Water is all around us. Water is a transparent and nearly colorless substance that is the main liquid in Earth’s streams, lakes, and oceans, and pools. Water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and composes roughly 70% of the human body. It is very clear that water is an important and crucial part of our daily lives.
Let’s take some time to reflect on the often, underrated power of water. Throughout the lifespan, water plays a crucial role on the development of our sensory systems. In the womb, about 98% of the amniotic fluid is composed of water. This water-laden substance protects and helps the baby develop bone structure and musculature.
After a child is born and as a child develops, water is often used for drinking, cooking, to promote hygiene, and as a vehicle for play. Exposure to water provides the human body with the ultimate multi-sensory experience. If it’s the ocean, a pond, the backyard pool, the beach or a bathtub, playing in the water can promote development and facilitate learning in so many ways.
Balance and Coordination
During swimming tasks, the brain and muscles learn to coordinate breathing and other body movements. Both arms and legs are challenged to work together or independently of each other. Additionally, experiences in water allow children to better develop their psychomotor skills. Water play allows a child to move more freely, fluently, and begin to understand concepts of distance and movement.
When moving limbs underwater, the muscles are constantly working against resistance (natural heavy work). Buoyancy allows for low impact movements that are known to be easy on joint structure. Children who swim are at a physical advantage to those who do not swim, with increased joint mobility, stamina and strength.
Learning a new skill in different environments can help promote healthy brain function. Children learn best when they are exposed to a variety of ideas, experiences, skills and materials. Learning something completely new helps children develop critical thinking skills that will help them adapt to a variety of situations.
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, drowning is the second greatest cause of accidental death in industrialized countries. More than 50% of cases occur close to the water’s edge. No method of swimming can guarantee to safeguard against drowning, but your child will have an improved sense of safety when exposed to water in a structured manner. While swimming and watching others in the same environment, children learn more than how to stay afloat; they learn to have a healthy respect for water and to follow rules that save lives and prevent tragedies.
When unsupported during swimming activities, if the body is not moving constantly, it is likely to sink. Jumping in, use of floatation devices, and racing down a waterslide are all direct forms of movement input. Swimming is an excellent form of low-impact cardiovascular exercise for the whole body. Children’s bodies are constantly changing as they develop and grow and it is important they gain enough exercise to burn off both excess energy and promote sleep.
The body learns how to use oxygen more efficiently while swimming and diving underwater-take a deep breath! Being submerged in the water provides our bodies with deep pressure, and it often dampers the sensory input that is constantly being registered by the body. Naturally, water provides a consistent level of deep pressure that provides the body and mind with a sense of security under the water. The physical properties of water have the potential calm and quiet our sensory systems (think warm water, floating, spa-like Zen). On the other hand, water can be modified in several ways in order to alert our bodies (think cold water, ice, sprinklers or water jets).
There is no better time than to get creative or engage in imaginative play than in a water-based environment. How exciting? Float a boat, dive for treasure, go on an adventure! Decreased mental and physical demands in water environments can open the door for increased social interactions with peers, siblings, and family members.
Go swim. Make memories. Be happy.
Written By: Katie Betry, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist