Expert tips: How to help kids dress for winter independently

Expert tips: How to help kids dress for winter independently

In the classic children’s book Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch, there’s a moment where the frazzled mother picks up her son in one hand, grabs his snowsuit in the other hand, and tries to “stick them together.”

Ah, if only it were that easy. 

In the winter, getting little ones dressed to go outside is a big job, so we asked a couple of experts for advice. Feel free to borrow these practical strategies that are used daily at childcare centres and schools. (Or, to put it another way: kids, try this at home!)

Preschool (age 2-4)

Robin Gallant has worked with the YMCA of Three Rivers childcare program in Ontario for seven years, and is also the mom of a one-year-old. Here are her behind-the-scenes tips for helping kids get into their winter gear:

  • Allow plenty of time. Kids need extra time to get ready, and you can use that time to encourage them as they try to dress themselves. It’s easier to be patient and positive if you’re not in a rush.
  • Let them teach. Kids love to demonstrate, so ask them to show you how to get dressed so that it seems like they’re teaching you something.
  • Make it fun, in a sneaky way! To develop familiarity with outdoor clothing, we try to integrate it into our playtime—for example, using hats and mitts at the dress-up centre or doing a skit about winter.
  • Pack extras. Have two pairs of mittens on hand so they always have a dry pair. An extra pair of socks is a good idea too.
  • When it’s age-appropriate, we teach kids the “flip trick” to put on their coat independently. Lie the jacket flat on the floor, zipper side up, but upside down (with the neck/hood closest to them). Have the child bend forward and slide their arms into the sleeves, then flip the jacket over their back. 
  • Mittens all the way. They’re warmer than gloves and are simpler for young children to slide on, instead of having to find the right spot for each finger.
  • Keep it safe and easy. A tube-style neck warmer is safer and easier to put on than a long, wraparound scarf.
  • Create a flowchart with photos or sketches. Have pictures of each item, to show the correct sequence: first snow pants, then boots, then neck warmer, and so on.
  • Have a chair or bench close by so kids can sit to put on their boots. Alternatively, place the boots close to a wall that can be used for balance.

Gallant’s final suggestion is to liven up the process by singing about it. All it takes is a simple preschool song such as “This is the way we wash our hands” with a few minor tweaks:

This is the way we put on our mittens, put on our mittens, put on our mittens

This is the way we put on our mittens, when we go outside!

Kindergarten (age 4-6)

Kindergarteners might have a little more dexterity than preschoolers, but they still need plenty of support when it comes to dressing appropriately for the weather. Jennifer Aylsworth is an experienced kindergarten teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario, and a mom of two active girls. She shared the following additional tips for families:

  • Test out winter gear in the store before buying it, to ensure your child can put it on and take it off with ease. For example, some longer mittens with zippers on the sides are almost impossible for young children to manipulate. Similarly, winter boots with removable linings can be tricky if the liner shifts around or comes out entirely.
  • Label every single item (big and small) that goes to school. Young children often don’t recognize their own belongings and we have many identical items that can be easily mixed up. Parents can write the child’s name on the inner tag with a permanent marker or apply a personalized name label. This also allows in-class helpers to quickly match misplaced items with the correct owner.
  • We teach our students to keep their hats and mitts tucked in their coat sleeves so they don’t get lost in the high-traffic cubby area.
  • In the winter, we have a “Zipper Club” to motivate students to learn to zip their coats on their own. I encourage parents to have their children practice this skill at home as well. Once a child can zip independently, their name goes on a classroom poster, and gives them a great sense of pride and achievement.

Songs are still popular with this age group, to help guide them and build positive momentum. Aylsworth sings to the tune of “Oh My Darlin’, Clementine” with customized, instructive lyrics:

First your snow pants, then your boo-oots, then your jaaaacket, then your hat

And so you can zip your zipper, put your mittens on last! 

Using the same organization and creativity, you can help your kids become more proficient with their winter outerwear.

At the end of the Robert Munsch book, Thomas hears his friends calling him to come out and play, at which point he jumps into his snowsuit, puts his boots on “in two seconds” and dashes out the door.

Sometimes, all it takes is the right inspiration.

To figure out what your child should wear outdoors, depending on the temperature, here’s a guide:


Read more about dressing kids for outdoor play:

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