child will claim that they have been nowhere near the toilets all morning.

Allow the sand and water to go outside and their creativity and desire to move independently will increase 10 fold. This is too painful to describe in detail but the word ‘mud’ is often very relevant here.

Enlightened settings have sand and water trays near each other so that sand and water equipment is interchangeable. Theoretically this means children are able to explore the different properties of sand and water using the same equipment. Children may discover that a sponge does not soak up sand very well or it’s easier to pour water into thin plastic tubing than to pour wet sand.

Whatever materials are provided it is quickly noticeable that the only desire for the average 3-4-5-6 year old is to combine the sand and water as quickly as possible to make a sandy-watery goo. The official educational term for this is S.L.U.D.G.E. ‘Specially Lubricated Uncontrollable Deluge of Goo for Education. Children will then cover all the equipment with sludge, and the floor around the area quickly becomes a quagmire of sludge and it is trampled throughout the setting.

Staff have to spend at least an hour every evening shovelling up sludge. And another hour washing sludge off the equipment. This tends to block the sink and drains annoying the cleaners and caretaker. (Although it is worth remembering that seriously blocked drains can be a good reason for closing the setting down for a day – as long as you don’t get caught doing it).

Ultimately the only really valid educational reason for having sand and water is that at least it keeps some children out of the creative area where they can cause even more havoc.

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