Dressing for the Outdoors

In Exterior Spaces, School Committees by Admin

One major focus of Whole Child School is to foster a connection to the outdoors for the students. This will be accomplished through a myriad of outdoor activities. The kindergarten program for example, is intended to take place mainly outdoors in various weather conditions. The other grades will frequent local natural and conservation areas, partner with urban/rural organic farms, and work in community gardens.

In preparation for the upcoming year, we need to all start thinking about clothing needs. Dressing right for the weather ensures that everyone is comfortable and engaged in the activity they are participating in. 

Dressing Right for the Weather

In the course of an afternoon outside, children can be very physical with times of inactivity where they can get cold. Proper layers can keep children warm when they are inactive, but wick away sweat and water vapor away from the body towards the outer layer where it can either escape or at least not interfere with the layers trapping body heat.

For the active outdoor adult, it has long been the consensus that layering is the best system for comfort and warmth. With multiple layers you can adjust the combination to the weather and the level of exertion and changes in temperature.

Dressing in layers is beneficial in the fall, spring and winter. Fall and spring have a lot of similarities, it can still be warm and mild, but then there can also be rainy and windy days. It can be a challenge to dress because it is not really cold and it is not really hot. The layering system works well for fall and spring, just wear fewer layers.

The Layering System

The purpose of the inner layer (what your mom used to call long johns and t-shirt) is to keep you warm and to allow water vapor to escape and wick moisture away from your body so you don’t get cold and wet. The middle layer must be warm and insulating – suitable for low-level activities as well as for high activities. The outer layer should be windproof, water-resistant but still allow water vapor to escape (breath).

Inner and Middle Layer

Cotton is commonly available and may be used as an inner/middle layer. However, during cold weather cotton may not serve the purpose as well as other materials. Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it next to your skin. Wet cotton doesn’t trap body heat and actually works against you as the liquid in the cotton garment evaporates. When the fluid evaporates, it creates a cooling effect and your body temperature will drop.

Aside from cotton, you can have merino wool, synthetic fibre, and a blend of wool/synthetic fibre. The proper layers of wool can keep kids warm when they are inactive but wick away sweat and water vapour from the body towards the outer layer where it can either escape or at least not interfere with the layers underneath trapping body heat. Wool can in some cases absorb up to 18% to 35% of its own weight in water and still retain its insulation value. Additionally, it also wicks the excess moisture away from your body.
Concerns with wool allergies may be addressed through new technologies in weaving and the use of the finest quality wool, such as merino wool. One disadvantage of wool it is more delicate then synthetic fiber, and it tears apart more after use and washing.
Synthetic fiber is more robust than wool and can take more punishment both in the world and the washing machine. Synthetic fiber underwear allows water vapor out but has trouble wicking excess sweat away from the skin. It also loses its insulating properties when wet. Synthetic fiber is suitable as a middle layer. Blends of wool and synthetic fiber have a mixture of advantages and disadvantages like synthetic fiber and wool.

Outer Layer

In terms of outer layers, wear rain gear on wet rainy days and wear windproof clothes on other days. Don’t settle on just a jacket, active children need rain pants as well to protect them from getting wet. With proper boots, rain pants and jacket no puddle stands a chance against your little one. The pants can be used when it is not raining, keeping kids clean and dry in the wet conditions of fall, spring and wet winter days.

When it comes to rain gear, choose rain gear made of coated nylon (PU) and avoid PVC base materials. PVC is harmful to both the environment and children.  

During the winter, the question of how to dress for the outdoors is directed towards snow suits. A one-piece suit is best for small children (0-6 years old) because it generates heat and you do not have any gaps where snow or cold air can sneak in. It also creates better movement, allows for more activity and lowers the need for multiple layers, which makes it easier for children to move around.

Choose a snowsuit that is not too big and puffy for small children. Big puffy snowsuits make it hard for children to move around. Make sure the snowsuit is waterproof. We know the two-piece suit is most popular among parents, because you can get more use for the jacket separately. If you choose a two-piece suit, look for bib pants, covering the chest. This way you get fewer gaps where snow and cold air can sneak in.

Additional accessories will also help ensure those extremities that become cold fastest are kept warm.

  • Always wear a hat; the head looses a lot of body heat. A hat should be windproof and cover the ears.
  • Insure you cover their necks. Use mock turtlenecks instead of scarves - they stay on and don’t pose any risk of getting caught on something.
  • Good socks are a must and can be wool, synthetic fibre or a blend of both.
  • Boots should be waterproof and big enough so they can wiggle their toes. Waterproof mittens will be warmer than gloves and can be worn on cold wet and snowy days.