Splashing and Singing: What can children learn from playing in the rain?

February 8, 2018 - 6 minutes read

By Sheila Williams-Ridge, member of the FFS Startup Council

Photo by Raven Ivory: ravenivory.com | Minneapolis

Editor’s Note: Weather is often a perceived barrier to outdoor play. It’s easy to decide to stay inside when it’s raining, snowing, or cold, but with the right gear and attitude, it’s almost always worth it to get outside. The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, “Nature-based Learning for Every Preschool Setting: Start Small or Go Big” from Redleaf Press.

What can children learn from playing in the rain?

The joy of nature. One of our goals is to engender a joy of nature in children. Most children are drawn to puddles and when they are allowed to play in the rain they may form a deeper connection with nature.

To navigate on slippery terrain. We work to build good motor skills in children including balance. The experience of playing outdoors in the rain helps children learn to test slippery paths before stepping on them, avoid deep puddles and take advantage of more shallow puddles, and keep their balance in different types of shoes.

Learn through their senses. You know that scent that tells you that rain is on its way? It provides a deep sense of pleasure for most of us. The sound of the rain against different surfaces, touch of raindrops of different sizes and frequency, the taste of rain dripping into your mouth are all opportunities to awaken the senses.

Photo by Andrew Clark. South Bay, Los Angeles. Used with permission.

Learn about rain through first-hand experience. If the only water you experience comes from a hose or faucet, you don’t know as much about water. Playing in the rain gives children an opportunity to learn about where the water we use comes from, that rain comes at different rates of intensity, wind affects the direction of rain, that water seeks its own level so puddles collect in holes and slanted ground, etc.

Learn about properties of water and interaction with other parts of nature. This includes how soil absorbs rain at different rates depending on its dryness and density, that plants that are exposed to rain grow in different ways, that sun exposure affects evaporation, that rocks do not absorb rain, etc.

To use scientific equipment. When children see a rain gauge filling up, they begin to understand it and other scientific tools more easily.

A healthy respect for the power of nature and weather. When children experience the difference between drizzling rain and torrential rain, they will make better decisions about what is safe. Trying to play with harder rain in their eyes helps them understand the concentration their adults need when driving in the rain or other adverse weather.

Responsibility for belongings that get wet in the rain. We want to provide many opportunities for children to grow in their independence and responsibility. Playing in the rain provides meaningful chores including moving items that can be ruined by rain to dry areas, placing rain gear to dry after play, and wiping spills from coming indoors after playing in the rain.


*This document has been slightly altered for the use of Free Forest School, and shared with permission:  Powers, J. and Williams Ridge, S. Nature-based Learning for Every Preschool Setting: Start Small or Go Big. Publication Pending. Redleaf Press, Minnesota. ”


Sheila Williams-Ridge

Sheila Williams-Ridge. Used with permission.

Sheila Williams-Ridge is a member of the Free Forest School Startup Council and the Director of the Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School at the University of Minnesota. Sheila is passionate about encouraging and promoting nature based play and education with children and adults.  She believes that the relationship between children and nature is essential to child development and has lasting benefits socially, emotionally, and cognitively.  Sheila has a BA in Biology as well as an MA in Education.  She is also currently taking courses for her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction.  She began in early childhood education as the one of the founding staff of Dodge Nature Preschool, serving in the roles of Teacher/Naturalist, Business Manager, Assistant Director, and Director. Sheila is a co-facilitator for the NAEYC Nature Interest Forum, a member of the Council of Nature Based Preschools, and a member of the Natural Start Alliance advisory board.  She was on the writing team to develop the Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence published by NAAEE and is a consulting editor for the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education. Sheila and her husband Kimson have four daughters, Faline, Hailey, Sierra, and Olivia as well a dog, an iguana, and a couple of snakes.  Her family spent the last 14 years living on the grounds of a nature center in Minnesota and they enjoy hiking, camping, and photography.