(My earliest professional work with children took place in a child care center, working with infants and toddlers. Part of my responsibilities included occasionally contributing to the center’s newsletter. I hung onto my articles, and am including a sampling of the more relevant pieces. Enjoy!)

Toddler Classroom, Spring 2006

“Pitter-patter…pitter-patter…Rain is falling down…”

“Pitter-patter…pitter-patter…Rain is falling down…”

Those lines are a familiar refrain, as any songbook aficionado will tell you, but one with little meaning in Southern California. We sing it as we look at pictures of rainy places and people with umbrellas and galoshes or playfully as we sprinkle each other during water play, but rarely do we have occasion to carol along with actual rain. In fact, it seemed as though we wouldn’t have the opportunity at all this season, as if we had actually bypassed winter altogether. Weren’t we just indulging in water play and adjusting the air-conditioning a few weeks ago? But just as we were getting back into the ritual of sunscreen and sandy diapers, Mother Nature delivered our wet weather and gave us reason to sing, literally if not figuratively.

And as the rain falls onto our climbing structures, slicks the deck, and moistens the sand, you may well wonder to yourselves, “What do they do all day?” Our center prides itself on its open-door policy; in fact, many of you know that our “outdoor classroom” is a model to centers across the region. And we’ve reiterated time and again how much your children love to be outside, how they ask for it and how they need it. So what do we do when we can’t open the doors?  We thank our lucky stars that we live in Southern California and that it rarely rains.

Actually, we try not to let the rain dampen our spirits too much or drown our normal routine. Your children love to be outside and we accommodate that as much as possible. You may notice that we have a simplified outside set-up on drizzly days. While we don’t encourage climbing on rainy days, we have been known to go out and experience the pitter-patter of raindrops on occasion. And if there is just a drizzle and the temperature is moderate, we like to explore the damp grass, pack the wet sand, examine wet footprints, and stamp in a puddle or two. After all, isn’t it fun to play in the rain? Think about that extra sensory level that rain adds to life. And when you are able to live in the moment and are secure about your care, not fretting about damp or muddy clothes, rain is just another level to the environment. You can feel it, see it, hear it, smell it and even taste it (but hopefully it doesn’t taste like much!). Of course, there are days and times when the rain is just coming down too heavily for us to consider outside play. And so we turn our attention to the great indoors.

Rainy day curriculum can be a little more teacher-driven than child-centered, as we find ourselves needing to seek out activities to keep the children involved and engaged, rather than allowing children to find their own way. Teachers can sometimes become cheerleaders on these days, reading books and singing songs to divert and entertain children. In fact, this particular group loves to move and sing along with teachers and is even adept at simple, follow-the-leader games. And while these are very worthwhile activities, we do try to keep a check on ourselves and avoid becoming entertainers for the sake of entertaining. We offer many activities for children to explore in their own ways: writing and drawing, flannel pieces, manipulatives, stickers and paint, to name a few favorites. In an effort to keep the chaos to a minimum, the teachers will lower their voices and speak softly to each other and to the children. We don’t require the same of the children, but find that it brings the energy level down in the room. To that same end, we often try to subdivide the group a bit: a few children in the kitchen doing a messy activity, a few in the loft and the rest in the main portion of the room.

Rainy days are a great reminder to us to bring the outdoors in. We cart in tables with sand, cornmeal, and oobleck. We do painting and sometimes water play in the kitchen, and we’ve even been known to bring in push-toys. If we just can’t stand being cooped up, we might try for a “rope walk” around the Center, go out in small groups to stand under an umbrella with a teacher or race push toys under the covered walkway. And if we’ve tried all that, we might put the barrier in one of the doors, open it wide and just look. We talk about the rain and what it’s doing to the yard, we comment on the passersby, we shiver as the cool wind blows in, we jostle and jockey for position and we shake the dickens out of that barrier. And of course, we sing:

“Rain is falling down,

rain is falling down…

Pitter-patter, pitter-patter,

rain is falling down.”