Puddles on the Playground

   I've spent part of this rainy Monday with a group of puddle-savvy first graders at our local elementary school. As part of my research for my book on clouds, I thought it would be fun to explore kids' attitudes toward this most wonderful benefit of the hydrologic cycle.
   I was greeted by a happy class of students wearing brightly colored rain boots and sturdy water-proof shoes (thanks to a note the teacher sent home Friday). I explained that I needed help understanding puddles in case I should ever have to explain what they are to someone from another planet. In just a few minutes, the students had described puddles using these words: liquid, water, rain, clouds, sky, ground, sun, mud, evaporate. We talked about the difference between puddles made by spills, by drool, and by puppies. With a little brainstorming, we were understanding puddles as former clouds and clouds as former puddles. With a nudge from me, we had sent the puddles soaking down into the earth, through the rock layers, and into a nearby park where the former puddles sprung up in seven places to become a small creek and tributary to Puget Sound.
   Just before we went outside to find the best puddles around the school, I asked them for the word that came to mind when they thought of a puddle. Water, wet, clouds, earth, flexible, transparent, dirty, sea, ocean, and fun. And then out we went.
   The kids filed out the door and fanned out across the playground, locating several puddles so quickly that I wondered if they had done some reconnaissance before school. In no time, groups of kids were standing in and around puddles--testing the waters to see which one was the most fun. Shallow puddles were stomped in (fun!) and deeper ones were waded into slowly (fun and a little dangerous!). Kids were running up to me with reports of really big ones on the dirt baseball field and in a drainage ditch. And soon came the sound that should come from kids running in the rain and stomping in puddles: squealing. I had to smile.
   Back in the classroom, the kids played word association again for the word "puddle." In just ten minutes of play, their list of words had changed. Jump, waves, soaking wet, deep, ripples, awesome, and fun (twice).
   Just before I left, I told them that scientists had discovered puddles on Mars. I said that puddles might mean water and water might mean life--but nobody knows for sure. A hand shot up.
   "I know where the puddles on Mars are from," he offered.
   "Where do you think?" I asked.
   "They come from polar ice crap."

   So, in conclusion. First graders know a lot about puddles here in Olympia, Washington and first graders will brighten a rainy Monday in a way the sun simply can't.