Wild Water Play

Wild water play (meaning playing in the water out in the wild) is a fantastic way to spend hot summer days with kids.

You can find all our Wildhood series posts here!

“Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”

― Erin K. Kenny, Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way
Wiid Water Play

Summer is here, and more than a few parents are wondering what they will do to maintain sanity with a house full of wild & rambunctious kids.

I like to plan our summer around my favorite quote by Erin Kenny, author of Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way….“Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”

Being outside is not only how we can survive….it is how we can THRIVE!!!!

Choose Wild Water Play

But, now what? Now we’re outside….with no walls in sight, and the kids are fighting over the soccer ball, and the two swings at the local park are always full, and the neighborhood cats have been using the sandbox as their restroom – yuck.

Pack up the kids, and head for the nearest wild water. Try a swimming beach at a lake, a meandering mountain stream, or even a tiny trickle of a creek will do the trick.

Wiid Water Play

((if you need help locating an appropriate public waterway, call your local parks and recreation office, land trust office, or the forest service office for advice))

Why Water Play is Awesome for Kids

Kids are naturally drawn to water, and most will happily play for hours, building dams and sandcastles along the shore, catching tadpoles, minnows and crayfish.

While dropping twigs and pinecones into moving water, they will inadvertently be learning about currents, eddies, and the sheer strength of flowing water. They will flip over logs and rocks to see who lives underneath (be sure they replace them so the animals survive the encounter).

Wiid Water Play

Always on the move, the little explorers will jump off boulders into the cold water, and will wade until their feet are sore and their little toes are numb. All the while engaging their senses, and strengthening their sense of wonder.

You can even do some pre or post education about rivers and natural water ways.

Time outdoors is so good for everyone. Set up some safety rules before you go so that everyone knows what to expect. slow moving, shallow water is best, but all water play should be supervised.

What to bring for wild water play

If you want to encourage investigation in addition to free play, here are some ideas for tools to bring along.

Wiid Water Play
My daughter showing me the pipettes she filled with stream water. One was collected in still water, one in a turbulent area, and the other was collected in smooth fast water. She looked at them with the hand lens to see which had the most particulate.

For imaginative wild water play, bring along:

  • wooden boats
  • anything that floats
  • string to turn sticks into fishing poles (we always use a plastic bobber as well).
Wiid Water Play
This “fishing pole” has seen more use than just about any other water play item in our collection.

Or – leave the toys at home, and rely on nature to provide!

((in the case of wild water play, less is better than more as you will have to keep track of all of your items. You don’t want anything floating away))

Wild Water Play Safety

The health of our wild water is as important as keeping our children safe when in / around water. Be sure you check for broken glass and other hazards before you set the kids free, and evaluate the current and general safety of the water before you play.

Steer clear of water that is experiencing an algae bloom, or any water with a funky odor.

Nano particles & other chemicals in sunblock and bug repellants can be bad for the environment and can harm the little critters that live in the streams, lakes & ponds. Any chemicals you introduce into the waterway can affect the health of our ecosystem. Whenever possible, use reef-safe sunblock or SPF rated clothing and consider applying bug repellant post-water play.

Extra Water Play Tips

Check with your local fish and wildlife office to be sure the water you’re heading for isn’t stressed and can handle some wildhood exploration & play! It’s always a great idea to encourage wild play in less sensitive natural areas.

Teach your kids about erosion, and show them how they can watch where they step to keep the watery habitat healthy.

Mayflies (among others) are an indicator species in most stream environments. See if you can find evidence of them where you are playing. When the mayfly populations start to decline or disappear altogether it can be a warning sign that the stream is in poor health.

If it’s too cold for splashing around, Lonecone & Oakiwear make pint sized waders to keep your kiddo dry for extended season water play!

Flexible soled water shoes can make things a little less slippery because those moss covered river rocks can be so treacherous!

So, when the kids are bouncing off the walls, and you’re looking for things to do, grab a map, a change of clothes, and go find some wild water to explore!

© 2019, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.


  • Valerie is a homeschooling mama of two dirt lovin’ kids, ages 6 & 9. She loves spending time with her family outdoors & is a self-proclaimed bibliophile. Valerie and her family can be found mountain biking, canyoneering & scooping sand in Utah; skiing and building snow forts in Colorado; hiking & hugging cactus in Arizona; and hunting for singletrack, tadpoles & breweries in Oregon.

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