Despite an abundance of warm weather lately, we have also had quite a bit of rain. For some practitioners, rain is not weather they enjoy and there can be a reluctance to get outside with the children. Sadly, I have heard children say things such as “ is raining, i not going outside, I mustn't get wet” , or “ it's cloudy, it might rain, so I'm not going out”. I've always felt that these are phrases that children have heard from adults who don't want to be outside in the rain rather than the way most children feel. In my experience, the majority of children love playing in the rain. It's fun!
A friend of mine always says, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing! I've tried to instill this within the children and practitioners that I have worked with over the years. It helps to explain your outside ethos with parents right at the start when their child joins your setting. State that the children, within reason, will be out in all weathers and so will need appropriate clothing. Wellies and wet weather suits on and the children are ready to go!!
Nature is a wonderful place to teach children through play and rainy days are perfect for providing lots of opportunities to have fun and explore nature. There is such joy in nature. One of our goals as practitioners should be to try engender a joy of nature in children. In a world where less children are playing outside and connecting with nature as they spend more time indoors on technology, it's imperative that we are doing what we can to encourage time playing outdoors, experiencing our weather. Most children are drawn to puddles and when they are allowed to play in the rain they may form a deeper connection with nature.
This sense of connection with nature is a large part of Friedrich Froebel’s approach to learning (1782 - 1852). For some practitioners the thought of using theory to underpin their practice can be rather overwhelming. Even the word theory sounds a bit scary and can be off putting. However, it really can enhance your practice and make sense of what you are observing. Knowledge of theory can enable you to feel confident in planning in the moment for your children's next steps fully supporting their learning.
Froebel is one of my favourite Pioneers of Play - https://www.froebel.org.uk/app/download/15184829/FT+Play+Pamphlet.pdf - even though he devised his approach to children's learning over two hundred years ago, much still resonates today. He believed that in play, children construct their understanding of the world through direct experience with that world. Froebel considered the whole child, health, physical development, the environment, emotional well-being, mental ability, social relationships and spiritual aspects of development were all as important as each other. In a time when there is very real concern about children's mental health, connecting with nature as Froebel advocated, has become even more significant.
With Froebel in mind, our role with regards puddles I feel, is just to facilitate any play activities, interference in the play may not be necessary but we can observe and enhance this play as and when. On many occasions, children have turned the puddles into soup - using spoons, bowls, buckets etc to stir, measure and serve the soup - appropriate resources need to be provided to facilitate such play, however, I think it's also important that nature itself affords children opportunities for play, for example, a twig can become a spoon. Observing children imagining a world where they stir, measure, and serve soup is wonderful, but you will also be able to observe and record rich language acquisition as they focus on the imaginary action and describe processes to friends, themselves and you as a knowledgeable and interested adult. Imaginative and manipulative play is a good time for children to practice and improve their vocabulary in addition to the possibility of you being able to expand that vocabulary, if and when appropriate. In addition, these activities have a positive impact on children’s self-confidence as well as their fine motor skills due to the usage of measuring cups and other kitchen utensils.
Recently, I was outside with a group of children who as soon as they saw the puddles were asking me to get the boats out of the shed. I was asked by one boy to get the biggest boat. As I passed it to him, I explained that the boat was heavy and that he may need two hands. He adjusted his grip and carried the boat, with some difficulty, to one of the puddles. “it's a pond!” He cried. He placed the boat in the puddle but, it was too big. “hmmm, it's too big”. He found a truck and used that for his boat. This was great understanding of mathematical concepts and problem solving skills. He knew the boat was too big for the puddle but he persevered with his play, finding something else that would fit, using his imagination as the truck became a boat.
I'm sure we can all remember the sheer joy and exhilaration of jumping in puddles as children - besides the fun of it, puddle jumping is also a great teaching activity because children develop their gross motor skills by jumping and stomping and sploshing when trying not to fall into the puddle. Children can really see cause and effect in action as they see the water moving and splashing of the puddle. Jumping in puddles whilst it is raining is brilliant for seeing the movement the rainfall creates in the puddle as well as the sound the rain makes.
Puddles are a rich experimental source. Children can pick up items that they find in nature in order to explore properties of floating and sinking. Do leaves or sticks float? What about rocks or a folded origami boat? Children can experiment further by having a look at what happens when they throw rocks into the water. Why do ripples form when stones are dropped in a puddle? There are many other questions children can ask and try to seek answers for through playing in the rain. Rain has many sounds - listening to rain on the roof and rain falling into a puddle are different experiences. Soft, drizzly rain sounds completely different to a downpour, it also feels different on our skin.
I love song time with children - Froebel pioneered the thinking that through sharing songs and rhymes together, children learn about language and communication as well as literacy. He believed that finger rhymes, action songs and ring games provide crucial learning experiences for children providing all of the above. He devised a series of these which were collected into a book entitled “Mother Songs” to be shared with parents and their children. Songs can lead to imaginative role playing in the puddles. Developing a sense of rhythm and rhyme are essential phonemic awareness skills – understanding and playing with the sounds of language and patterning an early mathematical skill.
I'm sure you all have lots of ideas for suitable songs to sing whilst playing in the rain and puddles but here are a few of my favorites:
Row, row your boat
It's raining, it's pouring
I hear thunder
Here we go Looby Loo (using the puddle!)
What's the weather (sung to: oh my darling Clementine)
What's the weather? What's the weather?
What's the weather everyone?
It's it windy, is it cloudy?
It's there rain, or is there sun?
The big ship sailed on the ally ally oh
Playing in puddles is a great sensory experience for children. They can explore how it feels to be stuck in mud and soggy from for the water - this can also develop self care skills as the children learn to change out of any way clothing into dry ones. This provided a lovely learning experience for one of the children at a setting recently - Child J had got his socks wet and was getting changed. He put his shoe on but struggled to get it tight enough. “ Can you do it tighter please?” He asked me. “I put my shoe on and you do it tighter - we are doing teamwork aren't we!?”. It's a wonderful opportunity to listen to the splashing and squelching sounds of the puddles and they can see how they can be muddy and clear.
Jumping in puddles it's a fun way to develop a child's proprioception - this is the sense of knowing where our body position is in space and being aware of our separate body parts. If the puddle is deep enough, the children will no longer be able to see their feet but they will understand that their feet are still there.
Puddles gives children the opportunity to investigate concepts such as floating and sinking and measuring depth and width. The children who were playing with boats in my earlier example were floating them in the various puddles - this led to play about boats sinking “abandon ship! Abandon ship! Can somebody help us!?”. This play continued until there was some arguing - I observed the conflict, two children left that puddle and moved their boats to another leaving one child alone in the original puddle. It was tempting to interfere, but I stayed back and within a few minutes the two boys went back. “We’re sorry, can we play in your puddle?”. Play resumed, conflict resolved by the children.
In our increasingly static world, children need physical activity and jumping in puddles is a perfect workout. Jumping, stomping and stamping all help to develop gross motor skills, crucial before children can develop their fine motor skills which are essential before a child can write. It can help improve balance working the vestibular sense: this is the ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance. The vestibular system uses the semicircular canals in the inner ear to receive information about movement, change of direction, change of head position and gravitational pull. It receives information about how fast or slow we are moving, balance, movement from the neck, eyes and body, body position, and orientation in space. Navigating on slippery surfaces also build good motor skills and help develop balance. Experiencing the outdoors in the rain enables the children to test their balance on wet paths, avoid puddles that are too deep or learn what happens when they are stepped in! Being active improves cardiovascular health – promoting good sleep.
Puddles are not just fun, they are an open ended source of learning opportunities. They are so many skills and concepts that children can learn just from playing in puddles and they won't even realise it's happening. To them, it’s just about joy and isn't that what childhood is all about.