Posts in Getting Dressed
Getting Dressed: Shoes
 
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Shoes are an important, and often overlooked, part of children’s wardrobes—especially in New York, where we walk so much, and especially in any very active, outdoor focused program like our playgroup. I always recommend the most minimal, spacious shoes possible, while still protecting feet from snow and broken glass and such. Our feet are incredible feats of evolution, with many tiny muscles and bones. When given the freedom to do so, our foot muscles will become strong enough to support themselves and our entire bodies with grace and balance. Overly “supportive” or constrictive shoes, especially for children, prevent those muscles from developing properly and working naturally, leading to things like collapsed arches and impairing the vestibular system.

A note on “correct” feet: some physical therapists find that the sensation of wearing shoes on opposite feet is actually comforting for some children, and engages their balance in a way they are seeking. For children who consistently and intentionally do this, I don’t make a big deal out of it. When I think it was just an oversight, I say “I see your shoes are on opposite feet.” and they usually switch them themselves. I also try not to say “wrong” or “right” feet because it feels judgmental and confusing (do you mean correct or the opposite of left?).

I’ve shared some favorite choices shoe throughout this article—click the image to shop! Some links are affiliate, which support our work by earning us a small percentage of each sale.

 

Inside Shoes

In our playgroup, the children wear what I call “inside shoes” or “classroom shoes”—soft-soled, fitted slippers or moccasins that keep their feet warm without being slippy, but still allow them to use and articulate their feet as if they were barefoot.

I’ve always recommended Softstar Moccasins for this purpose: they’re well and ethically made, designed very intentionally, and have a sheepskin footbed that adds extra warmth on cold floors. They’re also pricy, so I’ve found Yallion Moccasins to be a great alternative, and much cheaper. Whatever you choose, look for something with natural materials and minimal ornamentation that will stay on through skipping, rolling, somersaults, etc. and is easy to put on.

 

Outside Shoes

 

When we venture outside, I want the same things for the children’s feet: warmth, traction, protection, and the opportunity to work naturally. All of these needs can be amplified in the outdoor environment, and we also have to think about waterproofness and stepping-on-broken-glass-proof-ness.

For sneakers, pay attention to closures, keeping in mind that most children don’t develop the dexterity necessary to tie a shoe until at least 4, and that even zip closures can be a challenge for toddlers who don’t have a lot of strength in their pincer grasp yet. When a child can put on and fasten their own shoes, it goes a long way towards dressing independence, which is my main goal when working with toddlers. Once a child is used to putting on their shoes (and coat and hat) by themselves, they’ll have the habits and grit necessary to learn to tie laces. But one thing at a time.

Softstar makes a slip-on outside shoe with a rubber sole that’s really nice in fair weather and will allow for the most natural foot articulation—especially good for early walkers. Plae shoes are designed to solve a lot of problems I see in other velcro sneakers: they have a functional pull tab, the tongue opens all the way out, and the straps don’t get un-threaded. These ones by Camper (also available here) are especially cool: they have a velcro tab and elastic laces which allow for a snug fit while being really easy to put on. Vans are surprisingly great as well: they’re minimal, have good grip, and really do allow the foot to work (which makes sense if you think about how much skateboarders need to be balanced and in touch with the small movements of their feet.) Here are some with a velcro closure, if needed.

I’ll get into winter boots and such in another post, but if your kid is our in the mud a lot, sneakers won’t cut it. Blundstones are a good choice for older children—toddlers might be weighed down too much, and the heavy sole doesn’t allow for much movement of the foot. Angulus makes a similar style boot with a lighter crepe sole that’s great for toddlers (and it comes in colors other than pink metallic, although that does look fun)

 
Getting Dressed: Warmth
 

With the chill of the past few days having come seemingly out of nowhere, I am suddenly busying myself with getting all of my warm clothes ready for the coming season. Warmth is one of the pillars of a Waldorf approach to early childhood, and one of the adjectives I hear used over and over to describe classrooms. We design the environment to envelop the children in warm colors, scents, and sounds; to help them feel safe and loved. Maintaining physical warmth is just as important, especially given all the time we spend outdoors!

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Wool

Wool is magic. I grew up with this being drilled into me by my fiber artist, wool loving mother, but never fully understood it until one rainy day in high school when I unearthed and read cover to cover this old National Geographic from the 80’s entirely dedicated to wool. Wool has incredible properties. The exterior layer of each fiber repels water (like from rain) but the inner part is able to absorb up to 30% of it’s weight in moisture before it feels wet. This means it can wick away sweat and keep out rain, and will still keep you warm when it’s wet (unlike cotton, as anyone caught out in the rain with cotton socks on knows) It’s inherently fire retardant, biodegradable, and will keep you warmer than anything else out there. Polyester or cotton might be cheaper, but I will always recommend wool.

“are you warm enough?”

Children have a hard time telling if they’re too hot or cold, it’s as plain as that. Expecting them to know if they need a sweater is developmentally inappropriate. That’s why you’ll see a little one playing in the lake, refusing to come out, until their lips are purple. That’s also why we’re here, to make those decisions for them. After judging the weather, I’ll announce before we get dressed “today is a rain pants day!” or “today is a snow pants and mittens day!” which I find much more effective than making the decision while we’re also trying to get dressed.

Here is my (very) loose dressing guide, for kiddos mostly. If it’s raining or snowing, obviously add the appropriate gear. Another good rule of thumb is that children need to be wearing one more layer than you to be warm—when I’m wearing a jacket and scarf and hat, I’ll make sure the children have the same with sweaters underneath.

60s - long pants, warm socks, wool sweater

50s - add a scarf and a hat and make sure that sweater is wool

40s - add a jacket and warm pants and maybe rain pants

30s - warm coat, serious warm pants or snow pants, mittens, super warm socks and insulated shoes

20s - whimper a little, double up your sweaters and socks

teens and below - long johns, wool pants, snow pants, wool socks, wool knee socks, long wool undershirt sweater, another sweater, another sweater, giant coat, two scarves, big wool hat, two pair of mittens, fur boots, plane ticket to southern California.

Getting dressed

Children as young as a year can really participate in dressing themselves. All children are different, but I find that given enough time and encouragement even those as young as 2 can do a lot by themselves. Zippers and buttons come later, tying shoelaces even more so, but a toddler’s inability to entirely dress themselves to go outside within 5 minutes is no reason to do it for them. Give them time, make it simple, and make it consistant. A few things that help: a neat, child-height zone with a peg for the day’s gear, a spot for boots, and a stool or bench, and doing things in the same order every time (ie. rainpants, then coat, then boots, then hat, then mittens.)

My rule (in life, actually) is: you can always try. True, you can’t always do it, but you can always try to do it. Therefore, I will help them with their coat or whatever only after they’ve tried to do it themselves. “Show me how you can try!” is a common refrain. It’s amazing because often, when they try, they can do it! Starting this young helps, because they won’t be in the habit of expecting adults to do it for them.

 
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Chosing Gear

Jackets and Coats

For cold but not freezing weather, a nice wool coat is great because it can allow for a bit more mobility than a full on puffer coat or parka. This one is beautiful, sturdy, and has nice big buttons for the children to practice on. Patagonia makes a nice puffer coat for the really freezing weather. As far as waterproof parkas go, these two are nice, especially for older children.

Warm Pants

Wool or silk long johns are great, and I personally wear them most days when it’s cold. They can be hard for some children with sensory issues, or if you’re going to be inside somewhere very warm though, so I also often recommend something like these that go over regular pants (or tights, for children who really love their skirts) for when you go outside. You can even then put rainpants over if its wet and cold. Extra warmth without resorting to snowpants, which are excessive for much of the season here.

Socks

In my mind, it is essential that socks be wool. Feet can get so cold and having the extra warmth there is really important. My new favorite socks are by Darn Tough—my cousin who runs an oyster farm and is out in the boat all winter swears by them, and that’s the best endorsement I can imagine. They’re also a really ethical company and offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee, which is insane. They make kids socks too, but don’t have much for toddlers or babies yet. I’ve loved and worn Smartwool socks for years, and continue to recommend their toddler socks.

Hats

The best hat is one someone who loves you knit. If you’re handy like that, this pattern is a classic. Otherwise, my friends at Lynn and Lawrence sell gorgeous alpaca beanies in a similar style knit by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. I like hats like these that have an extra layer over the ears. When it gets really cold, something with ear flaps and a tie is great for keeping the wind out. These are warm and well made, and have a soft cotton lining for littles who don’t like the feel of wool against their faces.

Mittens

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: mittens. on. strings. Children’s hands are smooshy and their metatarsal bones aren’t fully formed until about 7 anyways, which means mittens will often fall off. Lots of people will try to sell you mittens with long cuffs to go under the coat to prevent “gap-o-sis” as my mother says, but I’ll tell you a secret: they’ll still fall off, and then they’re a pain to put back on because they have to go under everything. Plus, they have to go on first, which means the children won’t be able to dress themselves. Just put a string on your mittens and save yourself some hassle. These are nice and wool and already have the string attached!

Scarves

I usually just wear a silk around my neck, and it works great for kids too.

Rain gear

I dedicated a whole post to this! Read it here.

Shoes and boots

These, too, deserve their own post. Coming soon!

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All children—all people—deserve to be warm in the winter. Support the New York Coat Drive by giving hand-me-downs, cash, or time.

 
Pitter Patter Rain Drops
 
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It seems like we're gearing up for a rainy Autumn, and I for one am glad I invested in a nice new mop. While many of us feel driven inside on rainy days, for children they can be wonderful occasions, given the right preparation so I thought I'd share some ideas for helping children and yourself feel empowered to play outside in all sorts of weather.

Getting outside is important in and of itself--the fresh air and quietly fascinating environments and space to breathe it offers can right almost any grumpy mood, and I suggest to everyone that they make daily outdoor play time a regular part of their (and their children's!) rhythms. 

Rain in particular offers such a fabulous sensory experience with it's puddles to splash in and buckets to be filled (and poured out) and raindrop-clad railings to run hands across. Today my students were absolutely enthralled by the processes of plopping pebbles into buckets of rain water and that of shaking the droplets off of leaves! Rain also turns regular playground slides into water slides, which is a perfectly thrilling discovery for older children.

At first, getting outside in the rain can feel like an ordeal. I recommend finding somewhere near your entryway/corner of your living room/kitchen for a  child's height hook, a child-size stool, and a designated spot for boots. Even children as young as 1 can participate to some extent in the dressing process, so make a habit of allowing enough time to allow for their "help." Try to have a designated order in which you put things on and a designated spot for dressing. I find that having a rain suit is helpful for younger children, since it's just one step and one non-separating zipper (yes I had to google "kinds of zippers," a separating zipper is the kind on a coat where you have to feed the bottom into the other thingie before you can zip up.) to put on. Children who spend a lot of time playing in damp or muddy places (Waldorf Schools) even when it's not actively raining also benefit from rain pants--I recommend wearing them with a sweater or fleece for much of Autumn and Spring to keep pants clean and dry and add an extra layer of warmth. A good pair of rainboots is also a must: Kamik makes quality ones that aren't too expensive. Boots are something I condone buying two of since when the inside gets wet they can get pretty useless until they've had a day or so stuffed with newspaper by the radiator. 

A treatise on umbrellas: I don't believe in them, at least for kids. I don't understand the point for adults either, but to each their own. For children I find them generally ineffective and distracting. Get a good coat with a hood, and their hands and body will be much more free to enjoy the rainy world!

It also helps if you, the grownup, are properly dressed! Nothing like a junky old rain coat and boots with holes to convince you to stay inside on a rainy day. I generally go for simple, quality items that will last for years. Shocker, I know. I look for a good, hooded coat that comes down over my thighs to lessen the need for rain pants. Between that and a proper pair of boots, basically just the knee area is exposed, which I can live with if it eliminates the extra step of putting on another item. In one of my more Waldorf Teacher-y moments I once made a rain skirt that I still break out in the really bad weather, but generally find unnecessary. However you chose to dress, remember: you are just as deserving of good, functional gear as your kids. I promise you'll be much happier for it. 

As a city dweller without the luxury of a mudroom, when I come inside from a rainy excursion I typically will hang things to dry in the bathtub to make cleanup easier. A simple drying rack will help you hang more things and decrease the chances of your shower rod falling down. At school I often like to set mine up by the door so mud isn't traipsed everywhere as the children are undressing, then move it fully loaded to a more drip-friendly spot. 

There are so many options out there it's hard to know what will actually hold up so below I've shared some gear I've seen work really well over the years. Rain gear care tags can be really tricky, so make sure you read them--I remember my absolute disbelief when I learned that I was supposed to put my rain coat in the dryer. If you know of anything else that's worked for you, please share below! 

 
 
Getting Dressed
 
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Over the course of my career, I've noticed the striking influence what children wear can have on how they feel and behave. In writing the family handbook for our playgroup this summer, I started going on for pages about why this oft-overlooked facet of mindful parenting/caregiving is actually so crucial, trying to share everything I've ever learned about the topic in a document really intended to inform families of how to pay tuition and the criteria for snow days. 

Clothing is a subject I love discussing, and have a lot of opinions about. It is the most practical art form. It has the power to mediate between the self and the world--literally exposing or concealing the parts of our bodies we chose it to, and also communicating through subtle social cues the parts of ourselves we want to share. It is all tangled up with gender and culture and beliefs. Conventional fashion is also destroying our planet and exploiting people all around the world. Entering into this realm, where we have to make everyday decisions with potentially huge ripple effects, especially on behalf of our children, can feel overwhelming.

Amongst all that entanglement, the most important goal when approaching choosing clothes for your child is that they should do nothing but support the work of childhood. Keeping this purpose in mind when designing a child's wardrobe can be a wonderful guiding star in the sea of questionable choices on the part of children's clothing designers. The work of childhood is not the work of adulthood. Children's needs are really quite simple: they need to be unhindered, in every way possible. They need to be comfortable and free. To that end, try asking yourself these few questions when choosing clothes:

How well can my child move in this?

Clothing should allow for a full, comfortable range of motion--no stiff fabrics!

What will it feel like on their skin?

Much of the work of childhood comes down learning to manage all of the sensory input our bodies receive. Itchy clothes, tags or seams that scratch, and synthetics can pose a real challenge to many children (and adults!) Soft, organic, naturally dyed fibers are the gentlest choice. 

How sturdy/well made is it?

We have a real clothing waste problem in this world right now, mostly stemming from the overproduction of cheap, poorly made synthetic clothing. Kids at play are especially hard on their clothes, and they grow so fast that it can seem silly to invest a lot of money in quality clothes. Consider buying fewer, better items, buying used, and finding a network of other families to share with as your children outgrow things. 

Can they put it on/take it off by themself? 

As children learn to get themselves dressed and use the bathroom independently, clothes that require fine motor skills beyond what they have developed can be incredibly frustrating and add an unnecessary challenge. Elastic waists and stretchy fabrics encourage independence. 

How will it affect their freedom of imagination? 

This is huge, and the reason we ask that children coming to our playgroup don't wear clothes with images from TV or other digital media. Graphics often contain very "fixed" images or concepts that lock a child into a certain identity, preventing free creative play. We can allow for more freedom and imagination when we offer simplicity. 

Approaching to your child's wardrobe like this can seem like a lot of unnecessary work, or even like it might stifle your child's burgeoning creativity. Kids get clothes as gifts from well meaning relatives, or chose the most obnoxious monster truck shirt as the battleground to test your boundaries and their strength of will. Some of you, I'm sure, are more fond of things like color or pattern than me. (For reference, I have gone on record that "oatmeal" is actually my favorite color, with white as a close second.) Clothing can be an incredible means of expression, a canvas for creativity, and I urge families towards simplicity for just that reason. Children develop their sense of creativity through play. With a strong imagination, un-atrophied by TV, a child can add a scrap of fabric or bit of rope to a simple outfit and completely become the mermaid or the dog trainer or the squirrel or whatever they are pretending to be. Far from being limiting or dull, a simple wardrobe (and a simple life!) can be incredibly expanding and allow for limitless excitement in the realms of imagination, unhindered by a shirt proclaiming a love of monster trucks when actually your child wants to be a fairy.