Forest School families often hear us ask if children are dressed in their warm layers. This isn’t just small talk, this is a significant part of ensuring we have happy kids in the forest! Many adults who are active in colder weather know this system well, but sometimes we forget the importance of doing the same for children. It isn’t always as simple as big bulky snowsuits, layers have an integral role in staying warm in all seasons.
As some colder weather settles upon us, this seems like a perfect opportunity to explain the why, what, when, where and how of this system.
Layering our clothing provides many benefits in all weather. In colder weather it is an essential part to outdoor fun. Layering helps to trap warm body heat where it belongs – next to the body, it also works to keep cold weather out. A non cotton base layer wicks away moisture and insulates the body. A fleece or wool mid layer works to trap body heat and regulate the body temperature. The outer layer’s job is to keep the wet and cold out, while releasing the inner perspiration.
First off, the golden rule: NO JEANS OR COTTON! Jeans dry slowly and trap the cold close to the body while cotton absorbs water quite well and holds it close to the skin.
Base layers – synthetic or wool long johns (aka thermals). A heavier weight can be used in colder weather to help insulate.
Mid layers – fleece or wool pants and sweaters for late fall-winter-early spring. This layer does not need to be fancy – any fleece or wool will do the trick!
Outer layers – rain or snow suit (ideally waterproof).
Extremities – warm wool socks, waterproof insulated boots and mittens; warm wool or synthetic toque; neckwarmer in colder weather.
This system is primarily used during the fall, winter and spring. We tend to rely on this system in weather where a jacket is required, decreasing the weight of the mid layer on spring and fall days. When children spend full days outside, it is an important part of being comfortable, warm and dry.
The question we often come across at Forest School is: where do I get these items. Our advice is to try and buy a good base and outer layer and don’t worry about the quality of the mid layer. If you have a knitter in your family, that can be perfect for this layer. MEC has excellent children’s base layers at a reasonable price, but sometimes these can be even found at used clothing stores for excellent deals. One trick we at OMFS try is typing MEC into the buy and sell section of Kijiji when searching for children’s gear.
We know that getting children to buy into this system can sometimes be a challenge. Layers can feel bulky and uncomfortable if your child is sensitive to the feeling of certain clothing. Our best advice is to snip tags, choose colours your child may like, and try some practice runs experimenting with which options your child is most likely to put on, rather than struggling on the morning of forest school. Children can always remove a layer when they are warm, but once cold, it is often difficult to warm up.
We know that when a child has a warm core, their extremities stay warmer. When our core is warm our bodies release warm blood into the extremities. On the opposite end, when our core is cold it tries to hold onto that blood to keep the inner organs warm and the extremities become cold. Cold fingers and toes are a struggle when you’re trying to have fun in the outdoors and our first hand knowledge tells us that we can prevent this challenge by the above listed system. Proper layering systems do in fact lead to happy children!