Thursday, January 28, 2016

If We Don't Play In The Rain, We Don't Play Outdoors At All

Last winter was a dry one here in Seattle, mild and dry with more sunny days than we're accustomed to seeing here in the Pacific Northwest. It was pleasant, but I for one am glad that we're back to normal this year as the atmospheric rivers have returned to their proper course, alternatively dousing and dribbling on us, filling our water reservoirs to overflowing and building up snow pack in the mountains that provide us with plenty when the dryer summer months return. They say that wars of tomorrow will be fought over water: I reckon I live on a future battle field.

If you've read here for any length of time, you know that I have many bones to pick with how our public schools do business, but in all honesty, the thing that provides the sharpest burr under my saddle is how they deal with rain. I mean, more often than not, when it's rainy, and it's pretty much always been rainy for weeks now, the kids stay indoors for what's called "rainy day recess." And when they do go out in the damp, the kids are commanded to stay out of the puddles. In fact, a couple years back the mother of a former student sent me pictures of a magnificent puddle that had formed at her son's school. She said that the kids spent their recess standing outside of a line of caution tape watching the custodian try to sweep it away.

That is a special kind of crazy.

In contrast, we play with a lot of water at Woodland Park, going through a hundred gallons or so a day, most of which flows through our cast iron water pump and down through the sand of our two level sand pit, even when it's dumping from the sky. I know this sounds decadent to those of you who live in water challenged parts of the world, but, you know, I'm sure you have things aplenty that we would covet. Still, I recognize how lucky we are and have no problem living with the 9-10 months a year of cloud cover that is the price we pay for living in one of the greenest places on earth.

Children never tire of playing in and with water: experimenting with it, studying it, attempting to control it, splashing in it, feeling it soak through their pants or shoes or sweaters. Perhaps the most popular fashion accessories, after rubber boots, are what we call "Muddy Buddies," light-weight, full-body rain suits that cover the kids from head to toe. I see it as one of my special missions as a preschool teacher to spend as much time in the rain as possible. I mean, after all, we all know how important it is for all of us, and especially children, to be outdoors. If we don't play in the rain, we don't play outdoors at all.

I once met an educator from the Reggio Emilia region of Italy who was touring our area. She said to me, "All the preschools here say they are Reggio Emilia. How can they be Reggio Emilia in Seattle? Why can't you be Seattle preschools?" Well, rain and mud are Seattle, which is why they are a central element of what we learn about through our play.

Most of our rain comes in the form of misty drizzle, but last week we played in torrential rain, the kind that feels as if someone is dumping buckets of water on your head. A magnificent puddle formed  at the bottom of the sand pit. There was no caution tape or custodians and when there were breaks in the rain, the kids kept it full with the pump. 

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Anonymous said...

I work with children's programs in California and while the grass in our yards turns brown from lack of watering, we encourage programs to continue to provide water for children's activities. The children just water the gardens and plants with it when we are done. Looking at your beautiful puddles, reminds me that I have experienced several programs sweeping even the teeniest tiniest of puddles away because they are concerned that child care licensing will site them for standing water. Are you a licensed program and if so, how do you address licensing concerns regarding elements in your outdoor classroom?

Teacher Tom said...

Hey Anon ... We're not licensed, nor are any of the 40 or so cooperative schools in our system.

Annie Rose Photography said...

How do you handle clean up of the children? In my facility I would LOVE to take the children out to play in mud and muck and water but there is nothing in the design of our school building that allows for clean up! As a public school, it is very evident that messy children were NOT the plan. We play in the cold and snow, but have to avoid too much mud and mess because we only have access to one small steel sink and parts of each classroom are carpeted (yet we have no carpet cleaner!)

Stomping in the mud said...

I love this...... There is never enough water for children. Whether it is rain water or water from a hose. We have our fair share of rain here in Victoria B.C. We are an outdoor play group ( whatever the children are playing with and they add water to it, everything changes. Water, water everywhere........

Teacher Tom said...

@Stomping... First of all, we expected the kids to use our boot scrapers and door matts. Secondly, we're a cooperative and have plenty of adults around with towels in hand. And thirdly, we purchased a very high end vacuum cleaner which gets used 3-4 times a day. We clean the whole school twice a day and have professionals on the weekend. In other words, we deal with it by cleaning a lot.

Juliet Robertson said...

A wonderful blog post - thanks Tom!

I find that mud and mess is a mindset matter more than anything else. Dirt can be dealt with. I mainly work in schools which are also not designed for real children playing outside in all weathers. Here's some of the solutions that have been developed:
- We put huge entrance carpets at all the doors the children enter from outside
- Outside, hoses can be used to spray the children clean
- Children enjoy using brushes of different sorts to brush off the mud using bowls of water outside
- Temporary or fixed shelters can be erected where children can change outside before going inside.