Forest School in the Winter – Keeping Warm and Playing Outside

As I’ve mentioned before, Dil has attended a forest school nursery for a couple of years now. When the time came for him to begin his reception year we opted to keep him in this setting, purely based on how much he had thrived there already. The benefits of a true forest school are huge and it’s amazing to have found a place for Dil to learn important values like empathy, kindness and compassion as well as skills like phonics and maths. The children spend their days climbing trees, tending to chickens and cooking around the fire as well as spending time exploring different ideas in philosophy and learning to read and write different sounds – often using sticks to write in the mud. They become risk takers, problem solvers, critical thinkers and supportive friends to their peers. They develop a passion for learning about a huge variety of topics, without even realising they are actually learning anything at all. It’s incredible, and that is just really the tip of the iceberg to what an amazing place Dandelions is.

The first thing people always say to me when I tell them that Dil goes to an outdoor forest school is “what, even in the rain??” or “even during the Winter when it’s cold?”, “isn’t there any indoor space at all?”. It’s difficult for people to comprehend, because most kids are tucked up in the dry and the warm for a large portion of their day. It’s not conventional, and probably a little odd to people that I willingly send Dil out into the cold for the day, or that he willingly goes. On site they do have a small yurt which is kept warm and dry, but as far as I know Dil has only been inside a handful of times. During some particularly heavy rain last year I picked up my happy and muddy little boy, and was told by his key worker “we did open up the yurt but he didn’t want to go inside, he was happy running around in the rain”. He doesn’t know why people would go inside in the rain, because he thinks the rain is incredible.

There are a whole load of benefits to being outside all year round. The Dandelion kids learn resilience, they learn initiative, and they learn about nature and weather in the realest way possible. Why sit in a classroom learning about wind and precipitation when you can outside and see it in action. They get plenty of fresh air and exercise as they are always moving (sometimes to stay warm), which is well documented to aid a young child’s ability to learn. It’s also proven that being outside boosts your immune system, and improves their physiological state, their emotional well being and their mental health – which is an increasing concern for young people.

Basically being outside all day is a brilliant thing, but yes it gets a bit chilly and a bit wet and as adults I suspect most of us can’t think of anything worse then being outside in the rain and the snow. Actually though most kids couldn’t give a toss, and so with a bit of clever layering and some appropriate clothes they are perfectly happy to be outside in any weather. Alfred Wainwright once said “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” and that’s a motto Dandelions has really adopted (and convinced me to adopt). I actually find forest school in the Summer to be more of a challenge – it’s much harder to keep children cool, well hydrated and safe from the sun when it’s very hot outside. During the Winter the priority is to keep them warm and dry, and I’m often asked how we manage it so here’s what Dil wears on a standard cold and wet Winter’s day, and where I buy it from:

  • Thermal layers – preferably wool, long sleeve top and long trousers. I like the Polarn O Pyret ones and they have lasted us several years now, and also recently got some good ones from Mountain Warehouse who seems to always have a sale on
  • Long sleeve top and comfy thick tracksuit trousers – cheap cotton ones, usually from Primark or a supermarket for us as they don’t stay clean for long
  • Jumper or sweatshirt for very cold days and/or
  • Fleece hoodie (got some great ones from Mountain Warehouse and Decathlon) and on very cold days fleece trousers too (got ours in Aldi who often stocks great winter/ski wear!)
  • Socks – one pair of normal socks and one pair of thick wool socks on top
  • Waterproof salopettes and jacket – Thermal lined. Dil has previously worn an all in one lined suit but the separates make it much easier for him to use the toilet without help. Currently Dil has been wearing his Muddy Puddles Blizzard coat and salopettes (pictured – they have it in other colourways and Tootsa have the rainbow one in stock!), and we also have lovely waterproofs from Celavi (who also do really nice rainwear for when it’s wet but not super cold)
  • Gloves – I buy cheap gloves from Primark because they are easily lost, and usually add a waterproof pair on top – H&M stocks these, and also Decathlon
  • Waterproof thermal hat, and a snood or balaclava. Open ended traditional scarves are banned due to the possible injury they could cause, Dil has a neck warmer from Polarn
  • Fleece lined snow boots that tighten at the top – Dil’s are from Celavi

In the (waterproof) bag:

  • Spare socks
  • Spare gloves
  • Spare trousers and top
  • Bag for any wet clothes

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