Outdoor Learning in the Rain
Summer is officially over and the forecast around British Columbia and the rest of Canada seems to concur. As the autumn and winter bring more rain (especially here in BC) many households and grade school classes head indoors to teach their kids. However, did you know that the rainy season presents your children/students with whole new opportunities to learn in the great outdoors? Strap on those galoshes, pull over the ponchos, and zip up your raincoats because the Foundation is here with some tips on how to take full advantage of the rainy days to come.
5 Outdoor Learning Experiences for Kids Made Better (or Possible) on Rainy Days
1. Worm Work
While this one may make you and a few kids squirm – it definitely gets the juices flowing. The common earthworm (aka lubricous terrestrial), albeit eww-inducing, should not eschewed as an important learning organism. And when the rain comes, they come out, making them a perfect target for your rainy-day lesson.
The lesson can start with simple details about why worms come out when it rains. For those that don’t know, it’s because after rainfall, soil pores and worm burrows fill with water. Since oxygen diffuses approximately a thousand times slower through water than through air, worms cannot get enough oxygen, and so they come to the surface to breathe. From there, you can teach your kids about the purpose of worms, delving into how the creatures increase the amount of air and water that gets into the soil, how they break down organic matter for compost, and leave behind their castings to serve as an invaluable fertilizer that can help plants grow nutritious food. In addition, they also ensure local birds enjoy a healthy diet. Your kids will soon find out that earthworms are essential to the local eco-system. Turns out they exist for more than chasing other kids around the playground with.
2. Teach Them How to Catch and Conserve Water
With climate change causing springs, summers, and early autumns to get drier, water conservation is a hot topic that kids (the future) need to become more aware of. When a rainy day arrives, be prepared to deliver a lesson on how to catch and save water for future use in local gardens and farms.
In our Foundation’s article on how to water a community garden during times of drought, we address the use of rain gardens and rain barrels. The latter is a concept that you can work on with kids as it is something they will really enjoy. You can purchase rain barrels from your local home and garden center, and during certain times of the year they are made available through your local municipality website. Together with your kids/students, you can have fun painting the rain barrels before installing them at a local community or school garden (where viable) and on the next rainy day you can head on over and see it all in action. Learn more about how you and your kids can use rain barrels to conserve water.
Even without a rain barrel program in place, children can recycle old pales, tins, and jars to individually catch and save water for use during the next run of dry weather.
3. Record and Playback Rainy Day Audio
Head on out to the nearest ecological park with your kids on the next rainy day, and bring along a waterproof recording device (many new smartphones are water/splash proof). Have everyone hush, and take note of the sounds of nature and wildlife around them, while recording it all. Then, retreat to the comforts of home or class and have a listen. The resulting soundtrack is much different than that of a sunny day.
Break down all that you hear, and identify what it all is, and means. For instance, did you know that some birds tend to chirp louder during rain? One of the reasons for this, is that birds must sing more pronounced through the precipitation to attract a mate. Granted this topic in particular may lead to questions about the birds and the bees (literally and figuratively), but it’s just one of many natural rainy day nuances that can serve as a lesson to curious kids.
4. Measure the Rain
Children hear weather reports about an expected x-amount of millimeters, centimeters, and inches of rainfall on any given day. Why not let them put their local weatherperson to the test? Have your kids make their own rain gauge, which can be fashioned by fastening a sturdy ruler to the inside of a clear cup. Alternatively, the cup can be made into a measuring vessel, by having your kids use a ruler to mark measurement indicators. Then, when the forecast calls for rain, the gauges can be placed in different zones around the schoolyard, playground, or other safe area. Once the rain has subsided, the individual gauges can be collected, recorded in a weather journal, and compared. You may end up fostering the career of a future meteorologist!
5. Make Mud Pies
This age-old rainy-day activity is one of the best activity around for younger kids. Gathering up mud and placing it in an old pie plate creates a canvas for kids that will allow them to decorate it with fallen leaves, twigs, stones, and more. Throughout the process, you can teach them about concepts such as soil mulching. In addition, they will get used to getting their hands dirty so that they become more comfortable in garden environments. If you get lucky, they may come across a worm or two, bringing it back full circle to item #1 above – just don’t let anyone eat the mud pie!