Here at Nature School, we LOVE that there is so much talk and energy devoted to getting kids outside, with supporting articles about the how's and why's, and best practice. If you Google "kid's clothing for outdoor play," you will generate multiple pages containing images, blogs, instructional videos, and advertisements, all devoted to making the conquering of this elusive element easier.
But how about for us- the facilitators, the leaders, the guides, the teachers of said 'outdoor play + exploration?' Not so much.
Sure, you'll find various recommendations for apparel (i.e. pants with pockets for everything, shirts that come out of a backpack without wrinkles, hats with wide brims, etc.) but little to no guidance when it comes to what to wear to support the kind of work we do in nature with young children.
Look no further! We are here to help!
Painted Oak Nature School has been a preschool and kindergarten for almost 8 years now. In that time, we have led hundreds of hikes and outdoor lessons in every kind of weather. While we do not lead children on hikes during hail storms, lightning storms, or into the woods during high winds, we are out and about in nearly every other kind of weather. In Winter, you will see us exploring and playing so long as the temperature with wind chill is a double digit number. Without proper gear, this would not be nearly as pleasant for us as the supportive, encouraging adults.
As Rachel Carson said, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” It's hard to be that joyful adult, if your own needs are not being met.
So here's our go-to list of best gear to support us, the adults...on our bottom half
1) Durable Rain Pants -
If you are like me, you are the kind of Forest School leader who likes to kneel on the ground while teaching or making observations in order to be eyeball to eyeball with the children, and also to connect directly with the Earth. In 8 years, I have tried to work in a lot of pants. I mean, a lot! I will forever be grateful to Anne Stires, at Juniper Hill School in Maine for turning me on to Grundens. Made for fishermen and women, these pants can stand up against just about anything. I wear them all-year. They are bulky enough to wear my snow pants underneath in the Winter for warmth, and are completely waterproof so great for being on muddy spring/summer/fall ground. While they are a heavier overall, I do wear them many days in the summer too, because of their durability. They do not breathe well, though, so it can get pretty sweaty!
2) Lightweight Rain Pants -
On days when I am not leading groups into the woods, meadows, or to the stream, but am instead joining for Morning Gathering, or class learning circles, I will opt for my North Face rain pants. They are lighter weight, fit more like a regular pant, and are not as roomy as my orange pants. They go directly over my regular 'street-clothes,' so I do not wear these in the winter as there is no room for insulated snow pants underneath. They work well if standing in the rain or hiking out, but I do not choose these pants if I am going to be sitting or kneeling directly on the ground as they are permeable. Because they are more breathable than my Grundens, I choose these on super, super hot summer days.
3) Boots -
In this category of gear, I'm assuming most folks have their favorites depending on boot weight, foot shape, preferred toe box room, etc. But for those of you who may be just starting out, here are my two go-to's that I've used for the last eight years (read: durable!)
Rain Boots: Kamik
Light weight, good for temps I'd say up to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, mid calf height so great for stream stomping
Snow Boots: Sorel
Heavy weight, good for temps under 45 degrees F, ankle height, a really tough boot!
4) Socks -
Socks can make or break your foot-experience, and therefore your whole-body experience, especially out in cold temperatures. Some folks think that layering two socks is better. I do not agree! What typically ends up happening is that the toes get cold because there isn't enough circulation. What I do promote is a good wool sock (vegan-options are silk or fleece) - NO cotton as it does not wick moisture away from the skin well and does not provide the same level insulation as wool, or a wool-alternative.
5) [Late-Fall/Winter] Base Layer -
Depending on where you live, and how cold your body runs, you may or may not require a base layer. I swear by mine, since I do run cold, and especially when I know I'm going to be out for a handful of hours in temperatures below 45 degrees F. I use Smart Wool as my top thermal layer as well as my bottom thermal layer. Don't underestimate the power of a base layer!
So there you go! Our best of the best tried-and-true gear to wear on your bottom half in all kinds of weather. Next week our Forest School Teacher series continues with 'Gear - The Top Half.'
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