Paper Boats

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It's been a rainy winter in the Bay Area, and that's good news after years of drought. But for teachers, few days are rougher than a rainy one, a classroom full of energetic kids stuck inside.

This winter has me remembering one rainy day, early in my career. With weeks of wet weather, my third grade students spent every recess trapped indoors, and we were all beginning to get a little cabin fever. After school, as parents pulled up in the pouring rain, I watched kids exuberantly splash their way through the biggest puddles on the short trip from school door to car door.

So, the next day, as students glumly prepared for yet another indoor recess, I suddenly decided rainy days don't have to be miserable. I demonstrated folding a boat out of paper, and decorating it with water-proof waxy crayon. The kids could hardly wait. Soon, on the floor of the busy, noisy classroom, a paper navy had formed. Big boats and small boats, all brightly colored with crayon flags of many nations.

The kids and I grabbed jackets, hats and boots, and clutching paper boats trooped outside, kids whooping in joy, after so many "inside voices" days. "OK" I hollered, "Find a puddle and float your boat!"

Kids scattered across the sopping school yard, gathering around the deepest puddles, splashing and shouting. Some boats sailed, some floated calmly, some sank instantly. From puddle boat races to tiny Titanics, I was surrounded by delighted children, playing in the downpour.


The paper flotilla didn't last long - I didn't want anyone to catch pneumonia. So inside we trooped again, students flushed and happy as kids on Christmas morning. And, it was the best rainy day any of us ever spent in school.

In this overprotected era where kids increasingly experience the world virtually on screens, splashing in real puddles in real rain was really fun - and a real chance to explore one of nature's most playful phenomena.

Paper boats and puddles weren't on my lesson plan that long-ago rainy afternoon. But it turned out to be one my most memorable days as a teacher. In school, as in life, sometimes it's best to literally go with the flow.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow works for the San Francisco Unified School District.