June 19, 2024


International Student Club UK

Outdoor Clothing in Schools, Early Learning and Childcare Settings | Creative STAR Learning

Outdoor Clothing in Schools, Early Learning and Childcare Settings | Creative STAR Learning

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Scandinavian Proverb but also attributed to Billy Connelly and many others 🙂

It is interesting when you ask on social media what outdoor clothing to buy. Everyone has their own (often strong) preferences and this can simultaneously be interesting, helpful and confusing. Clothing is a very personal matter and what suits one person does not necessarily work for another. This is the same for children, However I love that now many people are giving great feedback and can speak from experience. This is testimony to the cultural change taking place that recognises children really do need and have a right to be outside every day to play and learn.

The joy of a wet summer day!

Why outdoor clothing matters

Many years ago, two children in one of my schools had been adopted by a very committed couple. Their adopted mother did lots of things to make her children feel loved and cared for. They were taken to the dentist to get their teeth sorted and to the optician to ensure their eyesight was okay. Food was wholesome and always home-cooked. These children got lots of sleep, time outside to play and have fun. The children either cycled or walked the mile to school, so they were physically active prior to learning. The children were hugged, and asked about their opinions and how their day had gone. And, they were given the warmest, cosiest outdoor clothing to wear including hats, gloves, scarves and boots.

So when asked about why outdoor clothing matters, for me it is more than just the practicalities of the clothing. It needs to be put in the context of making it clear we love and care for our children. We value their opinions. We want the best for them. It is a way of nurturing our children and meeting their health and wellbeing needs.

When put into a wider context, the rationale for ensuring children have access to decent outdoor clothing goes beyond the need to be equipped for outdoor learning and play. It sends a hidden message about how we value our children. Not all families can afford decent outdoor clothing. So just like ensuring children have a good breakfast and lunch, we need to make provision for our children to be togged up. As a nation, here in the UK we’ve got a lot better about dressing for being outside in all weathers. 25 years ago, it was a struggle to find waterproof overalls for my son. Now they are commonplace. Society has changed. The purpose of education is changing. Outdoor clothing should be regarded as a necessity and not a luxury.

What matters about outdoor clothing?

Children and adults need to be warm, dry and comfortable when outside in all weathers. Everyone, including children, has different thresholds of tolerance when it comes to feeling the cold and the heat. The more time you spend outside, the more adept you become at dressing properly for being out. The same applies to children who learn tricks to keep warm such as moving about in winter, and seeking shade in the summer. Again, it is a wonderful situation to now see childcare settings and schools provide not just basic sets of raincoats but sun hats in the summer, warm accessories, layers of clothes, boots and winter clothing in the winter. This is again indicative of the culture shift that is happening within the UK.

One thing that can be overlooked is children’s opinions about their outdoor clothing. How do we actively involve them in decision-making about the purchase of clothing and then what to wear during different weather conditions? Over the many years of working with children, I’ve found that by doing this children are more empowered and interested in venturing outside and that it can add to their learning and play experiences.

General principles

  • Aim to keep temperatures even across the body.
  • Ensure children are wearing layers of clothing – or have access to these. It’s the air trapped in and between the layers that insulate and provide heat.
  • Accessories make all the difference. So get plenty of these as part of your provision. This means lots of hats, gloves, socks and waterproof boots.
  • Consider how you manage the drying of clothes and changing spaces.
  • Involve your children in trialing any clothing in advance of any purchasing decisions you make. They have to wear the clothes. You will then find out exactly which ones are fit for purpose without relying on second-hand information.
  • Sustainable decision-making needs to also be at the heart of what clothes are purchased and how stocks are replenished.
  • Adults are role models. We have to dress appropriately and have a positive attitude to being outside in all weathers too. See this blog post.

Good features to look for in outdoor clothing

You will notice I’m not recommending particular kit. Companies changes their designs, materials and prices. Some go out of business and new ones come on the market. Keeping up with this is a lot of work. Every setting is different. What works well in one setting may not work as well in another. The terrain, activities, climate, the uniqueness of each child means that I’ve been burned before making blanket recommendations. Also observing children using the clothing boxes means that there are no hard and fast rules. Furthermore how many children you have matters too and the space for outdoor kit and all this involves. Instead, I signpost to:

  • This clothing appraisal download is a summary of many things that are helpful to consider when deciding what clothing to buy. It’s in word so you can adapt it as needed. It began life several years ago when I offered outdoor clothing boxes to local schools and ELC settings to trial. It was created through comments by children, advice from clothing suppliers, conversations with other professionals and my own observations.
  • Muddy Faces have a clothing section in their outdoor hub. It explains waterproof ratings and other factors and useful information.
  • There’s some great visual gear guides. This one produced by Stramash Outdoor Nurseries is clear and relevant for all schools and childcare settings and their families.

Finding or funding clothing

It can be hard when you are tied to a financial system that dictates which companies you may use. It is also a challenge when there are competing valid demands on the school or ELC budget. For this reason, going down the fundraising route can give more purchasing flexibility.

Initially some schools and settings feel the cost is prohibitive. However as outdoor learning and play consultant, Julie Mountain, points out, to kit out a class in outdoor gear usually costs no more than the purchase of an interactive white board. It’s about mindset and priorities. Given that children in primary schools will spent their playtimes outside – 20% of their school hours, then the investment in suitable outdoor clothing really can be justified in line with literacy and numeracy priorities (again, look at the price of a maths scheme for comparison). Many families provide their children with decent outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories. So you will need to work out what provision is needed and it may be a lot less than what one initially thinks.

  1. Try before you buy. Generally children are more likely to want to wear clothing they like and have chosen. Have a project where you get a range of samples. Alternatively there may be a local organisation that has outdoor clothing boxes you can borrow and use for a term or two.
  2. Put any unclaimed outdoor clothing and accessories from lost property into your outdoor clothing provision. This will help create diversity of choice for children.
  3. The above will generate interest from children and their parents. It is a good time to ask for donations of outgrown clothes. Remember, it can take a while before parents understand about the need for good quality outdoor clothing and passing on items to schools or childcare provision. Have reminders at the door, examples ready and ask at parents’ evenings, PTA events, through social media channels, etc. Adult clothing is also useful to collect as well. Not all staff can afford their own outdoor gear if they aren’t naturally inclined to spend time outside.
  4. Become friendly with local charity shops and see if they can put aside any outdoor clothing for you to have a look at and buy.
  5. Look for secondhand gear online and buy this.
  6. Ask your local outdoor shop and see what they can offer. Some will do discounts for schools and nurseries.
  7. Look out for sales in high street shops. Sometimes you can get clothing through supermarkets. Check you are buying durable items and that they have the features listed in the clothing appraisal.
  8. Always check to see if clothing companies offer a discount for schools and nurseries. Many offer trade prices or discounts to schools and pre-school settings.
  9. Rent outdoor suits to a child’s family for their time at nursery. The children hire a suit for a small fee and if they outgrow it, then they bring it to nursery and get the next size up. This involves an initial outlay but the income can be used to replace worn out gear. The children bring it to nursery daily, wash it as needed and can use it outwith nursery too. This can encourage family to go outside more often in all weathers.
  10. Make it part of your school or pre-school policy that children should bring outdoor clothing, footwear and accessories every day. Have a range of samples from local stockists available at induction meetings. Try and negotiate a discount from a local shop or give parents an opportunity to buy through your school or setting to benefit from a bulk purchase.
  11. Apply for external funding. Check out the grants page.

Children’s advice and opinions about outdoor clothing

As a consultant one of the most satisfying things I did was to set up outdoor clothing boxes to be borrowed by local schools, early learning and childcare settings. This blog post explains what went into them and my experiences. I found children provided helpful feedback and this is discussed in this blog post. In summary:

  • Children express clear preferences about colour. Some children will pick colours to suit their planned play and current interests. So ensure you have diversity and do not comment about children’s colour choices regardless of their gender and societal beliefs or stereotypes.
  • Children often choose not to wear matching tops and bottoms. Being coordinated was not a focus for many.
  • Comfort was important. They noticed the textures, materials and noises made by different clothes. Some clothes are more slippery than others.
  • Not all clothing was easy to put on or take off independently. This was often due to subtle design features rather than specific to whether it was trousers, all-in-ones, etc.
  • Given the variety of preferences expressed, my advice is now to ALWAYS involve children and to ALWAYS provide a variety of colours, types and makes of clothing. This works well from a sustainability perspective because secondhand and donated clothes add value and diversity.
  • Children learn experientially. If a child won’t wear outdoor clothing and goes outside and gets wet, have plans in place to deal with this such as having outdoor gear to-hand, and spare clothing back inside to change into. Back inside have a chat with a class about the practicalities of staying warm and dry and seek their advice. They will share ideas and help everyone address issues as they arise.
  • Don’t worry if you’ve just purchased a load of uniform outdoor clothes and accessories. Just start observing what’s working well and what would be better. Over time you can add in more diversity. Change takes time and that’s okay.

What about children with additional support needs, or who cannot verbally express themselves or who are babies?

Practical experience of different clothing, footwear and accessories helps. Let children choose their outdoor clothing. Watch how they manage and respond to being in different kit. Also time is needed. Some children initially don’t like or want to wear outdoor clothing but then start to appreciate it during inclement weather. A lot of patience may be needed.

Other useful approaches

I’d love to know how you developed your settings sustainable approach to ensuring your children have appropriate clothing all year round. In my experience, once families understand that their children will be going outside in all weathers all year round, then children and families start to supply the kit. But it takes time to develop this habit. This includes working with nurseries in very deprived areas.

  • Develop an outdoor dressing up box to help children practice putting on and taking off their clothes. Have capes, hats, gloves, mittens, trousers, all-in-one suits, dungarees and jackets with a variety of buttons, zips, toggles and popper fastenings. Alternatively make up little fastening boards with these items on them. But there’s nothing like the fun of the real clothing!
  • Have an Outdoor Ted at the entrance dressed in outdoor gear needed for the day. The children can look and check they have the gear in their bag or box. Link this to the next day’s weather forecast. Use social media and other communication channels to remind families what children need to bring or wear.
  • In primary schools, change your school uniform to the term “play clothes”. Have play clothes for coming to school so parents understand the need for the clothing to get dirty, wet, stained, etc. Put wellies and accessories in places children can grab and go so that play is not disrupted by having to go inside, find the cupboard, the person to unlock this and allocate an item of clothing, etc.

Top tip for off-site expeditions…

Bring extra socks and plastic bags. If a child steps in a puddle, you can replace their socks and put a plastic bag between the sock and the wet shoe. It keeps the feet warm and dry.