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Increase Your Child's Developmental Skills By Playing With A Boat

Updated on September 19, 2012
Teachable moments are found everywhere. It depends on your perspective.
Teachable moments are found everywhere. It depends on your perspective.

A Sink or Float Teachable Moment

Your child walks by with a basket filled with various small toys. Your child enters the bathroom and you immediately hear the faucet being turned on. Naturally, you investigate. Upon entering the bathroom you notice water rising in the sink as your curious child begins to drop each toy into the water. Do you quickly end this spontaneous water-play activity? No. Instead, turn this self-directed experiment into a teachable moment.

Ask you child, "Do you think this toy will sink or float?" By asking this question you are enabling your child to make predictions based upon the observable characteristics of each object. Your child might say, "It will sink. It's too heavy." Responses such as this express your child's ability to classify and sort objects which is a precursor for early math skills. Ask your child to sort the objects into two piles, one pile for the objects your child believes will sink, the other for the objects your child thinks will float. Write down the words SINK and FLOAT to encourage emergent reading skills and to clearly separate each pile.

At this point adults usually want to introduce words like density and buoyancy. However, young children should be encouraged to observe how objects sink or float in order to determine there is consistency in the way the objects behave. This will help children devise their own ideas about physical properties and how they can be used to describe and categorize object. Keep in mind, you can always extend the experiment in the future by focusing on physical properties such as plastic, metal, wood, rubber, etc.

Now it is time to test your child's predictions. Your child can pick up one object at a time and drop it into the water. This truly is the best part of the experiment as your child anticipates the outcome of each object. Get involved and become an active participant. Talk about what you observe and give your child the opportunity to articulate what he/she observes. Focusing on language during such a fun activity builds upon a child's ability to verbally express ideas.

Count how many objects float and sink. Young children usually count by rote memorization. This means they will likely be able to say the names of the numbers from 1 through 10 simply because they memorized the order of the words, “one, two three ... ten.” However, at this point the child does not yet understand that 5 is 2 more than 3, for example. As time goes by, and with a little practice, children will understand the concept of one-to-one correspondence which is the understanding that each object being counted represents one more. So, keep practicing with your child as you play with the sink and float objects, "how many blue bears are floating in the water?"

At this point your child's self-inspired activity created many teachable moments. Your child learned how to predict and observe and how to classify and sort objects. Emergent reading skills were introduced while nurturing language and social skills and counting skills were stretched without any resistance from your child because the process was initiated through play. However, what your child will probably remember the most, is that you were there to enjoy all the special teachable moments.

Useful tips:

To extend the activity you can explore the question, "Can we change something from a sinker to a floater?" Your child can try making boats from wood, tinfoil, or play-dough. You can encourage your child to experiment with different shapes or make sails for the boats. Perhaps reading a book such as, Who Sank The Boat by Pamela Allen, would further extend the activity into the far reaches of your child's imagination.


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