How often should you give your child a bath? When ever they are dirty is the simple answer. But beyond basic hygiene, the young child can benefit from a regular bath in many ways. First, it can have a calming effect, so it is often part of the bedtime ritual. Second, the child can learn to enjoy that “squeaky clean” feeling, of climbing into clean sheets wearing clean pajamas – and maybe that will carry over with them into puberty. Finally, water play is educational!
Water play can be grouped into the “sensory play” category. The young child explores water with his senses. He uses his sense of touch as he slaps it, splashes it, dunks his head in it, pours it from a pitcher, and fills his toys with it. He uses his sense of taste more often than you’d like, as he drinks his bath water. He uses his sense of sight, as he studies water’s natural properties – how it splashes, how it makes waves. He uses his sense of hearing as he listens to the sound of splashing. The only sense he may not use much is his sense of smell, but even that can come into play if you add scented bubble bath or bar soap.
Besides the sensory experience, water can be a pre-math activity, as the child fills gradated measuring cups and spoons. He will learn that a large cup of water will not all fit into a smaller cup. He won’t understand the complexities of fluid dynamics, but later, if he takes up that field of study in college, he will remember the properties of water from his childhood play.
You can add to the child’s experience of water play simply by changing the toys he takes into the bathtub. There are many on the market now, some provide more play value than others. You don’t have to buy expensive toys, though, as water play can be fun with nothing more than empty dish soap bottles, some wash clothes, and a funnel or two from your kitchen. If you do invest in water toys, remember that mold absolutely loves damp things in dark spaces, so make sure to let the toys drain well and put them somewhere to dry out between baths. Occasionally rinse them in a mild bleach and water solution to kill any mold spores. (I prefer a white vinegar and water solution for controlling mold, as it is more earth-friendly).
What bath toys to buy? Again, you can go back to the eight basic areas of play: Dramatic Play, Block Play, Large Muscle Play, Sensory Play, Art, Music, Books, and Table Games (or small muscle play).
Blocks: You can buy Wood Foam Blocks that somewhat stick to the tub surround. They may stick two or three tall as they float, but they will tip over before building a tall stack.
Large Muscle Play is somewhat limited by the dimensions of the tub. You don’t want your child jumping around and risk a fall-related injury! But there are baskeball tub toys. One even has a battery-operated noise of a crowd cheering every time the basketball makes it through the hoop.
Sensory play: Just being in the tub is a sensory experience. Occasionally you can alter the experience by altering the water. Add colored fizzing tablets to change the color and scent of the water. Add bubble bath. Try an oatmeal bath, especially if your child has a rash or dry, itching skin. You can purchase “Oatmeal bath” from a pharmacy, or you can finely chop a cup of raw oatmeal in your kitchen blender until it is mostly a powder. Then add it to warm bath water. You can also add bath salts, but watch your child so he doesn’t drink it.
Music: Alex Toys markets a tub symphony. This set has a xylophone, drum, mallets and flutes. I haven’t tried it yet, but it received a five-star rating from the parents who reviewed it. I plan to get this for my granddaughter, as I’m sure she will love it, too.
Books: I have seen some baby books made in durable vinyl that my granddaughter eventually took into the bath tub. This isn’t really an area where I feel it is important to have books, though. But if you have a sick or tired child, you might read them a picture book while they soak in the tub.
Small motor Play: this may overlap with the dramatic play toys, as small motor play (Table Toys) are any game with tiny pieces. You can build with legos in the tub, but they can also fit down the drain. Perhaps it would be better to build with duplos, even when the child is old enough for the smaller lego bricks. The Reeve and Jones Water Works toy is a great example of small-motor play. The child can rearrange the water pipes into unique designs, then pour tub water through the water wheel and watch it cascade down. I’d give this toy two thumbs up!
You don’t need to have an enormous toy chest. Just pick a few bath toys, and alternate them regularly. Don’t let the child have every toy every bath. He’ll never play with them all before the water cools off, and bath time will just be another battle to pick up his toys.
Remember SAFETY! A child can drown in an inch or two of water! Stay in the bathroom with him, or as he grows older, stay very near and listen diligently. You can sit on the stool and read a book, or take his bath time to spruce up the bathroom and make it nice and clean. You can get an older child or spouse to sit in the bathroom with your preschooler. An ounce of prevention will save a pounding heartache.