My daughter Megan and I were recently discussing the positive effects we're feeling from having outdoor occupations. She acknowledged feeling happier, more grounded, and more at peace now that she's been working in the woods all day. I have found that being outside with my Wilderplay peeps in all weather has changed the way I think about being out there; there is no longer a negative judgement coloring my outdoor experiences. Every day provides joy in its own right- rain, shine, snow, or blow. Or pandemic.
The Wilderplay teachers I have mentored over the past two years have given me wonderful feedback, and the most consistent message from them has touched on finding joy. I asked a group of preschool teachers from Michigan how Wilderplay has changed the way they plan lessons:
"I feel like I understand what child-lead really means. It means letting go of my big ideas and embracing the simple joys in nature every day from a child's point of view." -Patricia Leskowski, Bay City
While at home with your children living with the physical and mental health realities of this pandemic, you might also find joy in these elements of the Wilderplay model:
1. Go outside every day in every weather to improve your mood, health, and emotional state
2. Instead of planning lessons that direct your child's experience, participate in your child's experience from their perspective
One example of practicing a simplified child-lead experience is the Wilderplay lesson We Explore the Rain. Check out guidance from that lesson below, gather the gear you need for today's weather, and if you can keep a safe distance from your neighbors, #BEOUTTHERE.
WE EXPLORE THE RAIN
Rain play is a sensory experience that give a boost physically, emotionally, and developmentally. Dress up in gear that will keep you warm and dry and head outside every day, even if the day is gray, wet, and muddy.
Reflect on the way the smell of rain and wet earth makes you feel. The molecules released by plants, soil, and lightening during a storm create that beloved musk that we love so much. Because our olfactory sense is so strongly and directly connected to the emotional and memory areas of our brain, we feel an intense reaction to this scent, and for most of us, it is a positive connection. This kind of biological human experience is exactly what we strive to provide to our children. Embrace the opportunity to boost children's emotional heath through rain play whenever possible.
Cold and wet weather does not make us sick, but viruses and bacteria do; they live on the indoor surfaces we touch and in the droplets shared when we cough and sneeze in close quarters. Playing outside in all weather gives us the space we need to avoid sharing germs. Nature also provides exposure to beneficial microbes that create subtle but important health benefits for all ages. Being out in the rain provides a boost for our immune system and overall physical health, so let's go!
1. Puddle Walk: You know you want to say, "Stay out of that puddle, you'll get wet!" But DON'T. Let your kiddos stomp in each and every puddle, no matter how deep.
2. Muddy Best Buddies: Plan ahead for mud play by providing waterproof gear and thinking through a place undress that won't create stress (we strip on the porch and head inside- I manage the muddy clothes later when I don't have to rush). That will help YOU feel free to let them really dig in!
2. Listen: Model moments of silence while outside in the rain, or right before it rains, or right after. What do you hear? That wonderful hush of rainfall that our human brains love so much? Or the celebration of the birdsong? The swish of car tires in the street? The rumble of far-off thunder?
3. Smell: Model deep breathing. Take a long breath in through your nose and notice how the air smells fresh, the mud smells rich, or the pines smell strong. Pause and enjoy that smell.
4. Watch: What are the animals doing in the rain? Do you notice that the woods have grown still just before the storm comes? Are the squirrels holding their tails over their heads to keep the rain off their backs? Are the birds hopping along the sidewalk looking for worms?
5. What Do You Love Most: Encourage children to express their ideas about rainy days and find the beauty in this kind of weather. Model positive language and share your thoughts after listening to your child's ideas.
6. Rain Reading: Collect books about rainy days to place by a window with a cozy pillow and blanket. When you come back in, this makes a perfect place to warm up and dry off.
Hope to see you out there soon, LL
When not working with children and their caregivers, "Lady" Lisa and her family enjoy exploring the woods, lakes, and beaches that surround their northern Michigan home. She holds a masters degree in early childhood studies, a graduate certificate in teaching adults in the early childhood field, and accreditation in wilderness safety and the forest school ethos.