Written by Jaimmie Stugard: After nearly half a year of frigid Wisconsin winter, gradually the snow and the half-foot of ice buried beneath it began to melt away. Here and there we caught a few glimpses of sunshine with a warmish 50 degree breeze, only to have the temperature plummet again the next day. The last week has brought us constant rain, wind and thunder along with frigid temperatures. And yet, at LifeWays we go outside nearly every single day.
Yesterday, I decided I needed a break from the cold and the rain. Even on chilly days, playing outdoors in the rain really isn’t so bad. We bundle up with lots of layers and water-proof clothing and the children delight in their time outside. The water and mud have become their new toys – perfectly impermanent, open-ended and creative. It is only when we head indoors that the children begin to complain. They are soaked, and even the best rain gear couldn’t hold up to their exuberant play. So we head inside and begin to peel off layer after layer of wet, muddy clothes.
Suddenly, the children who delighted in splashing in puddles and sculpting with the goopy mud have developed an aversion to dirt! They cry and fuss at the prospect of touching their soiled jackets and removing them with their own hands. Eventually, I am able to convince them to undress themselves while I help the toddlers peel out of their saturated gear. I scan the floor for abandoned hats and boots and remind the children to hang up their things, wring out a few jackets and socks, and help the children into fresh, dry clothes. By now, most of the older children have already changed, and muddy clothes are strewn about the carpet. They squeal and giggle at the sight of a pants-less baby who is trying desperately to escape clean clothes and a diaper change. Occasionally, a couple of partially-dressed preschoolers take the opportunity to shout and jump in a chaotic underpants dance. Once dressed, the children bag up their wet clothes and place them on their hooks. They wash their faces with their handmade cloth that was soaked in warm lavender- and calendula-infused water. Hands are washed, and we are refreshed and ready to eat the hot, delicious meal Miss Monica has lovingly prepared.
After a few days of steady rain, I grew tired of this wet, cold, chaotic routine. So, I told the children (for the first time in a VERY long time) that we would be playing indoors all day. Most of our suite-mates were in forest-kindergarten on this particular day, and it seemed like our little group of youngsters could handle the confines of indoor play. At first, they were happy to be free of the burden of putting on layer after layer of outerwear and seemed eager to do some watercolor painting and fort-building. But it wasn’t long before a couple of three-year-old fellas were tumbling over one another like rowdy little puppies, crashing into anything that got in their way. Watercolors went flying, the toddler was crying and another child lay in the cozy corner, unusually lethargic. I thought to myself, “This is what I get for breaking the rhythm.” It wasn’t long before our lethargic friend got sick to her stomach, and while I cared for her and cleaned up the mess, I considered that perhaps this was the reason we needed to stay indoors on this particular day. Or, perhaps I just needed to be reminded that going out in all sorts of weather is well worth the effort.
The next day was as cold and wet as the others, and we happily went outdoors. We hiked in the woods, spotting scilla, snowdrops and crocus buds daring to defy the wintery mix that slopped from the sky. The brown earth was finally beginning to fill with patches of green. After our stroll, we gathered in the front yard, nestled between the garden and the woods. The bigger kids hauled branches into a pile that began as a fire pit and evolved into many things as they played. As is my habit on cold, wet days, I led the children away from the puddles until our playtime neared an end. (This way the children don’t have to wear soaking, cold gear for our entire time outdoors.) As lunch-time drew near, the little ones gravitated toward the puddles and enjoyed some wet play. They bent long sticks in half, making fishing poles to fish in their tiny ponds. The timid toddler crouched at the perimeter, splashing the water with little sticks and tossing in pebbles. Plip. Plop. A handful of children dashed, splashed and jumped in an immense puddle beneath the pear trees. Knowing we needed plenty of time to change, I called the children to hike back to the door with our usual melody. “We are walking in the woods, walking, walking in the woods. We don’t stop for wind or weather, we keep walking all together.” A chorus of disappointed little voices lamented coming out of the puddles and followed me to the back door.
Over the years I’ve noticed a distinct difference in the way adults and children speak about the weather. Adults seem to frame their observations within the context of their desires or preferences. We say, “It’s a beautiful day” or “What terrible weather we are having.” While the children tend to make observations, “It’s raining. It’s snowing. It’s hot. It’s froggy” (aka “foggy”). They are simply accepting and experiencing the elements. No matter what the weather, children who are dressed properly revel in their time outdoors. Rain, heat, thunder or snow, they rarely seem to mind the elements. Even when it is freezing out, the children complain about coming inside. I admire their receptivity to the wide array of elemental experiences our climate offers. I seek to follow their example and refrain from casting judgment about the weather in their presence. I wouldn’t want to take away from their experience with my skewed adult perceptions. So, I quietly bundle up and head outdoors wind or weather, to share in their awe and wonder.
Jaimmie Stugard is the Director of the Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center where she has been a caregiver for over ten years. She is grateful that she has been able to bring her own little ones with her to LifeWays each day. She is also the music teacher in the Wisconsin LifeWays Training.