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How to Dress for Extreme Cold

Although this winter has been relatively mild, we still get the surprisingly biting cold day, here and there. On a Forest School morning, after checking the weather app, you'll want to help your little one prepare to stay comfortable and dry, so it's important to understand how to properly dress for the cold. Before long, you and your child will become expert winter dressers!

The key is to dress in layers, wear mittens and NOT GLOVES, and to have neck warmers and hats that allow the ears to stay covered.

Some important pointers for extreme cold

  • Gloves do not allow the fingers to benefit from the body heat of the other fingers. Please ensure that your child has several pairs of good quality mittens. This way we can change them when their mittens become wet from snow. Ideally these should be mittens that pull up over the sleeves of the coat to prevent snow from getting inside. 

  • As the temperature drops the risk of frostbite increases. It is essential that exposed skin is covered. A neckwarmer/buff that covers the nose is important. These get wet so having an extra one in their backpack is helpful (remember to label them with your child's name!). Buff's (longer tube than a regular neckwarmer, made of a thinner material, often merino wool) are also useful to wear over the head and under the hat to protect the ears. 

  • Wool socks please! Many children (especially the older ones) are still coming to school in cotton socks. These do NOTHING to keep feet warm or dry. If your child refuses to put on wool socks because they are 'uncomfortable' please at least send a pair or two in their backpack so that the option is there when their feet are cold and wet.

  • Hand warmers/toe warmers. These are available at Canadian Tire and other sports stores and go a long way towards keeping cold toes/hands happy. We have a supply here at school and the teachers all carry them in their backpacks but we have 75+ students so we go through them quite quickly meaning a large cost to the school. If possible, sending some with your child would be quite helpful. 

  • Kids grow so fast! But snowpants that do not stay over the boots while climbing, sliding etc in the snow means that snow gets into boots and feet get cold. So please check that your child's snow pants fit. 

  • And lastly, children who are not dressed appropriately MAY be sent home if we cannot keep them warm and safe.  

On our part, in extreme cold/windchill we choose places to play that minimize the exposure to wind. We keep the kids moving- movement creates heat. We check in with the children  regularly to ensure that no one is getting too cold and if skin exposure is an issue things like taking off mitts and keeping faces covered become non-negotiables. Indoor time for snacks and lunch may be extended when possible to shorten the time outdoors if the temperature is a concern. 

Layering with the 3 W's (courtesy of Kingston Nature and Forest School)

"Dress like an onion!" – that way you can adjust as needed and enjoy the outdoors for longer!

If you want to spend long periods of time outdoors, in all weather, it is important to dress appropriately. Layering may seem like a lot of extra work but once you get the hang of it it becomes a breeze. Dressing your family for the weather can be broken down into three important layers.

The 3 W's of Layering: 1) wicking 2) warmth 3) weather-proof

1) WICKING – This layer is closest to the skin, it will wick away any moisture to keep your body comfortable. 

Some favourite fabrics are merino wool and bamboo. Polyester or nylon are some synthetic options that also work (think athletic wear). 

You will want to avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture, leaving you wet and uncomfortable. This base layer includes socks, so avoid cotton there, too!

2) WARMTH – This layer is for keeping you warm & cozy. Depending on the day you may need a light sweater or something heavier. Some great options for this layer are thicker wool, fleece, puffy vests/jackets (synthetic or down), and when it isn't too wet, thicker cotton (like a tracksuit). You want layers that will hold warmth!

3) WEATHER-PROOF – This layer will keep you dry & protected from the elements.

You will be looking for something water resistant, windproof, durable & breathable. This could be snowsuit, a rain suit, a shell jacket, splash pants, and includes footwear.

This guide is focused more on cold-weather scenarios, however, the 3 W's can apply to warm-weather scenarios as well, with a focus on protection from the sun & biting insects. A moisture-wicking base layer is perfect for every season, and then you can adjust/add/remove the other layers as needed. 

Just remember the 3 W's & let the adventures begin!

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