Positive Relationships: Let's talk about ... Outdoor clothing

Annette Rawstrone
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is clothing for outdoors the responsibility of parents or the nursery? Practitioners talk to Annette Rawstrone.

Q: Do you have problems with children attending nursery without suitable clothing for outdoor play?

'We have parents saying that they have deliberately not brought their child's wellies or coat with them because they do not want them to go out in the cold. We then have to explain to them that it is not bad weather that is a problem, but a lack of appropriate clothing. Children do not fall ill because they are outdoors.'

'It is common for children to arrive with inappropriate clothing. In the summer we often have a few little girls with stringy vest tops and no cardigans. Their parents expect them to play in the sun with bare shoulders. In the winter children are sent in with thin coats and no wellies or scarves.'

'A lot of parents drop their children off in cars. A thin jacket is sufficient for the car but not for playing outside.'

'It's the extremes of weather that parents are unprepared for. I've been surprised how many children do not have thick coats and gloves for this recent snow.'

'We encourage the children to bring their own wellies and we have welly boot storage so they can leave them here. We are based on a farm, so Wellingtons need to be worn all year around. We provide waterproof overalls, so all the parents need to provide is a warm coat, hat, scarves and gloves. We have spares if anything gets lost or parents forget to send them, but this does not happen often - the parents are all very good.'

'One parent often dropped her child off without a coat, even when it was very cold. I think she'd just rush out in the morning from a warm house to the car and not stop to consider that her son might be playing outside later on. One day she even carried him in without his shoes on.'

Q: What happens if the children do not have appropriate clothes?

'Our outdoor policy states that children can access the outdoors in all weathers unless it is dangerous. We have waterproof clothing for the children to wear and spare warm clothes for those who do not have them, so no-one has to miss out.'

'We ask parents to apply sun cream in the mornings and then sign that it is OK for us to apply sun cream in the afternoon, but if they do not sign then we can't let the child go out in the sun.'

'We like to play out every day and have spare warm clothes and sun hats, but not enough for every child. If the children have unfit clothing for the weather conditions, then we have to keep them in. We can't let them go out and get sunburnt.'

'Our policy is that if children do not have suitable outdoor clothing then they do not go out. But this is very rare because the parents do not want their children to miss out.'

Q: Do your staff come to work suitably attired for the weather?

'Staff all supply their own outdoor clothes. They are all very good at bringing the right clothes for the weather, but we have had some students come to us and say that they can't go outside with the children because they have not brought a coat. It tends to be the young girls who have only started studying and they say they did not think that the children would be playing outside. In these cases we find students a job to do inside and ask them to bring a coat next time.'

'It tends to be the younger staff who do not dress properly for outdoor play. In some cases their shoes are even unsuitable for work inside the nursery. I think some deliberately don't come with a warm coat because they think they'll be excused from going outdoors - which is not the case.'

'The staff know they have to go outside and they are responsible enough to come well equipped for playing out in all weathers. If they didn't, it'd be their own fault that they're too cold.'

'We provide fleecy coats and waterproof bottoms for the staff, and they provide the rest. Everybody we employ enjoys the outdoors, so we do not have problems with staff dithering about not having the appropriate clothing to go outside.'

Q: Do you give advice on what clothing should be worn?

'We encourage parents to dress their children in layers so they can add and take off clothing depending on the weather and what they are doing. Even when it is really cold some children get hot because they are being so active outside. Building a snowman can be very warming work!'

'With our farm location, the parents who choose us tend to be outdoorsy people themselves. A lot of what we do is outdoors and we are clear about this when we do inductions, show-arounds and keyperson visits. We lend out our overalls to parents at the weekends and also signpost where to buy waterproof clothing if they are interested. A lot of the children now have their own because the parents have realised how valuable they are. They keep the outdoor clothing dry and it means they do not have to keep washing thick coats. The overalls wash and dry really easily.'

'Rather than advice on the clothing, we have to educate some parents on the importance of allowing their children to play out in all weathers. They can worry that their child will fall ill if they have fun splashing in puddles on a rainy day or go out when it has been snowing. As the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes".'

'Our prospectus states that we consider outdoor play to be vital for children's health, development and education. We talk to parents about what to provide when they register - warm clothing and footwear for playing outside and spare clothing in case of accidents.'

Q: Is getting the children ready for playing outside regarded as a chore?

'It did seem a chore when I worked at a nursery where there were set times for going outside. It seemed to take ages to get everyone ready and then it was practically time to come back inside! There aren't the same issues now that I'm working in a nursery with free flow between the inside and outdoor area.'



By Jane Harrison, proprietor, Red Hen Day Nursery  

As the old adage goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Outdoor play is increasingly recognised as crucial for young children's development and well-being in a multitude of areas. Being 'in the weather' will also help children develop life skills and understanding of how to care for themselves, the environment and animals, so it is our duty as early years practitioners to facilitate this.

Enthusiastic staff are key to enthusiastic children. The recruitment process should make this clear, then it is important that all staff facilitate good organisation of resources, space and time so that everyone can enjoy the whole process of being outside. Settings need keen staff outside as well as staff who remain indoors. There will inevitably be children who need the toilet, and all but the most able older children will most likely need assistance to peel off the layers in time!

It also requires a great deal of thought in order to manage vast quantities of wet and muddy clothing effectively. In Denmark I witnessed vast electric drying cupboards, but it was interesting to note that managers said they were too expensive to use. However, an outdoor culture permeated the Danish settings I visited. This extended to the parents, all of whom were responsible for sending their children with suitable clothing.

In this country, settings may have to work harder to ensure parents understand the benefits of outdoor play. This should be made clear right from the start at their initial visit. However, it is still the norm for UK settings to provide specialist clothing like all-weather dungarees. It is important to build up a stock of spares, especially warm socks and a plentiful supply of gloves.

A lot of thought needs to go into facilitating enjoyable outdoor play and there may be times when it is not easy. But once settings have workable systems in place, the well-being of children and staff will benefit.

Red Hen Day Nursery in Legbourne, Lincolnshire, is based on a working farm


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