Being well hydrated is essential for health and for learning, a dehydrated child will tire quickly and lack focus. In the warmer weather it is essential that children take on enough liquid whilst at school. The worry of a few extra toilet breaks is far less of a concern than the health risks of dehydration, especially when you are supporting younger or more vulnerable children.
Children have less capacity than adults to recognise their thirst. An adult may feel a headache brewing and drink a glass of water in response, a child will not know to do this. Furthermore, differences in sensory processing abilities can affect a person’s internal registry of their own thirst.
Our eighth sensory system: our interoception, is rapidly becoming better understood. Unlike our other senses which are all about sensing the world outside of ourselves, interoception is our internal sense. Through our interoceptive abilities we discover how we are feeling, our emotions and our physical state, e.g. am I happy, am I scared, am I hungry, am I thirsty, do I need a wee? You use your interoception to answer all of these questions.
Just as with any other sensory system this system works better for some people than for others, and it can be impaired. Many people with neurodiverse conditions, such as autism (myself included) report difficulties with their interoceptive perception. I remember lying on a doctor’s couch being asked to identify where the pain was coming from and trying to explain to him that I do not always know what I feel. Not being able to sense your own thirst is not the same as not feeling thirsty. For children like me, you need to teach them how to spot what they are feeling through means of observation, e.g. notice that your lips are more wrinkled than usual, notice that your mouth feels dry – ask us to spot concrete observable things and learn what to do in response to them: “You can see you are thirsty because of X; you need to have a few sips of water.”
Your settings are full of lots of wonderful fun things to do, drinking water is boring. Why would any child break away from a wonderful playful activity to have a drink of water? We do not want to lure them with sugar, so why not lure them with fun.
Here are a few ways to make drinking water more fun:
- Present the water in interesting ways: tiny tea sets, unusual bottles, let them pour the water themselves, in hot weather it won’t matter if a bit spills it will soon dry.
- Ice cube lolly pops: (you can get all sorts of weird and wonderful shaped ice cube trays) – freeze a lolly stick into an ice cube, so that the child has a cube of ice to lick or crunch, freeze slices of fruit in to add visual interest and flavour.
- Potion pops: in the morning invite the children to make potions using water and herbs or fruit juices (they could even squeeze them themselves) and then freeze their potions into ice lollies for them to consume in the afternoon.
- Play aqua tic tac toe: use a cup cake baking tray as a board, fill each divot with water. Players each have a straw (paper or reusable of course). On their turn, they drink the water from the square of the board they intend to play in and place a token into the empty divot. Using a straw has the added benefit of strengthening the muscles around the mouth, these are used for articulating sound and swallowing saliva – all great stuff!
- Land the spaceship: this is a great one for encouraging children to drink enough water (rather than having a sip and running off). Place a plastic figurine (it could be a spaceship, I usually use playmobile characters – boiling them first to ensure they’re clean, poor little things!) into the drink and ask the child to drink until the figure is touching the floor.
- Shots: most people’s first thought when you say drinking games is shots. Invest in some brightly coloured, durable shot glasses and then lay them out in fun patterns; you could drink a rainbow, or drink the eyes in someone’s face. You can also use the shot glasses to play tic tac toe – when you’ve finished your shot you place the glass down upside down as a marker in the game.
In the hot months, water should be readily available all the time and should be tempting to drink. It is no use simply saying it is there for them to access if they wish. Many adults still fail to drink sufficiently in hot weather, why would we expect children to be able to manage this sophisticated regulation skill on their own? I’ve given you a few ideas to get you started, I bet you can think of so many more. I’d certainly love to hear about your drinking games – post them on social media to me and I will play them with my four-year-old!
About the author
Joanna Grace is an international sensory engagement and inclusion specialist, trainer, author, TEDx speaker and founder of The Sensory Projects.
Consistently rated as Outstanding by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special-school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.
Joanna has published three books: Sensory Stories for children and teens, Sensory-being for Sensory Beings and Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia. Her latest two books were launched at TES SEN in October.