As we were walking into the forest last week, one of my students commented that he didn’t like winter. I asked him if he enjoyed tobogganing and building snow forts and he said, “Yes, but I don’t like getting dressed for winter. All I want to do is to wear shorts and a tshirt and my shoes so I can go outside and play.” I couldn’t argue with that.
Getting kindergarten students dressed in snowpants, boots, coats, hat and mitts (why would anyone think that gloves were a good idea for 4 year olds?) is a regular cause of frustration for kindergarten educators as well as for their charges, without a doubt. I remember seeing a meme someone had posted with a photo of a bear, its mouth wide open in a roar. The caption beneath the photo read, “MITTS! ON! LAST!” Clearly a joke best understood by those of us who have lived through the chaos of dressing a group of little ones in wintertime.
There’s no getting around the fact that we live in a wintery country where, for at least for 4 months of the year, it is necessary to wear warm layers of clothing. When winter weather hits, it is definitely time to read Robert Munsch’s hilarious story, ‘Thomas’ Snowsuit’ as a way to acknowledge the fact that getting dressed in winter is a pain, but that, if you want to play outside with your friends, you have to be dressed properly. It takes a great deal of organization, support and (sigh) patience to get a whole crew of kinders dressed to go outside so that at least they will be warm and dry, and at most, they are protected from getting frostbite. It is understood that a few lessons on how to dress and regular reminders are part of the job for kindergarten educators. This is especially important for those students who are new Canadians and whose families may be unfamiliar with the best ways to dress their children warmly.
On a good day, a child may take an average of 10 minutes to get ready to go outside, and thankfully, we all have a handful of students who are ahead of the game when it comes to independence and self-regulation. And then… there is the rest of the class. It is a wonder that we manage to get outside at all when there are a host of hurdles each day which inevitably delay our departure. There are the common hurdles such as individuals who are distracted from the task at hand (i.e. getting dressed NOW), or those who flatly refuse to get dressed. If you combine these personalities with: zippers that are wet or get stuck or are broken; mittens where the thumb liner won’t go back into the thumb; gloves (argh!); snow pants with snaps that won’t snap closed; pants that crawl up if not properly tucked into socks before putting snow pants on; and ‘lost’ mitts, hats, scarves, etc.; what you end up with is often described as the ‘herding kittens’ phenomenon.
We are lucky that we only have to go through the getting-dressed routine once a day, because our outdoor learning is first thing in the morning when the students arrive at school already dressed. That means having to only get dressed once at school for the play block at the end of the day. In the afternoon, when they do get dressed for outside, we dismiss students one at a time as they finish up an activity so that there will only be a few at a time in the cloak room rather than the whole crew. On the wall in the coat room are visuals for everyone to remember the order one gets dressed (snowpants on first…mitts on last), and we sing songs while students get dressed to help them stay focussed (“Put on your boots, your boots, your boots….let’s go outside…”). I have also found that sometimes you have to cajole and be creative to discover what strategy works with students who would rather wander around the classroom and continue to play instead of getting dressed. For instance, there is an SK student who, I discovered, is only motivated to get dressed if I time him (his record is 1 ½ minutes!) otherwise, he will use every delay tactic he can, even enticing others to join his boycott.
It is definitely not the part of day I most look forward to, but regardless of the time and effort, getting dressed independently, in winter or in summer, is one of those life skills that requires a lot of patience. Students are learning how to dress themselves so that they can be comfortable and warm while they play outside. The key is finding ways to make it as seamless (no pun intended) as possible for everyone involved while you wait for warm weather.