"I need dirty water"

Four-year-olds at work water painting the steps.
Three four-year-olds boys are outside, water painting the wood steps that lead up to the sand box slide. They had filled small cups with water from the outside faucet and then gathered paintbrushes. The boys began working their way up the steps as a team.
When 3-year-old Aaron came outside to play, he noticed the boys doing this work. He watched them and starting asking them about their brown water, wondering why they had brown water. The boys didn't answer Aaron and kept on painting in silence.

Aaron wanted to join in.
I had been standing nearby, watching and listening. Aaron quickly turned to me and stated, "I need Dirty Water."
He repeated this a few times, perhaps hoping I would deliver his Dirty Water to him. I asked Aaron what he thought we should do, where we might get Dirty Water. We looked at what the boys were using and decided to get the same things they had - one cup and a paintbrush.

Now that Aaron had the tools, he still had his problem of needing Dirty Water in order to be part of the group.
Aaron went to the outside faucet to fill his cup with water, holds onto to his paintbrush and walks over to the edge of the garden. Aaron pours his water into the dirt and watches it soak down..."Oh, that's not right," says Aaron.
He stands there for a moment then leans over to the muddy dirt with his now-empty cup and starts scraping up some of the wet dirt into his cup. He walks back to the water faucet, fills his cup again and stirs it with his brush - voila, Dirty Water!
Aaron goes to the boys to tell them,
"I have Dirty Water, I have Dirty Water...!" The boys look at him and realize what he was trying to do this whole time. "You didn't need dirty water," they tell him. 
"I have dirty water..." Aaron repeats as he walks up the wood steps, sits at the top of the landing next to a new friend and starts painting.

Aaron happily water paints with his new friend.
Aaron's process for joining the big-boy group is a beautiful example of social function at its best. Aaron had arrived in the outside play space, admired children doing something he wanted to do, and seemed to believe that his way into the activity was to have exactly the same tools that the boys were already using.

The need for Dirty Water did not give Aaron pause at all. He requested my help to figure out HOW to get dirty water, yet I only questioned him in order for him to resolve his own needs.
Once Aaron had the dirty water, he confidently knew he could join in with the boys.
Aaron never hesitated.
He never asked permission.
Sometimes, all you need is dirty water to make a new friend.

For water activity ideas: check out NurtureStore's Water Play Link Up!


  1. Isn't it fascinating to observe kids and see how much is going on while they play? Thanks for linking this up with the Carnival of Water Play - hope you enjoy some of the others ideas shared.

  2. @Cathy - thanks for your comments :) Yes, I love your link ups and am inspired by the ideas of so many bloggers!! :)


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