Dressing for Outdoor Learning in the Winter

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Don’t let the snow stop you from getting outside and thriving with your students. You can enjoy all the benefits of outdoor learning, even in the winter. Understanding the basics of dressing for outdoor learning in the winter can make or break your outdoor learning adventures.

Your time outdoors is way more enjoyable if you are warm and comfortable. This is especially true during the winter months when the temperature drops and snow covers the ground. When students come prepared for the weather they can enjoy their time in the snow and keep them dreading their outdoor education experiences. Furthermore, dressing properly for the weather, especially in the winter, is a matter of safety for your students. Prepare your students in advance for dressing for outdoor learning activities in the winter by following these tips. 

A group of children outside laying in the snow in winter clothing

Prepare Your Families In Advance for Dressing for Winter Outdoor Education

Ensure that all of your students come prepared for being outdoors by educating them well in advance of cooler temperatures. This gives families enough time to be ready and gather all of the necessary clothing. It also allows them to find, borrow, or buy appropriate clothing. You may also have to educate families on how to dress for the winter weather, especially if you have families that are newcomers to your country. Don’t just assume that everyone knows how to dress, just because they live in a cold place! 

It may also be useful to have extra clothing on hand at the school. Students may forget to bring the clothing that they need or you may have families that can not afford to buy proper clothing at this time. 

You can find family letters, student checklists, and posters on dressing for the weather in our, “Get Outside Tool Kit.”

Dressing In Layers for Winter Outdoor Learning Activities

Dressing in layers is one of the keys to being comfortable during almost any winter outdoor learning activity. The layers system work in 2 ways:

  1. Dressing in layers will allow you to add or subtract layers as the weather changes.
  2. Each layer acts as additional insulation in colder weather thereby upping your warmth factor.

There are 3 layers to consider when dressing for winter outdoor education. Depending on the amount of time that your students will spend outside as well as your climate, your layering may change. The beauty of the system is that you can always add or change what you are wearing as the temperature or your amount of physical activity changes. When explaining how to dress to your students or families try to keep things as simple as possible. Stay away from technical jargon, like fabric types, that non-outdoorsy families might find intimidating. 

Base Layer

This is the layer closest to your body. It is what traps the warm air against your skin but also wicks the moisture away to keep you dry.  Often people refer to this layer as long underwear. For children, this may include tights and a long-sleeved shirt. Children who spend a lot of time outdoors may have merino wool or synthetic long underwear.

Warm Layer

This is the layer that you will be able to add to or take away to change the amount of warmth needed. This might be a sweatshirt or hoody on top. If it is really cold your students may wish to opt for a fleece or sweater. The bottom layer could be regular pants or sweat pants. The best fabrics are wool or synthetic fabrics, such as polar fleece. Cotton can absorb water and make the child feel cold. However, if cotton sweats are all the student has then that’s cool too!

Shell or Outer Layer

This is the waterproof and windproof layer. For most children, this will be their winter jacket and their ski pants. Staying dry is one of the most important aspects of staying warm so ensuring that these layers are as water-resistant as possible is important. 

Girl playing outside dressed in winter clothing

Mitts, Toques, and Everything Else Needed for Dressing for Winter Outdoor Learning Activities

These accessories are necessary for keeping the extremities warm and dry. These are also the pieces of clothing that students are most likely to forget or lose somewhere. Due to their likelihood to go missing, I often keep a collection of different items at school in case a student doesn’t have them. We have a washing machine at school, so once a student is done with an item we just throw it in the machine and wash it.

Mittens or Gloves

Cold fingers can make being outside miserable. Having dry mittens or gloves can make or break a student’s outdoor education experience. Encourage students to bring mittens that have an element of water repellency, such as these ones: 

You can also have students layer thinner mittens if they do not have a pair of warm ones. If you will be doing work that requires writing or fine motor tasks you can also encourage students to wear a pair of mini mitts under their gloves. Younger students may also find it easier to keep track of their mittens if they are on a string or a clip.

*If you will be doing work that involves playing in the snow make sure that your students bring an extra pair of mittens or gloves to change into if their first pair gets wet. 

Toque or Beanie

In order to keep ears warm and trap the heat escaping from your head you will want your students to have a toque or a beanie. Toques or beanies are better than an ear band or ear muffs in that they help to keep the student warm by trapping in heat that naturally escapes from their head. However, anything is better than frozen ears.

Scarf, Neck Warmer or Neck Gaiter 

In places where windchill can alter your temperature, having something to cover the student’s face becomes extremely important. A face covering will allow the student to protect their skin from potential frostbite. It will also provide an extra element of warmth by keeping the neck warm and preventing drafts from going down a student’s jacket. 

Warm Socks 

Even with a warm pair of boots, having warm socks can keep a students feet toasty and dry. If possible, wool socks are best as they maintain their warmth even if they get wet. Have students bring an extra pair of socks in case their first pair gets wet.

A group of children dressed for winter outdoor learning

The Outer Layer or Shell

For most children, this layer will be their winter jacket and their snow pants. This is the layer that protects the student from wind and moisture. If you live in a climate that has snow and cold weather, most students will likely have a winter jacket. I have found that not everyone has ski pants and convincing older students to bring them can be tricky. Ski pants can often be found at thrift stores or as hand-me-downs if families do not want to purchase new ones. Even a pair with holes in the knees can be patched up and used again. At school, we keep several extra pairs in various sizes for students that do not have them or forget to bring them.  

If families are thinking of purchasing new winter clothing, encourage them to choose a winter jacket with a high-quality zipper. Also, encourage them to choose clothing that is water-repellent and also warm. Winter jackets can be an expensive investment, especially for growing kids. Encourage families to check out consignment stores or buy-and-sell sites to find good quality clothing at more affordable prices. 

Winter Boots

Last but not least are winter boots. Just like cold fingers, cold toes can make or break a successful outdoor education lesson. Students will need a pair of boots that are both warm and waterproof. Good grip on the bottom is also important if you live in a place with icy or slippery conditions. 

Children dressed in winter clothing playing outside

Don’t Let the Cold Weather Stop You…

Dressing for the weather is a key aspect in keeping your students safe. Now that your students are dressed and ready for spending time outside in the winter, you can make the most of your outdoor education time and get outside. Even in the winter, your students can experience the emotional, physical, and mental health benefits of outdoor education. Don’t let the cold winter weather stop you from enjoying your time outside with your students. So long as your students are dressed for winter outdoor education, they will have fun and be able to experience nature in all seasons.

As a final note, you may also need to take into consideration the socioeconomic and financial situations of the families at your school. Not everyone can afford warm winter clothing and newcomers to your area might be unaware of how to dress. You may wish to take some time to ensure that everyone has warm clothing for outdoor education.

Here are some winter activities to help you get started:

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