Here at Nature School, we LOVE that there is so much current 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 top half
1) Layers (in Summer) -
In New Jersey, where our Nature School runs, ticks are an unfortunate hazard found in our forests, fields and meadows. Ticks can create anxiety among adults due to the risk of contracting Lyme's Disease. This is a very real concern, and one that we take many precautions to avoid. One precaution that we live by is a long-sleeve layer even on the hottest summer days. This looks like a basic long-sleeve white cotton shirt so that we may see ticks more easily and remove the outer layer when we are done playing and exploring for the day. A long-sleeve T-shirt also gives a bit more sun protection, and for this fair-skinned maiden, it's a requirement!
2) Rain Jacket
It took several years and many different attempts to get a solid jacket that keeps my whole body dry in a driving rain, head to torso, has the right amount of pockets, the ability to regulate armpit heat in warmer temperatures, and won't tear on rocks or thorns. I've been wearing my current jacket for a handful of years now and it's still meets my every need.
It is a Marmot Women's Minimalist Jacket. I love it because it is lightweight without added insulation, so it works well within my winter layers system (read below.) It has a hood that stays put with a slight brim to keep rain drops out of my face. It has "PitZips," (crucial in a humid, summer rain storm,) and zippered pockets to keep my found treasures from falling out.
3) Layers (in Winter) -
Years ago, when I first started this work, I would wear an insulated winter coat. You know, the typical puffy one piece, zip up with a hood that is worn over a sweater or what-not. This system held up alright when we were going outside for shorter periods of time. Then we evolved our program to offer Forest School, which means that we are outside for multiple hours in all weather. My old puffy coat that worked for an hour or so just wasn't cutting it anymore. So it was off to REI I went!
There, I had a very helpful associate sell me on layer system. The idea behind layers is that as the cold air seeps into your bones and makes you feel colder, you can add on more clothing without a lot of bulk. Relatedly, if you engage in a high-energy movement activity to keep warm, then you have an easier time re-regulating your body temperature gently by removing a one layer at a time until you cool down. The main benefit of layers is the ease by which you can regulate your overall body temperature and therefore comfort level.
So my layers include:
1st = a lightweight vest by REI Co-Op
2nd = a lightweight full sleeve jacket (no hood) by REI Co-Op
3rd = a waterproof Gore-Tex outer layer jacket by Marmot (listed above)
4) [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!
5) a Buff
This is a very versatile accessory that can be used in a multitude of ways on your top half. Buffs come in all different sizes, colors, and patterns so it can be a way to work in a little pizzazz into your solid color gear! A Buff can be used as a scarf in order to keep the cold wind off of your neck, which is believed in traditional Chinese medicine to be how illness begins.
A Buff can also be used as an ear warmer if you are someone who does not like wearing hats, but need something to cover your ears, while allowing heat to escape from your crown. There are many other possibilities for Buffs; these just happen to be my two go-to's.
So there you go! Our best of the best tried-and-true gear to wear on your top half in all kinds of weather. Next week our Forest School Teacher series continues with 'Gear - Unpacking the Backpack.'