Spring has really begun here in Michigan! With the new season comes warmer weather and yes, lots of rain. I feel that children can learn a lot from playing in rain, so I made sure to let students and their families know that unless it was dangerous outside, we would be playing in all weather. Even rain. I requested that children bring rain gear if the forecast called for rain and that they keep plenty of extra clothes at school for all of those muddy days.
The first time we played in the rain, the children were clearly not impressed. We had been playing outside in what started out as lovely, sunny weather, but the clouds rolled in, and a light rain began to fall. Everyone came running up to me, yelling excitedly:
“Yes!” I said, mirroring their excitement, “It IS raining!”
“Aren’t we going to go inside?” one child asked
“Why should we go inside?” I asked.
“Because… it’s raining?”
“What will happen to us if we stay outside?” I asked, looking around our play yard nonchalantly.
“We will get wet!” one child piped up.
“You will get wet!” I repeated. Still, they stared at me, not sure what to say. Did I not understand the gravity of the situation? They were going to get WET! I looked down at all of them and said, “What will happen if you get wet?” This time lots of children had answers.
“We will be wet!”
“We will need new clothes!”
“We might get cold!”
“Ahhh,” I said “You might be cold! Or you might need new clothes! I know that I asked your families to send extra clothes, so it’s ok if you have to change them. BUT I certainly don’t want you to be too cold! How can we keep you warm and protect your clothes?”
It was as if a light bulb had turned on over all of their heads.
“We need jackets! And boots!”
So off we went, in search of raincoats, boots, and rain pants. Only a few children actually had the appropriate gear, which meant that many kids spent the outside time huddled under trees or the awning of the school, trying to stay dry. Even the people who had rain gear just walked around aimlessly, not sure what to do with themselves. Everyone got wet and cold pretty quickly, so we ended up having to cut this outside a little short. Almost every child had to change their clothes because only two of them actually had all of the rain gear needed to keep them dry.
On the next rainy day, everyone brought gear! Children told me as they walked in “We checked the weather today! It’s going to be rainy, so I brought my gear!”
We had the benefit of being inside already when the rain started, so we were able to get everyone suited up in their rain gear and out to splash in the puddles. This time, nobody was timid about being out in the rain. It seemed to me that they were really excited to be out in the rain. It was almost as if it were a really special treat for them to get to splash in puddles. Which, really, it probably is! How often I hear parents say “Stay out of the puddles!” as if wet is a really terrible thing to be.
Now that they felt ok with getting wet, the children found so many fun things to do. It was truly amazing to watch all of the exploration that was happening! One child stood at the edge of the awning, noticing how the water dripped down onto her head, streamed down her long hair, and landed in her raincoat pocket! She stood and watched as her whole pocket filled with water. Another child was testing leaves out in a puddle to see which ones floated best. Still another child was dipping sticks and leaves in water and noticing how they change when they are wet. Many more children were splashing in puddles. Some were jumping very quickly, while others like the feeling of walking through each puddle ever so slowly. One group noticed a “river” forming from one of the downspouts. They sailed leaves and woodchips down it. Each child was engaging in the environment in a way that was meaningful for them, and they were all learning a million different things in a million different ways.
As preschool teachers, we often try to create these kinds of learning opportunities inside our classrooms with our sensory tables. We put water wheels and boats and funnels and anything else we can think of in there. We show children how to pour water through a funnel. We demonstrate how sponges and boats float and how rocks don’t. This kind of teaching is valuable and important. But, when I am outside in the natural world with children, I am made aware of how synthetic this kind of teaching really is. Our sensory tables are just placeholders for ways of learning about water in the world. They are a poor substitute for splashing in puddles and catching water in the pockets of your raincoat.