Silly Games: Self Directed Playful Learning

This post is by regular contributor, Cath Oehlman of SquiggleMum.

Mum, we are playing a game called Chilly-Chally and you should reeeeallly blog about this because it’s a great game and we made it up ALL by ourselves!”  I laughed, partly because the game was ridiculous, and partly because my five and three year old kids are now dictating what I blog about!

After days of torrential downpours and flash flooding in Brisbane, the rain finally eased and I was able to shoo the kids into the backyard for some much needed outdoor play.  Being mid summer, it was hot and incredibly steamy, but the kids still needed gumboots on because the ground was completely sodden!

They discovered this empty garden-cart had filled to the brim with water, and it proved to be more enticing than the swings, the sandpit or anything else in the backyard (I often find children are drawn to water play like moths to a flame). At first their play was tentative. They both stood beside the cart, putting their hands into the water and letting it run through their fingers.  Then they found containers from their dirt kitchen, filled them up and poured them all over themselves.

Mr 3 took things one step further by deciding it would be better to climb INTO the garden cart to fill his container.  The water level was higher than that of his gumboots however, so he found himself sloshing around as he walked!  This quickly evolved into a full blown game of Chilly-Chally.

How To Play Chilly-Chally:

  1. Climb into the cart to fill up your container.
  2. Stand on one side of the bridge with your water.
  3. Wait for your partner to come to the other side of the bridge.
  4. Count to three, then throw water onto your partner while shouting “Chilly-Chally!”
  5. Repeat.

Truthfully, I almost put a stop to this silly play several times.  I almost said, “Don’t play in that water please kids.”  I almost said, “Stop throwing water you two.”  I almost said, “What are you doing?! Your gumboots are meant to keep water out!”

Almost. But instead, I asked myself a few sensible questions.  Are they safe?  Yes.  Are they enjoying their play?  Yes.  Are they working well together?  Yes.  Are they learning anything? Yes.  Are they making memories?  Yes.

So I resisted the urge to intervene, and simply watched their antics.  I was rewarded by overhearing sentences which demonstrated learning through play such as:

  • “How did this water get in my boots?!”
  • “The water in the bucket is going down, down, down now.”
  • “Let’s throw the water up higher.”
  • “You have to stand a bit closer or the water won’t get me.”
  • “Before we were really hot, and now we’re really chilly.”

Don’t you remember playing silly games as a child?  As adults we watch a game like Chilly-Chally and want to stop it because it just seems like messy nonsense.  It probably IS messy nonsense, but when did that become such a terrible thing?  Mess is just mess.  So what if my kids got wet and got water in their gumboots?!  And nonsense is just nonsense.  So what if they made up a ridiculous title for a game that seemingly had no purpose, no rules and no winner?!   They had a wonderful time together learning through play.

Please don’t take your kids outside for a game of Chilly-Chally this week.  That is not the point of this post!  I just want to encourage you to take a moment to think twice before interfering in your children’s play, and not to underestimate the value of messy nonsense.


  1. I really enjoyed your post….i often love to just sit back and watch my twin toddlers play ‘silly’ especially outdoors although yes it is hard not to intervene sometimes!
    I’m in Lismore just south of you so know what you mean about the rain and the humidity….great to see some sunshine though and get the kids outside for a play though !

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Thanks Jode. Outside is often the best spot for silly play… at least the mess can stay out there that way!

  2. Best game ever! Good for you for resisting the urge to stop them. I ADORE that your kids told you to blog about it. <3<3<3

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Thanks Allison. I did laugh at my own kids when they told me to blog it!

  3. That was great. Oh that we could bite our tongues more and relax! They’re learning.

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Thanks Andy. I wish more parents would scratch the surface of their children’s play to discover the rich learning happening underneath…

  4. I am grinning after reading this post. What a great reminder to let kids be. I am guilty of being the mum who stops things for fear of mess (bit of a neat freak) and I need not to – especially when it means they will play nicely together for a period of time!

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      The “mess factor” really gets to us mums doesn’t it Erin?! Don’t worry, I’m guilty of it too at times. I do find it’s easier if the mess it outdoors though!

  5. All I can say/sing is, “Chilly-Chally, Chilly-Chally, wet, wet wet!” I like it so much and sounds like a great name of a children’s book. Maybe you have a little story in the making.

  6. SquiggleMum says:

    Now you’re making ME smile Kim… 🙂 I have hundreds of little stories in the making. The trick is finding the right publisher to say yes!

  7. Thank you for this. I stop the nonsense all the time. My husband has actually reffered to me as the red tyrant. *I’m a red head and a bit of a control freak lol especially a bout being messy* I needed this reminder, especially with the warmer weather trying to crawl back to us. I will remember to chilly chally out when my kids play.
    from Canada

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Hehehe… “chilly chally out!” I love that.

  8. Super messy big love sent to you for this post! Made up nonsense silly pretend invented games – oh, life is such a gift! And, more importantly, you allowed the gift to happen for your children. One of my favorite invented games made by students in my 5s class is called Zoom Zigga Zogga – just the memory of the game makes me smile 🙂

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Super messy big thanks right back at you 😉

  9. I love this. We had some heavy rain recently in Melbourne as well. Normally we tend to stay indoors when it rains. But this time when the kids started playing tiggie with rain drops I thought I’d leave them to it. They LOVED it. In the end all 3 were outside, completely drenched, sloshing in puddles, drinking rain and having leaf boat races down the gutters. Best day ever! I took photos to remind myself how much fun it was (and to hopefully encourage me to do it again 😉

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Kids really do entertain themselves so well in the rain, don’t they?!

  10. What a wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it. My 3 year old daughter will instantly get straight into a bucket of water no matter how hot or cold it is. My youngest gets a bit concerned about it but by watching her sister throw herself into messy play is starting to see how much fun it can be.

    1. SquiggleMum says:

      Ali that is a really good point. Some kids can’t wait to get their hands into messy play, while others are more tentative. Often an older sibling or friend has an important role in leading the play!

  11. Niki Buchan says:

    Lovely post ……. How lucky are these children
    to have an adult Who allows such creativity!!

  12. Joannah Hansen says:

    Love it!

  13. SquiggleMum says:

    Thanks Nikki and Joannah!

  14. This is a great reminder for everyone – children need to be safe, but they also need to take risks and explore. I think you shared a wonderful story about how those can happen simultaneously! Thanks!

  15. Pamela Ennis says:

    That was an awesome story of kids being allowed to be kids. I loved it. We lived in Southern Calif. when our kids were little like that and every few years there they have something called El Nino rains. They are torrential downpours. Well after one ended I let my three year old out on our patio to play and as we were going some where later told him to not get his clothes dirty. Well I came back three minutes later to find his clothing sitting in a nice neat pile by the backdoor and him sitting in the flooded garden completely covered in mud, laughing like a loon. Changed our plans for the day and instead let the children play in the mud, the pictures from that day are still some of my favorites, although hs seven year old brother did not join him going naked.

  16. Great post and very true. I really try to step back for messy play and for rough housing. I think the kids sometimes need to have some rough and tumble play and I need tape over my mouth at times. But if no one is crying and they are laughing being bear cubs than I need to let it go.

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