An afternoon carpool ritual: I walk with a student to her parent’s car, open the door, and call, “It was a good day!” while gesturing toward the child’s muddy shoes and picking a leaf out of her hair. Fortunately, most Jemicy parents will smile and agree wholeheartedly that a day well spent leaves plenty of evidence to clean up later.
Kids work hard and play hard, and, like many other creatures, are naturally drawn to elements that they can dive into. While most other animals might use these primarily for bathing, there is no doubt that there is a simple delight in feeling completely covered in something other than air. Our classroom chinchilla and button quail love regular dust baths, flipping around in every direction to coat their fur and feathers, while the zebra finches hop into their freshly filled water dishes and splash energetically. I especially enjoy watching waterfowl, who are meticulous, thorough bathers.
Water, dust, mud, snow – all are attractive in their own way, even if not for purposes of cleanliness.
Kids who play in the woods know the best spots to sink into what they call “quick mud” – irresistibly oozy, sticky mud pits along the stream that have claimed many a boot.
The puddles that appear on the playground during wet seasons are also magnets for the younger students. Unplanned but highly popular features, they support numerous fun activities, from rock fishing to impromptu water ballet.
Before fall gives way to winter and the delights of snow, we also celebrate one of the briefest, yet crunchiest and most aromatic of immersive experiences: the gift of leaves.
All of these activities are just that – active. Their purpose is to surround oneself with new sensations, to encounter and manage the unknown for pure pleasure – in other words, to play.
In Japan, a different kind of outdoor immersive activity has emerged: Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Recent research suggests many positive benefits from this stress-reducing, health-promoting practice of spending time relaxing in a forest setting.
At school, we call this “recess.”