With snowy weather on the horizon or outside your door, the idea of getting kids dressed to play outside can be daunting. “Is it really worth it?” you wonder to yourself. “We’ll probably end up spending more time dressing and undressing than we will outside. Maybe we’ll just stay in today.”
Well, take it from me: IT’S WORTH IT!!!! If you think dressing one child, or even two children, to go outside is more than it’s worth, just remember that I spent my first three years of teaching at Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten with EIGHT toddlers and one assistant. And going outside was always worth it. Even when it didn’t seem like it would be worth it, it was always worth it. Even when it meant dressing eight 1- and 2-year-olds in a row, it was still worth it (although we’d usually split them up, and do four outside before lunch, and four outside after lunch).
Why do I think it’s worth it? Here are my reasons:
- Children thrive on being outside. Although it can take them awhile to get used to cold or snowy weather, if you do it every day, they will get used to it and really learn to enjoy it.
- Being outdoors in the cold takes lots of energy. Using that energy has the dual benefit of helping a child grow hale and hearty, and it uses up a big portion of energy so they can be calm when they come in. When children have had the chance to play outside for a significant portion of time in the morning, the rest of the day goes so much more smoothly!
So, how did I have the patience to dress so many children for outside play in snowy weather each day? Well, a turning point came to me when I stopped viewing dressing for snow as a means to an end (getting outside), and started looking at it as an activity that could be a useful and even enjoyable; an activity in its own right. That new lens completely transformed my experience of getting ready to go outside. I stopped rushing and I slowed down. I looked at children learning to dress themselves as a real skill that was worth taking the time to learn. Look at all the gross-motor skills involved in putting on snowpants or a jacket! Look at all the fine-motor skills involved in zipping up a coat or putting on mittens. Look at how proud a child is when she is finally able to get her boots on all by herself!
If it takes twenty minutes to get ready to go outside, who cares? You don’t mind if it takes twenty minutes to do an arts-and-crafts project, or to bake a cake. In fact, twenty minutes is a great amount of time for an activity! And children love it just as much as an arts-and-crafts activity, if you put the same sort of fun and delighted energy into it that you do into arts-and-crafts. They love all of the direct attention that you’re giving them if you’re watching and helping just as little as is needed to help them get to the next point. They love your encouragement as you watch them struggle to put on a boot and you say, “You can do it!” and they love the feeling of accomplishment when they can. So if it takes twenty minutes to dress for going outside, and then it’s so chilly you can only play outside for fifteen minutes, that’s OK, because while dressing warmly is necessary for going outside, it was a great activity in its own right.
There are a few things that can help dressing for snow become an enjoyable activity. The first one I already mentioned: Slow Down! In order to be able to slow down enough, make sure that you have a comfortable place to sit, on a stool or a cushion, or even a piece of carpet. Also, if you’re going slowly, be sure to put your child’s jacket on last (after boots and hats and even mittens, depending on the style) so they don’t overheat. Another tip: as you change your attitude towards dressing for snow, and you’re viewing it as a chance to let your child develop her gross-motor and fine-motor skills and to bond with you, consider putting your child’s clothes on in the same order, and the same way, each time. Children learn through imitation, and when you do things in the same order and the same way each time, they can start to pick up each piece for themselves. My suggestion is for snowpants first, then boots, then hat, then mittens, then jacket. A way to make this routine fun can be to sing a little song or say a little rhyme for each part. For instance, one LifeWays provider I know tells a story of a train going through a tunnel for each leg going into a pair of snowpants. Each leg chug-chug-chugs as it goes through, then a triumphant Toot-toot! When it appears out the other side. And another teacher I know has a sweet yet informative song for putting on mittens: “Thumb in the thumb-hole, fingers all together. That’s how we dress in cold and snowy weather,” she’ll sing.
In fact, after you start dressing in this new way, your main problem may be that your child always wants to dress in this style, leading to upsets when you’re in a rush and don’t have twenty minutes to spend getting out the door. My suggestion for this is to have two styles of getting ready to go outside: the fun way, and the fast way. Let your child know which they can expect as you go over to the door. “Normally you love getting ready to go out the fun way, but today we’re going to the doctor, so we’ll get ready the fast way instead. You’ll sit down on your little changing chair and I’ll zip-zip-zip you right into everything.” Then, when you’re dressing them as fast as you can, make fast zip-zip-zipping sounds with each movement, stopping every once in awhile to smile at them or give them a kiss.
So, give it a try, and do your best to get outside for at least a little while each day. If you get into this habit, you’ll be amazed at the end of the winter how competent your little one can be.
Warmly (pun intended!),
This post was written last winter, but it didn’t make it onto my new website, for some reason! Since I see lots of photos of snow from my Colorado friends, I thought this would be timely.