Rain, Mud, and the North Wind: The Power of Outdoor Play

the power of outdoor play

The forecast is for more of the same wonderful weather we’ve had so far this week. Yes, it’s messy… but how many people don’t have at least one or two joyful childhood memories involving mud pies, puddle splashing, and rain-spout rivers? Underneath the excitement of natural water play, your children are having an experiential lesson in earth science. Just look around:

A river of water pouring from the gutter winds across the muddy yard through a shallow trench, carefully crafted by a few friends with shovels. At a sharp turn, the water pools and the friends trouble-shoot how to guide the river towards a stump a few feet away.

First they dig a trench leading to the stump but the river continues to create a small pool at the bend. Some friends try splashing the water down the new trench towards the stump. It runs back into the pool. A friend suggests adding more water to the pool. There is a rampant flurry of motion as every bucket of water within the vicinity is dumped into the pool. It becomes a pond. But still doesn’t flow towards the stump. Frustration ensues for a few friends and they do what any upset child might do in the rain… JUMP into the pond. A few splashes later, there is laughter, less tension, and a renewed sense of determination: How do we make the water go where we want it to!?

The rain subsides a bit so someone fetches a bucket of water that has been filling up under another spout in the yard and pours it near the top of the river. They wait and watch… someone adds some sticks stuck into the sand on the outer edge of the bend to “barricade the tidal wave!” A new game forms for a bit: trying to build an unbreakable dam to stop the tidal waves.

Someone notices a new waterway forming from the tidal waves and soon they return to the original task: creating a trench leading to the stump. There is a new plan. Working together, they avoid the pond at the sharp turn (by now, a veritable lake, complete with a couple of ducks swimming children) by creating a new trench with a softer bend, higher on the play yard. Success is met with excited, albeit muddy, faces exclaiming the accomplishment as many friends (and Miss Jessi) come to watch.

What they don’t realize is how this type of problem solving outdoor play is the foundation for critical thinking later in life. Identifying a problem, hypothesizing a solution, then testing that idea through experimentation are the essentials of the scientific method, and they are discovering it’s validity on their own. Additionally, the power of working in a group, listening to other ideas, experiencing failure and disappointment, finding ways to cope with frustration, persevering, and ultimately finding success are all skills that well-adjusted adults utilize on a daily basis, are they not?

This type of play is made possible because the children are dressed appropriately for it. Warm and dry children will play for ages joyfully in all types of weather and the rewards we get as parents are tired children who fall asleep in the middle of bed time stories children who have a strong base of real-world experiential knowledge to draw from as they go on to study abstract topics in textbooks. I promise the extra hassle of muddy wet gear and clothes at the end of each day pays off in the end.

On a last note, I thought I’d share some tips I’ve garnered over the past decade of playing in the rain with little ones:

  • Tuck everything in! This is by far the most effective tip to keep your child clean, dry, and warm. Tuck regular pants into boots and tuck rain pants over boots. Tuck mittens into (under) coat cuffs. Rain coat hoods up over hats.
  • Fireman/Firewoman method is a lifesaver, in my opinion (confused? Ask your child- they might be able to explain it). The rain pants with boot straps can even stay connected as you hang them up (so long as inside is still dry)!
  • Make sure extra-clothes bags are well-stocked. Especially warm SOCKS. This season also brings lots of wet shirt cuffs and pants cuffs, so make sure those are in the pink bag, as well. Generally, if something comes home, you need to bring a replenishment the following day or asap.
  • Rain gear does not need to be washed after each use (even if muddy). Simply hang dry (basement or garage works well), and then shake or brush mud/ dirt off when dry.
  • Some types of water-proof material can be damaged with repeated washing/ drying in the dryer.
  • Some coats with cloth lining inside are best hung inside out (same goes for fleece-lined abeko waterproof mittens) to dry.
  • When picking up your child on a rainy/muddy days, bring a plastic/waterproof bag or container for muddy gear, and extra shoes in case boots are very muddy. (An extra bag and/or towel in the trunk can be a life, and car, saver!)
  • Never underestimate the cleaning power of a child rolling through grass. It can help get the worst of the mud off and make clean-up a little bit easier.

Good luck, and thank you for all the hard and important work of parenting an active child playing outside in the weather!

Miss Jessi, Kindergarten Teacher

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