Rain, pouring rain, cold, more rain. Today was the type of day that jumps into almost every adult’s mind when questioning the outdoor emphasis of Forest Kindergartens and Nature-Based Preschools. And for good reason. There has been enough messaging in our society romanticizing nature and the outdoors that it is hard to think that a cold, rainy day could possibly hold any enjoyment! Perfect sunny days, with butterflies and bright flowers, and no sounds of airplanes or cars or leaf blowers are wonderful to experience. However, so are rainy cold days that make our bodies feel less than comfortable. As many seasoned Forest Kindergarten educators will express, being uncomfortable and even allowing ourselves and the children to feel miserable for some time is how we grow our connection to nature and our understanding of what our bodies and minds are capable of.
But, there is no getting around that there were miserable moments today during Forest Kindergarten. The combination of rain and cold first challenged the teachers. How could we prepare for a day that produced so many obstacles to our regular schedule and routine? Would children’s rain gear hold up to the conditions? What if the children themselves were overwhelmed by the conditions? It was important for us to remember one of the important values of the Reggio Emilia schools, the image of the child as an active citizen within the community with all the interests, preparedness, curiosity and desire to construct their own learning that we all have. When we remember this, we can accept that the children would arrive ready to negotiate and experience the different environmental experience alongside the teachers and that what we needed to do was create a space that would continue to allow us to learn alongside each other.
So, we set up tarps for taking a respite from the rain and we made hot tea and soup to warm our bodies. Then we immersed ourselves in the day and observed the children to learn how they would navigate the new conditions. And they did swimmingly- although, we did stop short of swimming in all the rain! Children discovered the puddles and puddle-stomping and splashing ensued. Isla stomped in almost every single puddle we encountered and came back to Ayeli with the cleanest rain boots because of it! While puddle-stomping, the children wondered why puddles were in some places on the trail but not others. We tested what made the puddle areas different by jumping back in the puddles, and recognized that the puddles existed where there were holes on the path. We wondered if we could make our own puddles, and Mabry helped Amy dig a new hole with a stick. We were amazed at how quickly the hole filled with water, and made a swimming pool for frogs according to Mabry!
At Root World, children discovered that being underneath the tarp was not the only place to find shelter from the rain. Root World itself acted as an umbrella, and Sammy, Wendell, Felix, and sometimes Maddux, set up shop under the overhang of Root World and made “mud-splats”. These new creations were made by using the fantastic red-clay mud and wrapping it around small rocks they found at Root World. The splats could then be thrown at a tree, and make a delightful sound and sometimes stick to the tree, much to the children’s satisfaction. In the shelter of Root World, this incredibly sensory activity which coated the group from head to toe in mud, engaged children’s imaginations and attention for nearly 45 minutes. They endured the cold, rainy weather and discovered a new way to interact with the world around them.
Under our tarps, children also discovered that there can be great satisfaction and comfort in taking a break from a rainy day. Gathering close together under our tarp lean-to, and enjoying bowls of warm tea or soup was a comforting and connecting experience that we could not have shared together in the same way on an “ideal” sunny day. The smile on Luke’s face as he enjoyed his hot bowl of tea confirmed just how much facing adverse conditions can help us enjoy basic comforts even more!
We did not spend our entire morning outside today. While we wanted to learn what our bodies could handle, it was just as important for the teachers to recognize when our preparations for the elements and the children’s ability to negotiate the environment had reached an ending point. Our first truly rainy day came with cold temperatures, and our tarp preparations and clothing preparations were not yet up to spending the entire day outdoors. The teachers will work on creating more effective tarp shelters, and providing all our families with more information on how to dress for rainy and cold weather. This will help us enjoy and endure the cold weather to come! As it was, the second half of our morning was spent at Ayeli reading books, singing songs, playing games, and drawing pictures. Some children even made their own animal costumes, Sammy created the wings for a dragon from construction paper and twine! The drawing choice seemed to be the most attractive indoor option for many of the children, and we may try to find ways to weave this interest into our outdoor explorations!
In parting, Amy and Sarah just want to say thank you so much to all our Forest Kindergarten parents for enduring the cold and rain, too! You may not have been outside with us, but you got your child ready for the day and your relationship with your child helped them be ready to navigate the day with us! You are our partners in this endeavor, and we appreciate the active role you play in your child’s learning experience!