Cocoplum Nature School is in Delray Beach, Florida, and during this time of the year, we get a lot of rain. When it is safe, we play outside in it. We have a rain barrel for water collection and loose parts to build water parks, aqueducts, irrigation systems, car washes, or whatever the children want them to be. We also have changes of clothes for everyone and the kids have comfortable shoes to play in. I have my rain jacket and sandals. We are ready to play in the rain!
Yesterday, before closing for a couple of days because of hurricane Ian, we got to play in heavy, heavy rain. Oh, the pure joy of playing in the rain! I was so inspired by what I saw and heard, that I decided to write a blog entry about it.
"What are children learning and doing as they play freely in the rain?" This was my reflection as I stood by with my umbrella, in awe of them.
Some children run to the rain barrel by the "mud kitchen" and say:
"Look how the rain barrel is getting so, so full!" "I can fill up this umbrella" "I can fill up this bowl" "Hey! don't leave the water running! that's the whole point! to save it there!" Here are emergent concepts of precipitation estimates, volume estimates, water conservation, detailed observation, comparison and contrast, as well as negotiation and community building.
A boy stands on a tall surface, looks outside to the nearby street and asks:
"Are the streets flooded? What happens to the water?" We converse about street safety, driving in flooded streets, water flow, and city drainage. Here he is curious about public safety, percolation, city draining systems, and the water cycle.
The group makes a "water park" using spools, poles, tires, and a slide. They set the end of the slide on a big muddy puddle:
"Let's slide with these metal pans to go down the slide faster!" "If you're standing up, you have to balance like this, opening your arms!" "weeeeeee!!!" Here they are living and exploring concepts of physics such as friction, slope, velocity, and gravity, and enjoying these forces tremendously!
Other friends go jump from tires unto another big and muddy puddle:
"I make the biggest splash!" "no, I do!" "my splash was bigger!"
(the smallest girl jumps from further back)
"If I jump from back here, my splash is bigger!"
"But you are smaller and your boots are also smaller"
"I make a big splash without boots too!"
The kids were exploring concepts of physics such as mass and liquid displacement, as well as cause and effect, comparison and contrast, logic, and spatial awareness.
Play liberates their minds and inspires learning. The power of play is that children experience real life concepts and scientific content with all their senses first, to then explore what they want to know, and learn. Play actually makes them emotionally smarter and more resilient. Play researcher Jaak Panksepp documented how active play selectively stimulates nerve growth in the amygdala, where emotions are processed, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, where we process decisions (Brown, 2010). Play truly changes the brain!
Our teachers are constantly offering invitations and provocations to expand on the children's interests that emerge from play. Maybe next week they want to track the weather, or talk to a civil engineer to talk about city drainage, visit the Delray Water Treatment Plant, talk about hurricanes, or simply journal about a rainy day. Whatever it is, they own their learning and pursue it with pride, joy, and freedom. My job is, along with my amazing teachers, to document the children's questions and offer many opportunities to think, explore, connect, and do. We also think and learn with them. We ask our own questions and demonstrate our love for learning.
I stand nearby, enjoying the rain, too, observing and listening. I ask them questions without interrupting their play, to the best of my abilities. With gratitude in my heart, I join them in puddle splashing, making a big, big splash. They change into dry clothes, and I make them warm tea. We all sit in circle and talk about the day. I lead mindful drinking of the tea, talk about Thich Nhat Hanh's idea of being calm in a storm (or a war), and we sing "we are grateful for the earth..."
Fernanda Wolfson, EdD
Co-Founder & Curriculum Director