Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Rest Of It Was Beautiful

One of the big reasons we wanted to run an experimental indoor-outdoor summer program at Woodland Park was to figure out what we would do when it really rained and all the most fun stuff was happening outdoors. The knowledge we gain now, during the warmer months, will hopefully give us some insight into what it will mean to be playing outdoors during Seattle's long, cold 9 month rainy season.

Of course, we've always played in the rain during "outdoor time," but now it's always outdoor time and that does make a difference in terms of both curriculum and clothing.

I'd looked ahead at the weather forecast and could see that this was likely going to be the time to start testing some of our theories, so on Monday after class I ran out and purchased a portable canopy.

We already have one good sized umbrella for the construction area (which you can see in the background). I ultimately see us wanting at least one more canopy or umbrella. I like the idea of being able to move them around, depending on where we want a little dry patch, or combining them to create larger covered areas. And, of course, kids who grow up under cloud cover like they do here, tend to burn to a crisp at the slightest sun exposure, so a little extra shade for sunny days can't hurt either.

It was with these preparations in place that the first torrential rain of our summer session hit.

I've never been one to insist that kids wear coats -- I want to trust them to make their own decisions about how they feel -- but just in case, I dress myself according to the least bundled up child on the playground in order to better judge what they might be feeling. If I get cold or start to get uncomfortably wet I'll announce broadly that I'm going to put a coat on, hoping that this will be enough of a prompt anyone who is on the fence to follow suit. Sometimes they do.

Yesterday, when the rain hit, I announced that I was going to play under the new canopy. Several of the children joined me. We dragged a table, chairs, musical instruments, a few blocks, and our collection of Pretty Ponies and troll dolls into the dryer area. It quickly became a bandstand with Conner taking the lead on our marimba.

The kids who had been playing in the sand pit, however, eschewed the store-bought cover and got busy building their own shelter.

Max insisted that they were "stealing" the wood, which made the game much
more exciting.

They used most of our larger wood scraps and all of our old fence planks.

This was exciting for me. The reason I'd wanted to locate our construction area adjacent to the sand pit was in the hope that the children would engage in exactly this kind of play, but until yesterday it hadn't happened. Obviously, this will stay up until the kids take it down.

And, of course, our glue gun construction continued unabated in spite of the liquid sunshine.

The only casualty was Liam, who is probably the youngest kid in this 2-6 year old session. He was mixing it up with the big kids in the sand pit when the rain hit. After a time I noticed him standing in a sort of no-man's-land between stations, getting drenched and looking rather stunned. We tried luring him under the umbrella to work with the glue guns. He agreed that he wanted to use the glue guns, but didn't seem to be able to move himself. I wondered if he wanted to play musical instruments. Again, he said he did, but still didn't make a move. I tried taking his hand, but unless I pulled him, he was rooted.

Finally, we got him indoors and that's when he broke down. It became clear to me that he felt he couldn't walk in his wet pants, sort of rocking back and forth with stiff knees. Dennis' dad Terry managed to get him out of his wet jacket and into a dry shirt, but he rebelled loudly when the idea of changing pants was broached. We gave him some space, I read a story which helped him focus, then with the help of his big sister Elana and big friend B.J. we found a pair of pants and made the quick switch and all was right again with the world.

Children often get drenched at Woodland Park. This is nothing new. But typically, due to our former schedule, when this happened it was near the end of the day, just before heading home. The clothing changes happened off of my radar. We're definitely going to need to be prepared for more clothing changes in the future.

The rest of it was beautiful.

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Eternal Lizdom said...

Someone shared a link with me the other day about a preschool in your area that is completely outdoors. I totally thought of you when I read it.

Sherry and Donna said...

Tom I love that you allow the children to decide if they are cold or not and leave it up to them to pop a coat on if they are. We do exactly the same her but some parents often struggle with us over that one. Some will instruct their child not to go outside because it is too cold .... yeah like that's going to happen ... NOT!!!
Donna :) :)

Barbara Zaborowski said...

You would not believe how schizophrenic we are here in Phoenix about rain. If there is even a threat of rain, some kids wear raincoats and boots and bring umbrellas; others come in shorts and tee shirts. (Their parents figure they only have to dash from the car to the school. Surely we won't be going out!)Well, we do...on occasion. And next year we're going to be asking each family to provide a complete change of clothing to leave at school. (Maybe a towel, too.) Yes, we'll be going out...rain or shine.

jenny said...

Sounds like a glorious day - and how exciting that the play progressed finally into the sandpit. I love their shelter.

With the free flow indoor / outdoor we find that on rainy days we go through a lot of changes of clothes because there is no specific time for them to be outdoors - they are in and out and then in and out again.

We ask parents to bring at least 2 changes of clothes. We also have a chest of drawers out on the verandah with preschool clothes that have been donated to us - each drawer is labelled and we encourage kids to help themselves if they run out of spare clothing.

The 4 and 5 year olds are pretty independent with clothing changes - they just need a nudge to get their wet things off. The younger ones need lots of support but after a few terms they can do a fair bit of it themselves. I think that it is such a valuable opportunity for them to develop independence and self help skills, even if at the end of the day you think that if you have to change another pair of wet pants and socks you will go mad :)

Teacher Tom said...

Ugh, you're probably right Jenny. We're going to have to provide more than one change of clothing. I do not like helping kids change clothes. I don't like dressing dolls either. I don't even like shopping for clothing. I guess it's good that we're a co-op so I can give the job to someone else!

I have one little girl in this session who has discovered our spare clothing. Earlier this week I found her in the restroom, naked, digging through the clothes even though her own were perfectly clean and dry. She has no interest in the costume box when I tried to steer her there, just the spare clothes!

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

Coming from another rainy place where outdoor play and learning are being promoted at a national level, I tend to advise settings and/or parents to invest in outdoor rain gear.

When children are doing messy or water play or it's wet outside, I tend to remind them that it may be a good idea to don the gear. Many settings over here have all-in-one suits but I tend to favour trousers and dungarees.

Many centres also let children leave wellies there all year round (which can then be passed on or reused for planting bulbs and other plants). I also suggest having raingear as dressing up props and look out for more funky waterproof stuff such as glitzy wings - which are a bit like a waterproof cape. By making raingear fun to use, children are more likely to wear it.

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