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Outdoor Preschool: How to Dress for Hours of Rain & Cold

I’ve shared here before that our son goes to an all outdoor preschool, but only briefly.  In case you missed it, let me say it again. Our son attends a preschool 3 1/2 hours a day, two days a week which, aside from the bathroom, has absolutely no indoor facilities.  And, yes, we do still live in Seattle where it rains approximately 9 months a year.

Are you shocked?  Think I’m nuts?

I wasn’t so sure in the beginning either but, let me tell you my friends, putting C in this school is one of the best decisions we’ve made as his parents so far.  He is completely thriving and we couldn’t be happier.  I could talk and talk about the benefits of outdoor preschool that we’ve already witnessed first hand, as well as how and why we came to choose one.  So I’ve decided to do just that (sort of) and write a small series on the topic.

Today, I’m starting with the biggest question I faced once we started seriously considering an outdoor preschool:

How do you dress kids for hours of rain and cold?


I teamed up with my friends over at Polarn O. Pyret to answer just that question.  Do you guys know them?  They have top-of-the-line outer wear for kids and when it comes to rain and cold, they don’t mess around. Seriously, if you need winter gear for the kiddos, I’d highly recommend checking them out.

And go now – they have a great 25% off outerwear sale going on thru Sunday, October 21st!

Above is a fun video/stop-motion hybrid I put together displaying everything I learned from them about dressing kids for rain – in 55 seconds flat.

Polarn O. Pyret’s motto pretty much says it all:

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.

They mean it too.  In fact, it was through my collaboration with them on this same topic last year that I was first introduced to the concept of all outdoor schools. The company is based in Sweden, where outdoor preschools and kindergartens originated, so if anyone knows how to dress for this environment it’s them.  Which is exactly why I called them up and asked for their help.

They kindly sent us everything we needed to keep C warm, dry, and happy in every type of weather. They taught me the key to conquering rain is lots of appropriate layers.  So now, every preschool day, we undergo the following five steps to get C ready:

  1. A warm wool underlayer, tops & bottoms – These are basically long johns made from very soft “no itch” merino wool.  We learned at preschool orientation that wool, NOT cotton, is the best base layer because it absorbs water and allows the body to stay warm when wet.
  2. Rain pants & boots – Rain boots were a given to me, but rain pants?  Once I was introduced to these I wondered how we’d survived so long without them.  Partially made of polyurethane, they repel water fantastically and kind of remind me of fireman pants.  They’re also built to last forever. The size C has is 2-4 years and with the adjustable suspenders, waistline, and elastic over-boot straps I know they’ll last us for years.  They’re perfect not only when it’s raining but also when everything outside is wet because it just got done raining.
  3. Windfleece Jacket – The thing about rain is that sometimes it shows up when it’s really cold, and other times the temp. isn’t actually that bad.  That’s where the layers come in.  The idea is to bundle them up in lots of warm, thin layers so they can strip them off as needed.  We’ve had this jacket for over a year and love how durable and warm it is.  C also really loves the thumb holes in the sleeves.
  4. Rain Gloves – More rain gear that I didn’t even know existed!  These are waterproof but lighter than traditional snow gloves, making them great for keeping little hands dry but still usable in the rain.
  5. Wind & Waterproof Shell – Finally, you need to top it all off with one last thin, warm, dry layer.  A high quality shell layer is a must.

That’s it!  Follow these 5 steps and your kiddos will be all set for hours of play in the rain (just like mine).

You don’t have to get these items through Polarn O. Pyret of course.  However, as someone who’s been outfitting my kids with their outerwear for the past 2 years, I do highly recommend them.  We love the durability of their stuff, which really lives up to their mission statement:

We believe in good looking clothes that let children be children. Clothes should withstand wear-and-tear and become part of your family; from brother to sister, cousin to cousin.

Beyond that, they also have a lot of extra features (over-boot stirrups, thumb-hole sleeves, and snow locks on pants and jackets) to ensure that snow and rain just don’t get in.

Plus, they’re having that fabulous 25% off sale on outwear.  Take my advice and stock up now!

P.S. I’ll be talking about how and why we chose an outdoor preschool next time but if you’d like to read up on the topic in the meantime, you can do so here, here and here.



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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcela October 19, 2012 at 1:18 am

An outdoor preschool, how wonderful! My son would love something like that. It reminds me of the Swedish Forest schools of which I learnt little ago. They were mentioned to us by the headmistress of our children’s nursery school, because they were planning to incorporate elements of this type of education in their curriculum (it’s a Montessori nursery school). We researched about them and started incorporating the approach during weekends, with nature exploration walks, etc. I look forward to reading your next post on this subject!

Also, great advice regarding clothing!


Brandy October 19, 2012 at 8:32 am

LOVE PO.P! (I was actually introduced to them researching outdoor schools and keeping kids OUTSIDE by Kari from The Active Kids Club, http://www.activekidsclub.com/.)
Not only are they a fantastic company quality-wise but really advocate for children getting outside and being kids. We live in NC and their layered coats are perfect for our crazy hot/cold/hot/cold weather. The first coat I bought from them has held up for three kids so far!


julia [lifeonchurchill] October 19, 2012 at 9:24 am

what a fun idea! There is a nature center 20 minutes from us that has a preschool. Not completely outdoors but similar. It gets pretty cold in MN :) But I wish my little guy went outside more often at his! I often take my kids to the park after school when they don’t go outside..


Robyn October 19, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Sounds great and I love the ideas for keeping kids warm and dry. But just 2 questions: how do they do anything when wearing mittens and not gloves and no hat (we’ve always been told to keep the head covered b/c that’s where most body heat escapes from).


mpmk October 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Hi Robyn,

You’re correct, most of the body’s heat does escape from the head so, if it’s significantly cold, we do add a hat. If it’s more wet than cold, we go without.

As for the mittens, we were told at orientation at the preschool that the teachers prefer mittens for two reasons:

1) They’re easier to get on if the kids start off with bare hands and then need to put them on later when their hands are cold.

2) Like hats, mittens are best for keeping warm because the fingers are all together, keeping each other warm.

The kids seem to do just fine with them. Thanks for your questions.



Robyn October 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Thanks! I love the idea of outdoor school, my elementary age kids don’t get enough outdoor time during the school day. I wish we had something like that here in MA.


Anna @ The Imagination Tree October 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I absolutely adore the Scandanavian approach to preschools and wish we had an option for something similar near us! Children absolutely thrive in the outdoor environment and I’ve seen some amazing pictures of kids in sub-zero temperatures over there in the thick snow, looking toasty and warm! Your son looks so cosy in his gear- fantastic! Id love to get some of those thermal layers and gloves for my girls, thanks for the tips!


mpmk October 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Robyn & Anna,

Outdoor preschools are a relatively new but growing phenomenon in the states and we are fortunate to be in one of the few cities that have them. I have seen several parent groups working to bring similar schools to their areas – it always starts with the parents, right!

Glad you enjoyed the post and yes, the clothes do a fantastic job of keeping my little guy warm and happy!



Melissa Taylor October 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I love their company motto!! And totally agree. :) I’ll have to go visit the sale now . . . Thanks!


CK October 19, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Kinder -kids. Garten- garden.
Best approach for toddlers. I wish US followed this. So important for kids to be taught outside in the garden. I only wished this was available in CT


Alissa Marquess October 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I absolutely agree – my kids can spend hours outdoors on cold days when they’re dressed for it. I have got to get out our current cold weather gear and assess what we need for this winter before it snows!

And yes – rain pants, aren’t they great!? When I was a teen I went on an Outward Bound course and rain pants made ALL the difference in our comfort on wet days. They made me feel invincible :)


Laura October 19, 2012 at 9:57 pm

This is fabulous. What a fun movie!! Super cute. Great gear. Love the idea of outdoor preschool. So progressive. :)


Jill @ A Mom With A Lesson Plan October 19, 2012 at 11:49 pm

What a fun video! He looks so cozy and warm. Love the motto and totally agree!


Mariah October 20, 2012 at 9:47 am

Thanks for the great advice. It will come in handy as we enter into the chilly season out her on the East Coast. I am off to check out the sale!


Rachelle | TinkerLab October 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

I love this! The video is the perfect way to break it all down. Living in California we rarely need to go this far with our layers, but we do spend time in the mountains and I’ll definitely recommend Polarn O. Pyret to cold and rainy weather friends.


Sara October 25, 2012 at 7:56 pm

This is so helpful! We just moved near Seattle and have a 14 month old. I want her to be able to enjoy being outside but want her to be comfortable and in the right clothes too!


Ann November 7, 2012 at 4:15 am



Adrienn January 18, 2013 at 8:04 am

Cute little video. I so agree!


Janelle Durham June 11, 2014 at 10:22 am

Thanks for this great post! I was writing an article on overcoming the barriers to getting kids outside to play, and needed tips on how to handle “bad weather” by dressing appropriately. This was a perfect resource for me to link to! http://bellevuetoddlers.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/getting-outside/


S December 23, 2014 at 10:29 am

I love outdoor preschool, school, outdoor programs for teens/adults. We live on the wet coast like yourself, and I can’t believe how many parents send their kids out to play with nothing more than a “winter coat” and wonder why they come in crying within 10-15 minutes of play.

I don’t have the high tech gear mentioned on this site, but we’ve always owned wet pants (rain pants) and waterproof (mostly) snow pants for the cold and wet winter days we have (we don’t get snow that often). Toques, mitts, scarves, warm boots, wet boots, waterproof rain coats, winter coats and multiples of each are stashed by the backdoor almost 8 months of the year for my kids (and me!). I try and get the kids outside 1-2 hours twice a day. Since we’re not used to snow and freezing temperatures, that is something we’d have to adapt to and learn new skills, but rain doesn’t bother us!

The benefits: they can keep up with us on trail walks a lot longer than most kids their age. Bike faster, stronger, more confident than half the kids their age. Finally, the kids are also pretty interested and active in gardening (vegetables, fruit, and plants), nature observation, and are pretty good with a hand saw and hammer. They are only 3 and 5 years old.


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