“What If I’m In Trouble?”

Today was a Day 3, and I love Day 3’s! The students have phys-ed right after the first nutrition break, and we follow this by our outdoor learning time. Since I have a prep when the children are in phys-ed, I always bring out something special for us to explore. Our class loves to create art outside, so I’ll often bring out different painting options. Lately, our students have been very interested in “blowing bubbles,” so I thought that I’d water down different primary colours, bring out some straws (for blowing), and also fill up various squirt bottles for squirting paint. Our children really enjoy mixing colours, so I knew that they would do this for sure, and since finger painting and hand painting is always a guarantee (sensory play is very popular), I brought out a big bucket of soapy water for them to wash their hands afterwards.

The only instruction that I gave the children was, “Please keep the paint on the canvasses.” Yes, it’s washable paint, but I didn’t want a huge mess on the black top. I should have anticipated a mess anyway. Watered down paint spreads easily, and as soon as the paint landed on the blacktop, it was something else for them to explore. 

  • Could they blow it?
  • How would it move?
  • What would it look like mixed in with the dirt and rocks?

Then there were the squirt bottles. While the students initially liked spraying the paint on the canvasses, pretty soon they realized that they could “spray” anything.

  • They pretended they had soap and tried to spray each other’s hands.
  • They sprayed the dirt in the bushels because “flowers need to be watered.”

It didn’t take long for the children to realize that they could remove the caps from the spray bottles. Now the bottles were much more fun! 

  • They dumped the colours into the water, and refilled the containers. It was like water play outside.
  • They took the empty Tupperware containers, and dumped the paint from the spray bottles into them. They pretended they were making potions, and screamed excitedly when they made different colours.
  • They filled up the spray bottles with the paint-filled, soapy water, and poured them onto the canvasses. The squealed in delight at what the bubbles did to the paint, and then mixed everything together to see the different colours. 

As the children continued to pour, blow, and spread paint across the canvasses, I saw bigger puddles of paint on the ground. No problem! I brought out large sheets of yellow paper, and I thought that we could lay the paper over the paint and soak up some of the paint. I gave a piece of paper to one student, and he accidentally stepped in the paint as he grabbed the paper. That’s when he realized that his shoe made footprints on the paper. Now everybody wanted to make footprints and handprints on the paper, and the puddles of paint continued to grow. 

There was so much discussion, discovery, and learning during this time, and while it was amazing to watch and listen to this, all that I kept doing was looking at the puddles of paint. I didn’t mind the mess, but I wondered, “Am I going to be in trouble? Is somebody going to be mad about this?”  

  • Maybe I shouldn’t have brought out so much paint.
  • Maybe I should have taped down a table cloth first.
  • Maybe I should have stood over by the water to ensure that nobody dumped paint into it.
  • Maybe I should have brought out a garbage can to help with tidying up throughout the process. (In the end, I sacrificed my bag and ended up having students use it as a garbage can, so that we could clean up before the other Kindergarten class joined us outside.)

While there are reasons to agree with all of these maybes, there was also a lot of learning that came from the variety of materials and came from allowing the children to extend the learning in ways that interested them. 

During this whole creation process though, I realized how unsettled I felt thinking that I might be in trouble. I didn’t know who would be angry with me. I didn’t know what he/she could do … but I was really worried. And it was at that moment that I had so much more empathy for that child that gets into trouble.

  • Does this child also feel scared?
  • Does this child also worry about what he/she will say or do if somebody gets mad?
  • Does the fear of “getting into trouble” impact on this child’s actions (even before anything is said or done)?

I think about when my partner came outside after her lunch today. She didn’t get mad when she saw the mess. She didn’t say, “Oh Aviva! What have you done?” She reminded me that the paint is washable, that rain is coming tomorrow, and that we could soak up the rest of the paint with the napkins we have inside. Her calmness made me feel calm, and together, we developed a plan. 

  • There was no screaming.
  • There were no hurt feelings.
  • There was no punishment.

Today reminded me that all of these things matter. I think that sometimes, when the mess seems overwhelming and the problem seems too big to handle, we need somebody else to help us work things through and put things in perspective. What do you think? What are some of your experiences in being “this person?” I would love to hear your stories!


As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am blogging about topics related to the four Foundations courses. While this post doesn’t use the terminology, there are links to the Pro-Social Domain (and empathy), co-regulation, and reframing behaviour. I hope that these blog posts provoke more conversations around these important topics.

2 thoughts on ““What If I’m In Trouble?”

  1. I am definitely still in the “Oh my gosh I am going to be in so much trouble phase!” Thank you for your inspiration to let loose a little and focus on all of learning that occurs during those moments! Teach ON!

    • Thanks Emily! I still worry about if I’m going to get into trouble, but I try not to let that stop me (or stop us) from the learning that can take place through this “messy play.” I have learnt that most messes can be easily cleaned up. I hope that you and your students enjoy some messy play too!


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