Last June on my outdoor play tour of London, England, I was really pleased to meet a passionate and dedicated forest school educator who is a realist. She told me: “It’s all fine and well to say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, but that’s just not always true. When you are out in the pouring rain all day, it is really hard. It just is. And you have to accept that.”
In London, all the sites I visited were really well organized for rainy weather. Every centre had drying racks and storage for wellies (rain boots), and many programs had class sets of rain coats, pants and wellies. There were plenty of both open and covered play spaces outdoors to either embrace or take some refuge from the rain. And the true test – when the skies suddenly opened and poured down on my visit to White City Adventure Playground, no one even flinched. The kids kept playing, and frankly, seemed happier once wet.
I was struck in the early years centres by the continuum from indoor to outdoor play spaces. The approach was to leave the door open between the spaces. Educators staffed distinct play areas indoors and out while the children moved around freely, guided by their interests. In both centres I visited, the children overwhelmingly chose the outdoors even though they had ample options inside.
All the equipment and loose parts outside were left outdoors and were easily accessible to the kids, but these areas were also fenced and closed to the public. In schools, the smaller loose parts supply was housed in sheds that were opened up at lunch hour and then everything was put away again requiring some staff coordination and the cooperation of the kids.
As the April showers usher in the glorious and long awaited Canadian spring, let’s reflect a bit on how we view rain here at home. When was the last time you saw children in Canada frolicking in the rain? In Toronto where I live, we seem to overwhelmingly keep our children indoors when it rains. We spend time and money outfitting kids with rain boots and jackets, but they don’t actually seem to be getting much use out of them. Do we really want our kids to miss the joy and wonder of snails and worms, mud and puddles, and maybe even a good foot soaker?