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Nov 29

Gearing Up for Outdoor Play in the Cold

by Meghan Fitzgerald

Part 1: The Right Approach

The right gear is essential. But, a parent’s attitude goes a long way to keeping the whole family warm and happy outdoors in winter. To start, remind yourself why it's so valuable to get kids outside in winter. We also loved these tips from Linda McGurk, author of There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather.

Next, you need to know how to call when it is really just too cold to be outdoors. Once you can trust that it’s safe to take kids outside, it’s pretty easy to show them that you are cool with being cool. Model the various ways to fall in love with winter in your area—stomp and crack frozen puddles or taste snow (+maple syrup), collect rain water in colorful jars, or get to know the birds that either stay behind or pass through en route to warmer weather. No matter how you do it, we've found remembering to love winter makes us feel warmer too.

Part 2: Gear up (what you really need)

3 Key Layers - If kids wear layers, body heat stays in, air circulates and water can “wick away,” keeping kids drier and warmer. Plus, kids can shed or add layers to release or retain heat as needed.

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To really do it right, you need these 3 layers:

  1. Base Layer (long undies + socks or tights)
  2. Second Layer (pants, sweater)
  3. Outer Layer (coat, hat, mittens and waterproof snow pants)
  • If snow pants are well insulated, you can skip the pants
  • As the temperature drops below 40 degrees, the second and outer layers should get thicker and more substantial to keep kids warm.

The right base layer 

Having the right material on the inner or base layer helps kids stay warm and dry out in the cold. Our winning recipe is long underwear (top and bottom) and socks in wool, silk or cotton—making sure that the base layer fits right next the skin, so it can do its job.

Wool—When we lived in Brooklyn, we discovered Ella’s Wool—a wonderful, Brooklyn-mom-owned, online shop that sells high quality wool base and outer layers for babies and kids. And, we are thrilled that Tinkergarten families can use the code Tinker to receive 15% off! We've also had great luck with Smartwool and Darn Tough (kids ages 5+ only) socks for our girls.

Cotton—Pure cotton, although not as good at wicking away the wetness, can provide a soft and warm base layer. A Swedish friend sent us to Polarn O. Pyret, where we found great cotton leggings and shirts (see the Eco line) in addition to great wool tights and socks. Polarn O. Pyret is made for Scandinavian winters and outdoor play in any weather. Tinkergarten families can sign up for their Outdoor School Program 20% discount. To get the discount, fill out the program application with your name, address etc. Under “Affiliated Outdoor School & Address” write Tinkergarten and the city and state that your class takes place in. 


The right outer layers

Snow or rain pants and snow or rain jackets are key. For children 5 and younger, the one-piece rain or snow suit is a dream, but snow or rain pants with suspenders are also solid—any solution that is likely to stay on and keep in more body heat. For little ones, we love a one-piece suit for rain and snow. There are lots of brands out there for outer wear, but we especially love the quality and value of gear Oakiwear (not to mention that they are another company started by an inspired mom!). Get 10% off with code oakischool!

MITTENS!! If small hands do not stay warm enough, outdoor time in the bitter cold turns from glorious to tragic for all involved. We can’t say enough about Snow Stoppers. They stay on hands (hurrah!) and keep kids really warm. We also always bring a spare pair of mittens, just in case the first get soaked.
Warm, waterproof boots are a must. If you are in a rainy place, Oakiwear has quality rainboots for kids (see discount above!). Here in snow territory, we've had great luck with Bogs (super easy for kids to put on and off) and Kamik boots. Although an initial investment, the kids wear them every day, AND they are still in good shape for the next sibling!

Part 3: Learn some ways to play outdoors in winter

There are wonderful ways to play and learn outdoors in winter. We’ll share a bunch of them on the site and in our winter classes this season. Some of our favorite examples are Building a Snow House, Going on a Winter Bear Huntand hunting for Frozen Treasure.


Part 4: A few more favorite FAQs and tips…

  • Is my kid too hot? Feel your child or baby’s upper back. If that spot is all hot and sweaty, shed a layer—you've overdressed them.
  • What if it’s windy? Put some fatty lotion (e.g. Aquaphor or coconut oil) on faces (especially under nose, around lips and cheeks) to protect exposed skin from chapping. Learn how the wind chill impacts when it's too cold to be outside.
  • Warm them from the inside. Bring a warm, yummy drink like hot chocolate or blueberry tea (a staple in Tinkergarten winter classes) and something tasty to enjoy outdoors. Or, make it a ritual to enjoy a warm and yummy treat when you come back indoors.
  • Take good care of hands. Mittens are better than gloves at keeping kids warm, but get whatever you know will stay on their hands. My favorite trick to keep hands happy is to pack an extra pair of DRY mittens or gloves for each kid just for the trip home—somehow hands really need extra love once the play ends.
  • Know any place to get quality gear at a bargain? We've had great luck with using the classifieds on our local parent listserv as well as second-hand kids clothing stores. Winterkids.com and other online sites also have good deals from time to time.
  • Please share! What tips and techniques keep you and yours comfy outdoors? Contact us to let us know what keeps you and your kids happy and warm outside in the winter.

Meghan Fitzgerald


After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, Meghan has her dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including hers, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, Meghan worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. She earned a BA with majors in English and Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. When she is with her kids, Meghan is that unapologetic mom who plays along with them in mud, dances in the pouring rain, and builds a darn good snow igloo with her bare hands.
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