The pool of water left after rain
"'I’m always curious about the clean child on a rainy day inside an early years setting. Are they the children who hear "No! No jumping in puddles!”, “You must keep clean today!"? And the thought in my head is always the same.'"Rachel Summerscales, Early Years Professional Development, Training and Consultancy
“Can I…?”, said the look in my son’s eyes as he caught my gaze. Noticing the tiny muscles in the corner of my eyes tighten as I smiled, off he launched into these gifts from the heavens, exploding with joy as the ripples rolled.
Puddle jumping is a staple part of childhood. From the fond memories of the freedom to wallow with our own reflections to the whispering temptation and the impulsive drive to stomp. Puddles are equally as fascinating to me as they for my four year old son – some may say this is my inner child creeping through, and they’re right. I’m transported back to times of glee and playfulness, an obstacle certainly not to be avoided, which catapults forward as creativity and ingenuity in my adult life.
For many children their first experiences with puddles are with their caregivers, and in the Siren Films clip ‘playing in mud’, you see Tristan touch the water with bare hands, wade into the shallow middle, and examines the effects of prodding and poking his finger into the sloppy mud all whilst taking a stroll through the woods with his mum. The accepting words from mum ignite his wandering curiosity to repeat his actions of slowly testing and noticing the difference between wet and dry mud, the marks it makes as he sweeps his finger left to right, and all because his mum said ‘yes’ and patiently waited.
“With a climate that so often results in rain, we need to have a very positive attitude towards it! Rain is water in its natural habitat, doing what it naturally does. Given just how important water is to every aspect of life on our planet, as well as the critical role it plays in so many fundamental processes on earth, it is perhaps not surprising that children are so strongly drawn to rain and that rainwater makes such a compelling play material.”
Jan White (2019)
Puddles and the brain
One of the brain’s most important functions is to collect, process and interpret information from the environment so that we can learn how to survive. A child’s neurological system is wired for sensory input with movement being the driving stimulus to organising the information in the brain and therefore developing capable children with cognitive skill. Three of our eight senses are dominant when children explore the natural world through movement. Proprioception helps us know where our limbs and body parts are without looking at them, interoception is the sense we have that tells us what is going on inside of our bodies, and the vestibular sense, or balance sense, helps us know where our bodies are in space.
Whether children are exploring through small intricate movements like Tristan or jumping so hard into puddles like my son that he sees froth, the moving and still elements of how the water responds is a simple scientific experiment. The physiological mechanics of children’s sensory-connected movements are triggered and allow them to come to know the weather differently (Neimanis 2015) through the ways they respond, feel and engage with the weather world:
- What happens if I move faster, stomp harder, swoop slowly through?
- How do I need to position my body so that the puddle makes marks on dry ground or splashes my face?
- Where do I feel the sensation in my body when I push my finger into sloppy mud?
- Why does the puddle stop moving if I don’t go near it, and how much force is needed to make it respond again?
I’m always curious about the clean child on a rainy day inside an early years setting. Are they the children who hear “No! No jumping in puddles!”, “You must keep clean today!”? And the thought in my head is always the same. When the brain is deprived of sensory input, it can cause poor stimulation of physiological mechanisms that slowly lose their abilities such as the complex types of movement like running and jumping and fixation of the object in motion. In other words, inactivity does not develop neural connections in the brain despite it being wired to do so. It’s therefore crucial for children to learn through doing in natural environments in order to stimulate the growth of the cerebral cortex, responsible for executive function, problem solving and learning, so the brain and body can work together to make sense of what children experience. And puddles are the perfect gift from nature to do exactly that.
Seeing it in action – ‘The Rescue’
In the clip ‘the rescue’, you can see how the pool of water left by the rain can be used as a natural stimulus for games. As the children use the planks to position themselves steadily in the puddle, they are stimulating their vestibular sense and learning that ‘when I shuffle or place one foot in front of the other, I can stay upright and, on the plank,’. Their bodies are sending this sensory information to their brains to enable them to make the connection that I need to move slowly and controlled to stay balanced on narrow objects, and if I wobble, I get a tightening feeling in my tummy as my muscles tense; interoception. Later in the clip, you see the practitioner carefully model how heavy work of pulling another using the flexi tube requires greater skill of hand-eye coordination, balance and strength. This is an example of proprioception – I don’t need to look at my feet to stay balanced as I reach out and try to grab the flexi tube.
Teaching meteorology in early years
Children often experiment with their own part in the weather world like playing in and with muddy puddles. Your role as early years practitioners is to help children make sense of what they experience, and one less exploited scientific concept in my view is introducing basic meteorology and human relationship with the weather.
Learning about the weather occurs in many ways in early childhood education settings. It offers a great opportunity to make weather connections and awaken scientific curiosity. However, most young children believe that rain is water and comes from the sky than clouds. Your opportunity is to help children make the accurate association to clouds by sharing knowledge when observing weather changes, reaching basic conclusions and predicting based on these observations – from outdoors, not through a window or a weather app. Seeing vividly the depth and colour tone changes, commenting on the expanding cloud shapes over time and the sensations of the breeze and sudden whirring and scuttling noises amongst the leaves and branches.
You can move beyond thinking about the weather as context to a particular experience such as ‘it’s raining today’. An alternative as Rooney (2016) states is to consider the ways the weather moves in, with or through us and where we move in, with or through a flux of elemental forces.
You can teach into the weather, levelling up your language to deeper exploration of cloud shapes and vocabulary of rain as such as:
puffy like cotton balls
wispy like feather
solid like a blanket
drizzle, light, mist, spitting, heavy
‘bucketing it down’, ‘soaking wet’, ‘chucking it down’
Seep, ooze, trickle, splosh, spurt
The only planning involved in using puddles to grow a child’s brain through their innate desire to move is the weather forecast. So, if you ever find yourself catching the eyes of a child seeking the rain, always say ‘yes’.
- Neimanis, A. (2015) Weather Writing: A Feminist Materialist Practice for (Getting outside) the Classroom. In Teaching with Feminist Materialisms: Teaching with Gender. European Women’s Studies in International and Interdisciplinary Classrooms, edited by P. Hinton and P. Treusch, 141–157. Utrecht: Atgender.
- Rooney, T. (2016) Weather worlding: learning with the elements in early childhood. Environmental Education Research, 24 (1), pp.1-12.
- White, J. (2019) The Practical Guide and Sourcebook for Excellence in Outdoor Provision and Practice with Young Children. Routledge, London.
Rachael has a Masters in Early Childhood is a Qualified Teacher and TISUK Trauma and Mental Health Practitioner and has worked as a Primary School Teacher, Senior Leader in Schools, Local Authority Early Years Consultant and University Lecturer.