After an unprecedented four solid months of warm (sometimes hot) sunny weather, the famous Pacific Northwest rain returned this week. I don’t think we’ve ever gone this far into the school year without opening our gym during “outside time,” and I’ve been holding off as long as I could, but we broke the seal for the 3-5 class on Wednesday and the Pre-3’s on Friday.
As the kids finished up their small group activities and snacks I stood in the hallway separating the gym and our courtyard saying, “You may play inside or outside.” Each of the children, in turn would look first at this (excuse the photo quality – these are telephone snapshots):
Then at this, an option they haven’t had this year:
Novelty and dryness won out in almost every case. This is what one would expect. But I’m a hardcore believer in children playing outside. And if northwest kids don’t learn to play in the rain, they’re going to be cooped up for 9 months of every year. So, naturally, I had a plan . . .
First off I deployed my new pro-rain propaganda mantra, “Rain makes everything more fun,” which I’ve been repeating to the children since Monday, injecting it into any conversation involving weather. I started using it on Monday, especially with the Pre-K kids by way of preparing them for the fact that we were going on a neighborhood fall leaf hunt on Tuesday afternoon, rain or shine. I liked it so much I shared it with my Pre-3 friends on Tuesday morning, then just kept repeating it throughout the week.
The second piece of my plan to counteract the lure of new (to them), colorful, dry plastic things were piles of fall leaves.
The third element of my master strategy were puddles! Our uneven, cracked asphalt courtyard surface is perfect for collecting rainwater into wonderfully stomp-able pools.
I felt that this would be enough, but like any good Machiavellian, I held two things in reserve. The first was the knowledge that our rain barrel was now, finally, full again. The second was a bucket of sidewalk chalk that had been sitting out in the rain all morning.
On Wednesday, after a few minutes of indoor play, I announced to those within ear shot, “It’s time for the leaf party,” threw the bag of leaves over my shoulder and headed out into the deluge. I waited in the rain as a few kids ran to get their coats. The initial leaf party gang was 3 hearty souls – Thomas, Finn V., and Katherine. They arranged themselves in a group as I shook the leaves over their heads. By the time we were done, several other children had discovered the scene and wanted to be apart of it, so we began scooping leaves off the ground and tossing them into the air. Once they were wound up enough to make it their own activity, I rushed inside and made a show of looking out the window, “Hey, I see kids having a leaf party out there!” I was joined at the window by several children. I then announced, “I’m going to be in the leaf party too!”
Within a few minutes a handful of other kids had moved on to the outdoors, which lead to the natural discovery of the puddles. Then I heard the cry, “There’s water!” Someone had figured out that the rain barrel was re-charged and ready for action. Thomas said, “This is a perfect day for mud soup.”
By the end of our outside time there were only 2 children in the gym.
Yesterday, the Pre-3’s were confronted by an even heavier rain. As I set up, however, I realized that it was still relatively warm, so I decided to go without a coat, saying to myself, “Rain makes everything more fun.”
Just as with the older kids, most of the two-year-olds initially chose the shelter and newness of the gym, but more of them dismissed the inside right from the start. Twos are notorious for their love of puddles, so I held the leaves in reserve as Aedan, Jasper, and Ava tried out their rain boots, and Sylvia conducted the experiment of puddle jumping while wearing Crocs with socks. Before long we had a nice gang of rain-players, most of whom, like me, were enjoying the weather sans rain gear.
The first leaf party attendees were Violet, Owen, Aedan, and Jody, all of whom beamed giddily into one another’s faces as the leaves rained down upon their heads. I loved watching them connect with one another through their mutual excitement, jumping up and down, then gathering handfuls of leaves to toss into the air.
That’s all that was needed to get the Pre-3’s going. We never had as many of the kids outside at one time as the 3-5 class, but the ones who did play in the rain wound up doing the same things they would have done in the sun. They shot baskets, dug with shovels, and even got their bottoms soaking wet riding the unicycle merry-go-round and sliding down the big slide.
And I still had wet chalk in reserve. My devious plan had worked. Woo hoo! Rain makes everything more fun.