Why Children Need Access to Blue Space

The Relationship to Health, Wellness and Academic Success

The Importance of Water Play

The importance of water play for and with children has long been established. Theorists, including Frobel, Dewey and others identified that water play contributes to laying the foundation for logical mathematical thinking, science reasoning, and cognitive problem solving.[1] Water play provokes children’s sense of curiosity and wonderment when they splash, pour, measure, make streams, and observe how water moves differently when hand and foot movements are made within it. Water play has also been associated with being therapeutic and a soothing experience for children, thus reducing their stress levels.

Water Play Extends Knowledge into Math & Science

Think about how the Water Weavers pictured below offer children opportunities to extend their knowledge about math and science principles, and how new language skills would be developed, through their play and explorations with the various ways they can interact with the water. Now examine their body movements and think about, how having access to water may also influence children’s’ health and wellness, both physically and emotionally.

Waterplay Water Weavers

Waterplay Water Weavers

The connection between Blue Space, Water Play and Children’s Wellness

Physical environments and the attributes of the space influence how children and adults connect with and engage within that space. Ideally, children’s play environments offer them opportunities to tinker, play, experiment, revise, wonder, reflect, discover, question, innovate, question, invent and incorporate their new discoveries in their current and future experiments.[2]

When spaces ‘speak to children’ they positively influence their psychological health, physiological functioning and restoration skills.[3] 

It is well documented in the literature that outdoor environments – especially those classified as green spaces – have many health benefits for children, including:

  • contributing to their brain development,
  • their mental health dispositions and in,
  • gaining skills in using their physical body in a variety of ways.

As well, researchers are now connecting green space to children’s increased attention and concentration capacity and lowering of their stress levels[4], in early learning and academic settings.

Blue Space from a Child’s Perspective

From a child development perspective, the values of blue space must be considered for all types of environments for and with children; from early learning and childcare programs, to community indoor and outdoor places such as:

  • water parks,
  • aquatic centres 
  • nature parks, to family environments.

I suggest that blue space be viewed as a major contributor to children connecting to their environments and in forming academic skills. These, in turn, influence their self-esteem, risk taking and confidence.

Examine children using the Waterways apparatus below.

Waterplay Apparatus

When children have exposure to this type of water play, especially in an outdoor environment, the combination of the space, the natural light, the sense of freedom and the open-ended options for exploration, lead to triggering new innovative and investigative options. It may look like play for a period of time, but to children, the benefits are lifelong.

Access to Blue Space as a child translated into later academic performance

When children have access to blue space for experiences and play, the space will contribute to their health and in making connections to their environment. I further illustrate that children’s experiences in blue space contribute to setting the foundation for their later academic performance. [5]

Benefits of Blue Space by Waterplay

Blue Space is More Important Now than Ever

Water play offers children immense opportunities to make connections with their sense of place and space.  The ecological, scientific, social value, cultural, creativity, language, and related values that children learn and gain from water play must not be underestimated.  Research findings clearly indicate that water play contributes to children’s later academic success. Therefore, it would seem prudent for policy makers, educators, landscape architects, play space designers and others, to ensure that children are given the opportunity to interact with water.

Blue space, because of its many positive attributes, must now be made high priority when creating environments for children, families, and communities.  An investment in blue space will contribute to building, healthy, thriving communities.   

About the Author

Dr. Beverlie Dietze

Dr. Beverlie Dietze, is the Director of Learning and Applied Research at Okanagan College, Kelowna, British Columbia. She is involved in research with non-profit organizations and industry, including Waterplay, related to children’s play, child development, and learning.

In addition to her position at Okanagan College, Beverlie is an internationally-known expert and has written and co-authored seven books on early childhood education and outdoor play. She is also, the lead researcher for a national and local research project that is examining strategies to advance children’s outdoor play through training and space design.

[1] (Dietze & Kashin, 2018; Charlesworth, 2015).

  • Blue space (also referred to as blue infrastructure) in urban planning and design comprises all the areas dominated by surface waterbodies or watercourses.

[2] (Dietze & Kashin, 2018; Dietze & Kim, 2014

[3] (Berto, 2014; Mishra, Bell, Vassiljev, Kuhlmann, Niin & Grellier, 2020).

[4] (Browning & Rigolon, 2019)

[5] Mishra, et al., (2020),

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