Outdoor Clothes for Adults – Will We Ever Learn?

8 November 2010 · 8 comments

in General Commentary

The heating is on in our house. The winds are blowing outside. The dashboard in my car has been flashing warnings at me about the outside temperature being low enough to be icy on the road. The days are definitely looking greyer and getting shorter and shorter. Winter is just about here.

For me, these are all warning signs to get prepared for wrapping up warm outside. Learning to do this seems to be an experiential process. I can advise participants on courses to come dressed for being outside, but there is usually several people feeling the cold within a few minutes of being outdoors.

Jeans are cold when wet and take ages to dry

The above photo is one of my favourite from my Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. These are three students with their lecturer on the International Outdoor Education Masters degree at Linkoping University in Sweden. It is their first outdoor practical session. It’s easy to work out who is the lecturer! At the end of the morning, when the students were reviewing the session, the first comment made was the need to come better dressed! The good news is that a few months later, I saw lots of photos on Facebook from the students’ trip up north where everyone was thoroughly togged up.

For me, the clothing worn by adults who work outdoors with children is a good clue as to the amount of time they spend outside. As a general rule of thumb, most adults who spend time outside will be wearing boots, overtrousers, a waterproof and windproof jacket that is zipped up, a hat and gloves. Then there are those who experiment. Lynn McNair, from Cowgate Under 5’s Centre often wears biker trousers. Instead of gloves, I favour 2 pairs of power wrist gaters worn on top of each other so I can still do fiddly tasks.

This teacher is “Power Dressing” for being outside in the snow
Very often, I see situations where children are dressed for the weather but the adults aren’t. The photo below demonstrates this beautifully. Yet, we have to think carefully about the hidden message this sends to children. (There was a fundraising pyjama day happening in school on the day of the photo, just to clarify the situation).

Outdoor gear in many jobs is classed as technical gear that is to be supplied by the employers. This does happen occasionally in schools and nurseries but is still quite rare. In theory, I think this should happen more frequently, so that staff are encouraged to go outside and cannot use a lack of suitable clothing as a reason not to. Furthermore, having staff clearly identifiable, can be helpful for visitors and children. Certainly some of the comments on Gareth Malone’s blog about his Extraordinary School for Boys are quite eye-opening in terms of the expectations that teachers should be looking “professional” when at work. No jeans, no trainers, no nose rings, no problem, etc.

In practice, I would hate being told what to wear. I am, to quote an image consultant, “vertically challenged” which means that one-size-fits-all-clothing makes me look dumpy. I have a strange-shaped head which looks downright weird in most hats. My hands are unfeasibly small so gloves rarely fit me properly. I hate having cold feet so I rarely wear wellies. I prefer waterproof trail boots.

This is me in the middle of May. I bravely didn’t wear a hat!
And as I’m in mid-flow of confessions I should also add I’m one of the biggest wimps I know. I fear the  cold, thus woolly socks, knee-length socks, fleece clothing and a scarf are standard gear for me all year round.

So for parents everywhere, I have a suggestion. If you feel you must give your child’s teacher a present this Christmas, then consider an outdoor garment or voucher for an outdoor shop. It’s an understated way of encouraging them to go outside all year round.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Debi November 8, 2010 at 03:59

I dress in layers nearly year round (and definitely now that it’s “fall” here in Los Angeles) & my kids think I’m nuts. But you’re right, in general, parents & other adults don’t dress the part for outdoor excursions. Which is a shame because it’s tough to enjoy & engage with your kids outside if you’re too cold or otherwise uncomfortable.


(V.Kerr) School Time Adventures November 8, 2010 at 06:16

Thanks for sharing what you like and don’t like. And I agree you need to have proper winter clothes or you will not like being outside for more than 5 min.


Mandy November 8, 2010 at 22:12

Juliet, thanks for this. I too am a total wimp and hate being cold and/or wet. That said I was outside for 6 hours today in Aberdeen – 6 degrees and a really strong wind – and wasn’t cold once. The answer: you have to get cold and wet at least once to sort yourself out! So here’s to waterproof trousers and Buffalo tunics until next April!


Juliet Robertson November 9, 2010 at 08:16

I think what I’m finding is that adults who go outside all year round with children are no harder or tougher than anyone else. I have never got used to a bitter wind blowing in my face.

But I do know the value of finding a sheltered spot to work and warm clothes to wear. I’ve just bought a long down jacket which is toasty warm. Sigh!


Sherry and Donna November 11, 2010 at 20:29

Totally agree Juliet about dressing appropriately for the outdoors. As we live in a relatively warm climate here in Australia, we struggle at times to get parents to provide even a warm coat in winter let alone hats, gloves and scarves for their children … even though we can experience really cold and wet winters like we did this year. As for dressing for snow conditions … well I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be!
Donna 🙂 🙂


Christie - Childhood 101 November 15, 2010 at 11:54

I think the opposite is true here in Australia too, staff not presenting themselves appropriately dressed for the heat – with a wide brimmed hat and covered shoulders, etc. Especially young people 🙂


Carla Gull January 23, 2013 at 13:04

We have a nature preschool and I often find it’s the moms that want to go inside earlier. Having appropriate gear really does make a difference. I’ll often keep an extra pair of gloves in my pocket for the kids–maybe I should do the same for the adults!


Juliet Robertson January 26, 2013 at 10:40

I’ve been having a wardrobe clearout recently and the one set of items I simply cannot throw out are my myria of jackets for different outdoor situations. As I do spend a lot of time outside, I’m constantly tuning into the weather. So for example at school I need warm coats such as a big down jacket. This is too hot, though, for dog walks on most days. I’ve recently acquired a padded waterproof which is ideal for cold spring or autumn days. At least I’ve plenty of spare now for adults on training courses.


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