by Sarah Kern
Many parents ask me how we handle getting ten toddlers outside in the winter. It’s true that it isn’t easy. Many days it takes longer to get them dressed than we spend outside. We call in help from Amy, Tracy, or Sarah when we can. But like any skill a child must learn, dressing oneself for outside is a skill that slowly builds. Perhaps one day a child can take off their own shoes or put on their own boots. Perhaps they figure out how to get their hat on correctly, or take their snowsuit off the hook in their cubby. The ability to dress oneself for outside it not a simple box to check, but rather made up of many smaller tasks that build upon one another.
A visual aid is posted on the classroom wall for the children to refer to as they dress. This helps with sequencing — snow pants must go on first, mittens must go on last. We also do a lot of coaching, step by step. Sit down… put your feet through your snow pants… stand up… put your arms through the straps…zip up the zipper… is often what it takes. “Put on your snow pants” is too vague and doesn’t help with the HOW of it all.
Another key piece is time. We never rush out the door in our class. Those who get ready quickly go outside to play sooner, but those who take longer are allowed the time. Rushing the process doesn’t help the children learn any faster, and while we love to play outside, there is equal value in giving children time when they are so often rushed.
Perhaps the mantra that comes to me most often as we are working through this process is let them struggle. It’s okay for it to be hard and frustrating. It’s okay to have to try over and over again. It’s okay if today you can’t; maybe next time you can. When we swoop in and rescue kids from these moments of safe struggle, we deny them the opportunity to learn not just how to put on their snow pants, but how to cope with frustration and develop persistence. We want to send the message to the children that we believe they can do this, if we only give them the time.
It’s about much more than snow pants.