Blog: The Light of Aurora
The Importance of Quality Outerwear for Young Children: Finding Lower Cost Options00:00 AM - March 11, 2022
As a first-time parent of a young child, I find myself often worrying if my daughter is dressed appropriately for the weather, particularly in the ever-changing temperatures of ‘mud-season’ (i.e., spring and fall) here in the Southtowns. As an outdoor Parent and Tot teacher, I have noticed the topic is frequently brought up among the parents in my classes. I have shared many a good-natured laugh with fellow parents over well-intentioned mishaps with over-layering or under-layering.
And yet, we are not wrong to be overly preoccupied with warmth. In Why Does Waldorf Education Talk About Warmth So Much, anthroposophical doctor Adam Blanning states, “Waldorf teachers and Anthroposophic physicians have been talking about the importance of warmth for almost 100 years, out of the understanding that fostering physical warmth helps a child better integrate on physical, developmental, emotional and spiritual levels.” Indeed, children need to be well prepared for the outdoor elements to comfortably and safely have a fully immersive, sensory, and sustained play (i.e., learning) experience, which wholly supports their development in all spheres.
So, where to start? Base layers, preferably merino wool or silk if possible. Upfront, the investment in such pieces seems expensive, but they do last. Look to eBay and Mercari for second-hand or close-out sale options, ask around your community for preloved hand-me-downs, or seek out-of-season sales. We are in the second year of my daughter’s wooly long john pants and long sleeve shirt sets from Woolino (bought on sale and gifted) and tank top-style undershirts (Hocosa of Switzerland), and somehow the Woolino’s seem to grow with her. She may even get a third year out of the tops. We suggested to family members that a set of long johns or an undershirt would be a great holiday gift. My Italian aunt, in particular, was delighted to purchase such a practical and old-world European-style gift for her great-niece.
As Dr. Blanning suggested, try for two of each. Wool is naturally antibacterial and doesn’t require constant washing. We rotate between two sets of each throughout the week for daytime and nightwear, laundering at the end of each week. I started handwashing as is suggested but then began putting them in the washing machine on cold. While I normally hang to dry, they have accidentally found their way into the dryer without too much shrinkage.
Interestingly, when my daughter began wearing wool base layers, they became her favorite clothing items. One day this winter, all of her wooly options were either missing in a laundry basket or hanging to dry, and we instead headed outside with numerous cotton and fleece layers under her snowsuit for outdoor playtime. She quickly complained about the cold, an out-of-the-ordinary grievance for her.
There are plenty of outdoor gear options available for your child's top layer to best support their sustained outdoor play. Rain pants, rain boots, and insulated rain/snow boots like Bogs are ideal, along with a good quality snowsuit. At under $30, the brand Muddy Buddy makes a great accessibly-priced one-piece rain suit; the only drawback is that it can’t be worn in warmer weather with its long sleeves. We recently upgraded to Polarn O. Pyret bib-style rain/mud pants after observing some families with them in this past fall’s Parent-Toddler classes - they offer both fleece-lined and unlined options. The unlined pants can even be worn with a t-shirt in warmer weather. The Polarn O. Pyret pants are more pricey but are generously sized, and with lengthy adjustable suspenders, children can likely get two years out of them. Find more suggestions for rain gear here: https://runwildmychild.com/best-rain-gear-for-kids/. And as a general guide, Dr. Blanning suggests looking to your own dress as an example, and adding one additional layer for your child. Young children, in particular, lose heat more quickly and cannot sense cold and warmth in the same way adults do.
Further following anthroposophical guidance, hats are a must in all sorts of weather. We loved a wool balaclava-style hat that my daughter received as a hand-me-down when she was a baby, but now as an active 3-year-old with long hair, she refuses to wear anything of the sort. Instead, we stick with any warm knit hat with a tie under her chin, and they usually stay put. One great option for spring/summer are Sunday Afternoon play hats. They are sturdy yet packable and have a quick release drawstring to hold snug under one’s chin. Water-repellent and with mesh sides and UV protection, they are excellent in both rain and sun alike. Hats, too, with long hair pulled back, help to act as a tick deterrent.
One of the very fair criticisms in purchasing outdoor gear is accessibility; outdoor gear is pricey, children grow out of it quickly, and it can be well out of budget for many families. My family has this concern as well. Thankfully, we have been able to source many of our daughter’s outdoor clothing items from eBay (we purchased her brand new Bogs waterproof and insulated rain/snow boots for $30, retail price $70. Two years in a row, I have found her gently used LL Bean one-piece snowsuits in the $20-$30 range, which generally retail for $80 new). Her hiking boots and Hunter rain boots are second-hand from Kid to Kid consignment shop, and both were around $10. Great finds, too, are often at your local Goodwill, Savers, or Amvets. Or utilizing various ‘pay in 4’ financing options (Afterpay, Klarna, ZipPay, etc.) helps to spread out the cost of pricier new buys and make it a bit lighter on one’s wallet.
And don’t forget your own gear! Even as an outdoor teacher, I only recently began wearing rain/mud pants, and they are a game-changer. I can now get on the ground more easily with my daughter in all weather, and I feel a bit more confident in terms of tick and poison ivy protection wearing them. I found a great bib-type non-PVC pair (Navis Marine brand) on Amazon for under $50. I pair those with a good set of rain boots and my old $10 raincoat, and I’m all set to go. And children are so much more likely to happily wear - and keep on - their outdoor gear (hats and mitts in particular) if their grown-ups are wearing them as well.
Outdoor play in all types of weather offers many benefits to young children. Our endlessly curious little ones delight in splashing in puddles, squishing their hands in the mud, touching bumpy tree bark, balancing across logs, hearing bird calls, and feeling the raindrops on their cheeks. In experiencing all that nature has to offer, they learn and make connections. They build strength, confidence, resilience, and an appreciation of the natural world. And time in nature offers a holistic opportunity to fully develop their senses - a primary focus of Waldorf early childhood education. By outfitting our children in suitable gear, we allow them to be comfortable, prepared, and most ready for the adventures that await.
Kate Meehan is AWS’ Parent and Tot Forest Program teacher. She previously worked in early childhood programs in two Waldorf schools in Canada. She holds a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies, a diploma in Peace and Justice Studies, and a certificate in Early Childhood Education. She was educated in Anthroposophy and Waldorf Early Childhood Education at the Rudolf Steiner Center Toronto. Most recently she completed the Forest Teacher Training program through Forest School Teacher Institute. She lives with her partner Thomas and their three year old daughter Juniper and they love to be outdoors as much as possible.