Friday, March 14, 2014


Not long ago, a parent told me about how a puddle had formed in a paved area of her child's kindergarten playground. The children were forbidden from playing there and a maintenance person was dispatched to remove the puddle employing pails and a large push broom. I suppose the blame for this kill-joy attitude can be spread out evenly between the minority of parents who would raise a stink about a messy child, a staff that doesn't want to deal with the mess, and liability concerns, but it's a sad state of affairs when schools ban puddles.

I tell the parents at Woodland Park at the beginning of the year to expect that their child will come home each day covered in water, paint, mud, snot, and even blood. They usually chuckle, but experienced parents know it's true, and know that I provide the full list because if only two or three of the conditions are met at the end of the day they can privately celebrate it as a win. Indeed, parents regularly approach me with concerns that their child isn't getting messy enough and what can they do to encourage it. The answer is usually, "Nothing," because some kids are simply mess averse and they steer clear of puddles on their own, but I love that parents ask me about it because it's evidence that in our community the state of a child's cleanliness has clearly become one of the ways we, as a community, document learning.

It's not that we go out of our way to encourage messy play, but we don't discourage it either, because the scientific pursuit of knowledge that drives a child's play often demands it. How can you study a puddle without getting down on your knees, without feeling it with your hands, without standing in it? 

"It's trying to pull my boot off."

"Hey, when you step in the water it makes it more deeper and when you take your foot out it makes it less deeper."

"You guys, I thought this was wood, but it doesn't float!"

"Let's pretend it's a lake with buried treasure in it."

I love how the kids now head straight for the boot scrapers (and most are wearing rain boots to school daily) when it's time to go inside. I love that our rug, made from heavy duty carpet tiles, has to be completely dismantled at least once a year and thoroughly beaten to remove the embedded sand despite being vacuumed at twice a day. I love that parents know to send their kids to school with a change of clothes, or better yet, permanently leave one on site. I love that in 12 years, while many parents have pulled me aside in concern when their child doesn't come home messy, none have ever complained that their child is messy.

Human's have evolved to be efficient and effective learners and play is the primary way to do that, something we share with all mammals and even some birds. And play is messy, not just physically, but also socially and emotionally as well.

A school without puddles is like a bike with only one wheel; I suppose you can eventually figure out how to use this crippled machine to get around, but only after unnecessary hardship and frustration. I'd rather just pack a change of clothes.

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1 comment:

Jessica said...

We love puddles. My preschool families catch on pretty fast to not send children in white clothes. Banning puddles?!? Sadly it doesn't surprise me.