We’ve had a cold October in Wisconsin. Last weekend it was about 40 degrees at the start of our hike to Parfrey’s Glen Natural Area. I was dressed in a wind breaker, a neck warmer, hat, gloves and hiking boots. So, when the first kids showed up without none of the above I had to ask, “Where’s your coat?”
“I’ll be okay,” Joan responded. “I don’t get cold,” her brother cheerfully replied. She had on a sweater. He came dressed in shorts and a light jacket.
I told them that they needed to get a coat and that it was colder than they think outside. While I couldn’t do anything about the shorts, his mom did have coats (with hoods) in the car. Other kids had a hat and mittens but no coat. Still others had a coat but no hat and mittens. Fortunately, we keep a stock of mittens and hats at the Center. After handing out some items, I stuffed a few extra pairs in my backpack, just in case the kids change their mind.
Dressing for the weather is a big part of learning to be in the outdoors. Truth is, most kids go from the car or bus to school and home and rarely spend any time outside at all. Recess is just 15 minutes and they don’t venture out on really cold days. Some kids simply don’t think it’s cool to wear hats and coats. Schools also have to be careful about cold because many kids do not have the proper attire. Schools now routinely close when temperatures are below a certain mark. They simply can’t risk having some child outside in bitter temperatures who isn’t dressed properly.
When we got to Parfrey’s Glen the winds were brisk and two kids asked for hats. A mom volunteer asked for mittens. I’m glad I had some extras, but then again, perhaps they would have learned more if they’re ears were a little cold. After all, it wasn’t below zero, it was a brisk 48 degrees.
If the other underdressed kids were cold they didn’t complain, though one boy took his arms out of this coat sleeves to preserve heat. I could tell he was cold, though. I have yet to fully understand this undressing thing. Why would someone intentionally want to be cold? I’m pretty sure the parents told them to put on more a warmer coat, but maybe not.
As we walked and got into the woods, the kids did warm up. The kids who had on more clothes, peeled off a few layers. They learned that it’s better to have it and have to take it off, then not have it and freeze.
I’m not sure how to instill the dress code for these outdoor adventures. When it’s really cold, we require that kids wear snow pants or we provide snow pants to those who don’t have them. For fall weather however, it’s a little trickier. The day started out sunny and it looked warm. I think that fooled parents and the kids into thinking that it was warmer outside.
Before the trip, I reminded parents to “dress for the weather.” Perhaps, I need to provide a list of specific things to wear before the trip. This may not guarantee compliance, but at least I’m doing more to ensure that no one gets cold. I will no longer assume that parents know what “dress for the weather” means. Just like math and English, dressing for outdoor fun needs to be taught if we want kids and parents to enjoy spending time outside.