Playtime in a River Kinder

(This post was first published as a blog post on the Nature Play Qld website. Numala Kinder is proudly a Nature Play Qld Education Provider)

The Numala Kinder jarjums (children) and I love to play in water. We have our own little patch of the Nerang River to play in, where the water is low and sparkling, and the children can easily wade together in the shallows. The river is a central part of our program throughout the year: if we are not playing in it, we play together on the riverbank under the shady fig trees, or cross the river to explore and play in the bushland on the other side. We even call to it in our story song – we know it has been here much longer than we have, and has plenty of stories to share.
At the river we can be as loud or as peaceful as we want. Even though we are still surrounded by houses, there is a sense that we are alone. At times the jarjums use the river as their stage, enjoying the opportunity to test their volume, to release their inner star. And at other times they play peacefully by side; searching for treasure or sitting still and watching for the water birds or the tiny fish go about their day. Once, sitting so still, one little jarjum put her hand on a rock, only to discover it was a little tiny turtle!

on the pirate boat.LM.14.10.14
When we are down at the river, we don’t seem to need toys, perhaps just a few items to pour and mix with. Mostly the jarjums play on the little rock islands they have built in the centre, shifting the rocks here and there to build new walls, throwing the rocks into the water with a satisfying PLONK! We like to watch how the islands grow and disappear throughout the day, as the tides gently rise and fall. When our little rock islands (which are also sometimes a bus or a pirate ship or an office or a house) start to shrink, we know it will be soon time for us to find our play elsewhere.

We have to use our judgement each time we go down. The jarjums and I always wear water shoes to protect our feet, and only play when there is little or no current, and when the water is no higher than the littlest person’s hips. There are different sections of the river ranging from ankle-deep, to ‘probably-too-deep’, to ‘definitely-let’s-not-go-there’. We check the conditions together and make a decision about how we are going to play today, and how we will keep each other safe.
Sometimes we can’t play in the river at all! There are times of the year when it is just too cold. Then there is the mozzie season, which is just not fun. At other times, it just isn’t safe. When the rains come in late summer the Nerang River will swell, rush and roar past, carrying with it all kinds of interesting things it has picked up along the way. It is an awe-inspiring sight, to watch from a distance as our quiet little patch of stones and water turns into a force of nature.

Best playground Ever
Once the water has subsided, and we know that the riverbank is safe for exploring again, we go looking for treasures: all the items in our riverbank play areas have come to us from floods: tyres, logs, balls and occasional toys. Our little river-combers will have a use for everything. We love to go for long walks all along the riverbank discovering treasures after the rain:  searching through the tide lines of debris on the grass for interesting bits and pieces. You never know what you might find … a hoard of skeleton leaves, sticks tumbled smooth from their journey down the river, seedpods from somewhere else …
Not all the jarums love the river. Some take a while to feel comfortable there. It is rocky and often slippery. The riverbank is bushy and weedy. There are sometimes prickles. There are bugs. And there is water. They might get wet or dirty or feel cold. And yet, these same children love to play in the pool and to go to the beach, so I know it isn’t the water they are feeling cautious about, rather the openness and the wildness.

riding the pony tree
For our cautious friends, we may not spend as much time in the river, letting it grow slowly as a part of our day. We may choose to sit and watch, or to spend longer playing on the riverbank in the tree swings, or in the bush cubbies we have built there. We will find reasons to go to the water’s edge and explore the water – to see if our paper boats or leaf boats will float, to get water for making paint or for making soups in the river mud kitchen. We also sing about it. Here is a song we sing as part of our morning circle time in spring, when the weather is warm enough for us to enter the water again:



Spring has come to the river! Fig tree fruit are red

Sun faeries dance on the water, sparkles everywhere!

Turtles, eels and silvery bream

Purple swamp hens and tiny fish swim

Our watery friends are out to play

Let’s go down and see them today.

Let’s slip on our swimmers and our river shoes

Let’s slip on our swim shirts and hats

Let’s rub in some sunscreen and bring our drink bottles

We’ll carry our towels and our mats

We wade in the water and we get our toes wet

Knock knock! block block! making ochre with the rocks

We wade in the water and we get our feet wet!

Knock knock, block block, build a tower with the rocks

We wade in the water and we get our knees wet!

Knock knock, block block, build an island with the rocks

We wade in the water and we get our bodies wet!

Splish splash! All the day! Numala Kinder river play!

Jennifer McCormack offers professional development for early childhood services to encourage critical thinking and skills for practical approaches to a variety of arts-based and playful topics. Jennifer if also available for conferences and special events. See the PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT page for details.