Can we talk about snow suits for a minute? I absolutely love teaching our youngest learners but with them comes a few months of winter clothing nightmares. I didn’t mind this so much while teaching Kindergarten, because I saw the [endless hours of] time spent getting dressed as a teaching opportunity and an important part of our program.

Now that I’m teaching grade 1/2, there is still a lot of stress around getting dressed for the outdoors. The difference is that there are other expectations, schedules and logistics that make me see it less as a learning opportunity and more as a problem.

In my class, I have a handful of students who are still learning to independently dress for the outdoors. Even with my assistance, it can take them 10-15 minutes to get ready on some days. It’s just where they’re at developmentally. It doesn’t help that these particular kids are very social and can be easily distracted. They will drop a half-on boot in a heart beat at the chance to talk to a nearby friend instead.

What also works against them is the school’s timetable. My board works on the balanced day (two nutrition breaks, each 40 minutes in length). While I love this structure for most other reasons, I can’t help but think that it serves our students a lot less in the winter months. The primary division at my school eats inside for the first twenty minutes and then plays outside for the second twenty.

Or if you’re a child that struggles to get dressed, you might get to play outside for five minutes if you’re lucky.

Oh, how I wish it were the other way around! Since it’s lunch time first, I’m often not in the room to support them during this transition. Sure, there’s a duty teacher in the hallway but they can’t be expected to support these students in every classroom.

This makes what is supposed to be a fun break from the classroom into yet another stressful transition. For some kids, this ends up having the opposite affect of what recess is supposed to do for them. They come inside exasperated, stressed and having only had five minutes of time outside. They’ve missed out on much needed physical activity, play and socialization with friends.

And, these kids are the ones that need those things the most.

I guess I feel like our timetable is letting them down. In Kindergarten, we had the ability to deviate from the school’s timetable to best suit the needs of our class. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in primary. So how can I support these kids when I’m not there? How can I help them take back their recess time and eliminate the stress around winter clothing? I’ve tried visual timers, checklists, the buddy system, laying out their clothing before lunch begins, re-organizing our hook space, and sometimes I just stay in the room myself to help them (although a teacher needs to take her lunch, too).

I’m a bit stumped beyond this. I’ve asked parents to work on independent dressing at home, but in my case, the issue isn’t so much fine-motor as it is executive functioning. Putting all of that aside, this has got me wondering:

Is 20 minutes outside really long enough for our kids to get the physical activity and play they so desperately need? Is it even long enough without the winter clothing battle? With such a focus on students’ health and wellbeing, why aren’t we seriously looking at extending scheduled outdoor play beyond the expectation of DPA through the classroom teacher?

What do you think? Do you have similar problems in your primary classroom? I’d love to hear your creative solutions in the comments below!


2 thoughts on “Snow Suit Stress

  1. What if you met them outside after at least one nutrition break a day. You could incorporate math, science,social studies etc through short walks and explorations. Looking for objects that come in sets or natural structures, 2d and 3d shapes etc not to mention meeting the dpa expectations. This way even though you can’t control how long they have out during nutrition break ; you could ensure they do have the time they need. Just a thought.

    On the flip side you could start nutrition break 10 minutes early and then ask the supervisor to start dressing them early. As they get more practiced you could reduce the time.

  2. I’m wondering why the students can’t go outside first, then eat when they come in. This way you could support your students in the classroom before the nutrition break starts and have them ready to go outside when the bell rings. Then the students may self regulate upon entering the school for the eating portion…they may be efficient if they know they only have a certain amount of time to eat.
    We used to have half of our school eat first, then go outside while the other have went outside and ate second. I don’t recall any complaints about not eating unit the second half.

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