Wet play: the curse of the British winter

Teachers complain about playground duty but it's preferable to supervising 15 minutes of indoor chaos, says Michael Tidd

When the rain comes in the playground, teachers have to resort to the dreaded wet play indoors, says Michael Tidd

There are plenty of frustrations in the life of a teacher: things that stop us from doing the job we want to do or prevent us from teaching to the best of our ability. 

Sometimes it’s the weird and wonderful ways of the Department for Education or the national curriculum and its tests that frustrate our work. Sometimes it’s the way in which Ofsted suddenly changes direction, causing endless new workload that gets in the way of getting better at teaching. Sometimes it’s the knee-jerk decisions that school leaders make or the elaborate approaches that teachers choose to take. 

And then there’s wet playtimes.

There can be few things so far out of a teacher’s locus of control, and yet which have such a significant impact upon our work.

For all the complaints we might have about the time we spend dealing with issues on the playground, there can be very few teachers who wouldn’t rather see the children outside for 15 minutes than cooped up indoors while the heavens open.

Rainy playgrounds

And how is it that the weather manages to perform in such a way? Rarely do we have a downpour during the lesson and the sun appearing just in time for break.

But there have been plenty of occasions when teachers and admin staff have squinted through windows trying to work out whether that’s rain they can see just starting on the playground. You can guarantee that, if the call is made to go out, then the clouds are just about to burst.

Cue hordes of children haring back through the corridors, rain splashes soaking the displays as they pass, unzipping their coats and charging for the wet-play cupboard. 

It seems that just lately the weather gods have been particularly keen to confuse us, with an apparent break in the showers just in time for playtime, only to leave us explaining at the end of the day why every child’s raincoat is soaked through.

The chaos of wet play

Then, when they return inside, the chaos of wet play begins. The usual etiquette of the classroom goes out of the window, and crowds gather around the solitary cupboard of wet-play games and scrap-paper trays. There may only be nine minutes until lessons begin again, but this time belongs to them, and they’re going to make the most of it.

Soon enough, everything’s spread out around the room: a Connect 4 set where the frame no longer closes properly; a set of 17 dominoes; a Ludo box containing the game board, three chess pieces and a broken sand timer; at least one board game that appears to be German, which no one knows how to play; and the wretched bell from the Yes-No game, the question cards having long since disappeared.

The lack of a full set of anything doesn’t stop the game-playing, though. Games have been improvised with much less in the past, and children are inventive.

In one new classroom I moved into, I found the wet-play cupboard so bare that I invested in a box of 24 packs of playing cards. I imagined the general hubbub of games of Snap or Beat Your Neighbour keeping groups occupied each time the rain fell. Within weeks, I’d realised that I’d inadvertently set up a gambling den.

Then comes the task of trying to get everything cleared up and children back into their seats as the bell rings. Suddenly it becomes clear why no game is complete, as objects are randomly squeezed into disintegrated boxes, counters disappear under tray units and somebody has to try to jam the cupboard shut. 

It could be worse though: it could have been a windy day.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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