Opportunities for playing in rain are sorely missing in many childhoods. It often seems like decisions to stay inside at recess are randomly decided after glancing out a window to check for drops of rain in puddles. One of the few benefits of covid has been an increased awareness across most districts, and from public health authorities, that more kids need to be outside more often. The result has been an increase in schools insisting students come prepared for outdoor rainy day play, without exception.
This post on how to teach outdoors has lots of information on how we set up a lending library in our school so all kids have the rain gear they need for playing and learning outdoors, no matter what their home financial situation is. It may be helpful for you if you have a lot of students without the necessary clothing to be outside for long periods of time in the rain.
Playing in the rain with tarps
The cultural shift to expecting kids to go outdoors at break times, no matter what, is good. But we can do more! Beyond recess breaks, there are so many big ideas and curricular competencies from across the curriculum that can be playfully explored outside in the rain. Many curricular areas in our K-7 BC curriculum have a big idea that can be addressed through tarp and shelter play. If you need a really simple way to start, pick up a tarp, add some spring clamps or ropes, and set up a temporary shelter that you and your class can gather under. If you teach in an urban community, chances might be high that your students have never even been camping, let alone camping in the rain. So setting up a tarp and simply listening to the rain fall is a magical way to sit quietly and listen to the rhythms of the rain. This is also a well ventilated space to share a read aloud, and children will settle quickly into shared or independent reading under a shelter they have made. Think of tarp shelters as an extension of blanket fort play done inside, with more fresh air and less viral distribution! A pro tip: practice building these on a sunny day. You’ll have less frustration if everyone already knows how to build a decent shelter when the rain is pouring down on you!
These images (with the blue & green tarps) are examples of shelters built in our outdoor classroom. The orange tent photo is from a visit to the Ottawa Forest & Nature School.
For more ways to play with tarps in the rain, check out Juliet Robertson’s tarp play post here.
Favourite books that inspire shelter play
These books are my favourite texts for inspiring the tinkering that gots into shelter play. You may also find this post about books that support loose parts play helpful.
The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier and Sonia Sanchez
Fort Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerren
Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House by Libby Gleeson
The Better Tree Fort by Jessica Scott Kerrin and Qin Leng
Puddle play on rainy days
You’d be surprised how happily kids will play in puddles when they are properly dressed for it! Providing shovels and a few buckets means hours of exploration and productive play. Add in large traffic cones, plumbing pipes, and other loose parts to increase the complexity of play and watch what kids of all ages will create! Playing in puddles ended up being a wonderful way to extend our learning of landforms. I guarantee students will remember the names and defining characteristics of these unique landforms far more than they might have with a worksheet! And don’t forget the simple pleasures of simply mixing mud with a stick, playing in puddles is not just for little kids!
If you don’t already have a mud kitchen, you can read how we built ours here. Don’t forget you can use mud for painting as well! Simply hand out paint brushes and let the kids figure out the rest, or use sticks and other found objects as tools. You can find more muddy art ideas in this post about how to be an anywhere artist.
Weatherproof rainy day play
There are lots of ways to play outdoors in the rain. Stones are super loose parts in the rain, are easy to paint, and with a lacquer of modge podge last forever in our westcoast climate. We made a weather proof tic tac toe for rainy day play that is a popular station we can set up on wet days.
You can make story stones that are completely weather proof too! Story stones can be used to retell favourite stories, or to create new stories. Read about how we made our story stones here.
The most important thing about playing in the rain is getting out in the rain. If you need ideas for how to build up your lending library of clothing, read this post. And this post has my recommendations for what to wear teaching in the rain.
See you outside!