As the seasons turn, I try to keep ahead of what my 3-year-old needs so that she can enjoy being outdoors. But she grew 4 inches in the past year, so the winter boots we bought big last spring were already too small when we tried them on this fall. Time to go shopping again!
Good gear is essential to enjoying the rain, snow, and cold of fall and winter. Kids do better when they’re not cooped up indoors—but they also enjoy their time outdoors better when they stay warm and dry.
A few key items can help your kids love outdoor play time and put your mind at ease. I recently received a list of helpful suggestions from teacher Alice Maury Beeler, who has decades of experience getting preschool children outside year-round. With her permission, I’m sharing the highlights below.
Kids’ Fall and Winter Essentials for Outdoor Neighborhood Play
- An extra “top” (above the waist) layer to put on over regular indoor clothes. A fleece jacket, sweatshirt, or sweater will help keep your child warm.
- An extra bottom layer. For additional warmth, dress your child in long underwear or warm tights under regular clothes, or add fleece pants over them.
- A waterproof rain coat with a hood.
- Waterproof rain pants. These should have elastic or Velcro fastenings at the cuff to keep water out and heat in.
- Warm socks. Wool socks are especially warm, and Maury Beeler likes those made with a mix of angora fiber (from rabbits), which is warmer and lighter than wool. She also recommends layering more than one pair of socks (a pair of synthetic socks under a pair of wool ones, for example).
- Boots. Both waterproof boots for the rain and insulated waterproof boots for snow are essential for kids. “Snow boots should have fleece or felt linings, and fasten securely with Velcro or zippers,” Maury Beeler advises.
- A snow suit. “A suit with a jacket and bib pants is more versatile than a one-piece suit, although one-piece suits are easier to put on,” Maury Beeler says. The suit should be roomy enough to allow your child to wear a sweater under it, and for your child to be able to move and play comfortably. The suit should have elastic or Velcro fasteners at cuffs and ankles, a zip closure, and a hood. Some suits have elastic straps that go under kids’ feet to help keep the pant legs from riding up. Snow suits are not for snow only: they’re great for warmth on any cold days.
- A hat. The hat should be warm, cover the ears, fasten with Velcro under the chin, and be made of fleece, or of fleece and wool, Maury Beeler says. Hats with ties can pose choking hazards. Hats without fasteners aren’t likely to stay on heads. (With a 3-year-old or older, I would add, even the Velcro doesn’t guarantee the hat will stay on. But it helps.)
- Mittens. These should have thumbs, so kids can play actively outdoors. For cool weather, children can wear lighter mittens, fleece or wool, with Velcro fastenings or elastic cuffs. When the weather is cold or wet, use waterproof mittens. “The very best mittens (that are least likely to fall off) are those with long cuffs that go far up the arms, almost to a child’s elbows,” Maury Beeler says. She recommends mittens with Velcro fastenings that allow an adult to put the child’s hands in them first before fastening the Velcro; these also tend to stay on better. “The trick is to put on the mittens and then the coat!” she says. It is good to have several pairs of mittens, since they can be easily lost.
If your child doesn’t have everything on this list, try shopping second-hand stores or local swaps to outfit him or her completely.
Also, bear in mind that this list was prepared for families whose kids are going outside for about an hour in a city environment, where a quick return indoors and a change to dry clothes is always an option. If you are heading to the backcountry or expecting to spend more time in the elements, it may be much more important to stick to clothes made of synthetics and wool, or adopt other strategies to keep your children comfortable. See the link below for more tips for extended excursions in the cold.
For more clothing tips for winter, see Dressing Like An Onion and Other Tips for Keeping Kids Warm.
Photo by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.
Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog written by Heather Stephenson.