They say winter begins on December 21st, but this year where I live it began November 1st with snowfall warnings and temperatures colder than Siberia.
The kids were bundled up in their winter coats, snow pants, toques and mitts. Western chinook winds had blown in and rose the temps to 5 C, allowing some of the snow to melt into a giant puddle lined with chunks of ice. We brought out sleds for them to pull each other around on, and shovels to dig in the snow. During outdoor play, I am always fascinated by the imaginative ideas they act out with each other.
The rule I repeat often on supervision is, “Get Out of the Puddle,” or if it’s frozen, “Stay Off the Ice.” In University I was taught to phrase rules in positive ways, but honestly, “Let’s Keep Ourselves Dry and Not in Danger of Falling” is just not what you say for the hundredth time some kid is splashing around out there. It’s a school rule.
The temptation and lure is too great for the children to follow the rule. They are compelled to slide on the ice and play in the water the moment I look away. What are my main reasonings for upholding the rule? It’s a safety issue. Most falls on the ice aren’t severe, but some of them can be. If a student playing in the brown, muddy, melted snow does not have waterproof clothing and footwear, they become wet, cold, uncomfortable, and as popular belief goes, increase their chances of getting sick.
However, traversing ice is something I believe is an essential skill as a Canadian. You must know how to adjust your body on ice, which is much different than solid ground. You can’t step the same. You need to lower your center of gravity, widen your stance, and shuffle. You should have boots, and they should have good grip. This is why so many people fall, they haven’t had much practice, because “Get Off the Ice!”
As for soggy socks and whatnot, it’s also been said that only a virus can make you sick and no amount of anecdotal evidence will change that. Still the myth persists. I find it unlikely that a child playing in a puddle would get hypothermia.
I’m conflicted. I want to meet the needs of the students. But which needs? The safety needs, or the physical needs, curiosity needs, discovery needs, imaginative play needs?
So, the day it was plus five, I broke the rule.
I kept it controlled, they had good boots and snow pants, and they were not to jump in the water. They had tested my boundaries again and again, and finally, they were allowed to play how they longed to play, and for a small amount of time it was a pretty amazing thing.
A few pulled the round plastic sleds to the puddle’s edge and began loading them with shards of ice using the shovels. They were mining resources to be processed. They pretended they had an oilfield company, which I was pleased to see ran by a female in a typically male-dominated industry, and they hauled off the loads of chunks, gravel, and sleds full of murky water. One student began his own business on the other side of the puddle and began trading with the others. I had to silence the voice inside that complained the sleds were getting dirty and wet, and that the rule was being broken. I had to let it happen. It worked because it was a small group who understood why we usually can’t play on the ice or in the puddle. Eventually, others who had been playing on the playground began to notice, run over, and in their excitement, not be careful not to splash or go out into the middle of the puddle. I soon found that familiar saying coming out of my mouth, “Get Out of the Puddle.” It was time to blow the whistle and go inside.
The kids were soaked. I asked them if their wet clothing made them think about not going back in the puddle. As if they would learn, “I don’t want to splash around in the puddle because then my clothes are wet and cold and I would rather stay dry.” Every child that day, without a doubt, felt the small discomfort was worth the fun they had.
The next day it froze hard again, and the wind ate up a lot of the snow so what was left wasn’t good for sledding anymore. The one who branched off into his own company brought his friend by to show him the spot, now solid ice with a groove of gravel around it. “Yep, that’s where the factory was.” Already fondly reminiscing about that one time he could play in the puddle.