Posts in Getting Dressed
Getting Dressed: Warmth

Originally posted October 2018, updated October 2019

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!



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 a waterproof layer. 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 maybe a jacket or at least make sure that sweater is thick

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

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, 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 consistent. 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.

update: I wrote a whole other article about helping children learn to dress independently, read it here!


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 boiled wool one from Germany is beautiful, sturdy, and has nice big buttons for the children to practice on. (Bonus: I’ve seen them last multiple years on the same growing child, and then again on a sibling.) 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, but for toddlers I recommend going the full snowsuit route (easier to put on, less snow-up-the-coat.)

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 who don’t like the scratchy or bunchy feeling against their skin, or if you’re going to be inside somewhere very warm. In those cases, I often recommend something like these merino leggings that go over regular pants (or tights, for children who really love their skirts) for when you go outside. You can even then put rain pants over if it’s wet and cold. Extra warmth without resorting to snowpants, which are excessive for much of the season here.


In my mind, it is essential that socks be wool. Feet can get so cold and having the extra warmth there is really important. Wool also has the amazing ability to stay warm even when it gets wet, either through snow-in-boots or sweaty feet. 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 are essential, as we tend to lose most of our body heat through our heads. The best hat is one knit by someone who loves you. If you’re handy like that, this pattern is a classic. My friends at Lynn and Lawrence also have gorgeous alpaca beanies in a similar style knit by women’s knitting cooperatives in England and Peru. I also love a thin merino balaclava, both as a stand alone hat in transitional weather and as a layer under something more substantive when it gets really cold. They keep ears warm (so important!) and don’t tend it itch. For when you have to go all-out, try a thick cap like this boiled wool one with ear flaps and a tie to keep the wind out (that one also has soft cotton lining for littles who don’t like the feel of wool against their faces). Finally: hoods don’t count. They’re great for keeping the rain or snow off your face, but fail as insulators as they let the wind in and tend to fall off.


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 beautiful hand-knit ones are the best I’ve found in recent years, with a quality gusset at the wrist and a sturdy built-in string.


I usually just wear a silk around my neck, and it works great for kids too. A balaclava-style hat that tucks into a coat eliminates the need for a scarf altogether, which is another real bonus—fewer steps means you get out to play faster!

Shop Some of my favorites

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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.

Read More in our Getting Dressed Series

Getting Dressed, Independently

Dressing independently is an essential part of children’s daily practical work

Here’s how to help them figure it out


It often seems like the most potent learning moments sneak into the simplest, most quotidian parts of our days. I think of our classroom “cubby room time” like this: so transitional as to be overlooked when I’m quickly writing out our rhythm, yet an incredibly rich learning experience! Having supported children across the age spectrum of early childhood as they learn to put on their own raincoats and tie their own shoes, I’ve come to see providing opportunities for children to develop these skills requires (a lot) of patience and a bit of a shift in how we very practiced adults think about getting dressed in the morning. Just like everything else in the world, putting on clothes is a new experience for young children. They’re going to be terrible at it at first, then they’re going to get better, with tons of mistakes made along the way. That’s just how learning happens, and it can’t be rushed. Below, I’ve shared my top ideas to support this learning process.

Allow time

Time seems to be the biggest barrier to allowing toddlers to dress themselves. I always hear from caregivers that their toddlers want so badly to get themselves dressed, but it takes forever and will make them late so they just do it for them, often resulting in a tantrum of grumpiness. The simplest piece of wisdom I can share with you is to allow more time. Build transitions into your daily rhythm intentionally and allow good chunks of time for your child to try to get dressed. Knowing when to cut them off is another facet of this, and we’ll get to how to offer help in a productive way later. But if you want to help you toddler gain independence, start by giving them the time to work at their own pace.

Create a space

A well-designed, intentional space for dressing will do a lot of the work of holding the activity and helping the child organize their process. This need not be a complicated set up! For getting ready to go outside, I recommend finding a spot by your door to hang one or two child-height pegs, then placing next to them a child-size stool, short enough that their feet can be fully on the ground, and a designated shoe tray or spot. A little rug can be helpful too if your space is more open, both in holding the space and in keeping the rest of your house less muddy! (Try: “boots stay on the rug.”). For putting clothes on in the morning, a designated stool or rug in their bedroom/wherever they usually get dressed will do nicely, as well a basket for you to put their outfit in.

Consider choices carefully

Too many choices are overwhelming for anyone, and for children in particular as their capacity for logic and judgement hasn’t developed yet. As a general rule, the younger the child the fewer their clothes choices should be. For toddlers and nursery aged children, I generally recommend that caregivers just pick out their clothes for them or put out two or three weather-appropriate options for them to chose from. Older children might benefit from having a designated shelf or drawer of “school clothes” that you’ve okay’d for the season, and getting free reign to choose as they please from those (limited!) options.

Read more about choosing clothes intentionally here.

Plan ahead

As much as possible, try to prepare things ahead of time, the night before is best. Check the weather and chose their outfit/options to put in their dressing basket, and select whatever outdoor play gear they’ll need. Put only that gear on their peg. Before dressing begins in the morning, you can give them a head start if they need it by laying things out and unbuttoning buttons, unbuckling buckles, un-velcro-ing shoes, etc.

Have an order

In our classroom, I have a flowchart in my head of the order in which the children get dressed. Rain/snowpants day? If yes, put them on, if no, skip directly to… Boots/shoes. Then coats, if needed… and so on. It’s a pretty logical order that transitions easily from season-to-season. Find an order that makes sense to you and be consistent, so your child knows where to start and what to do next—that mini-rhythm will orient them as they gain independence.

“You can always try”

This is my mantra in the cubby room, and the best piece of language I can give you to support this journey. When a child comes to me asking for help, my response is always: “show me how you’re trying.” Often they need my attention and presence more than my physical help, and trying while sitting next to me will result in them just doing it! Just as often, they’ll say “nooooooo I caaaaan’t!”—they don’t even feel like they can try! For this response, I first center myself because whining is annoying, then tell them: “you can always try. If you try and can’t do it, I’ll be here to help.” Much of the time, when they do finally feel confident enough to try, they can totally do it! It’s much more often a confidence and fear of failure issue than it is a lack of capacity. And when they actually are trying really hard and can’t quite to it, of course I offer a guiding hand, a zipper start, or a sleeve untangle. My goal is that they feel safe trying and feel safe failing, because that is quite literally how learning happens. If they feel confident in trying to start their zipper even though they’ve never gotten it started before, they’ll feel confident trying to bisect and angle even though they’ve never done that before!

Practical tips

(for toddlers, mostly)

Start zippers for them, then hold the bottom as they pull up.

Balancing to put one leg in at a time is hard, the floor or a low stool is often the best place to put on pants.

Lay rain/snow suits on the floor, unzipped, and have them sit in the body while they put their legs in, then stand and do the arms like a coat.

If they’re being pokey or stubborn, hold a coat out behind them like a matire-d and touch one arm hole to their hand—usually they’ll finish the action and put the coat on before they even think about it.

Usually putting the first arm of a coat in is easier, the second (where you have to bend it behind you) is harder. If they’re stuck, try holding the collar so the coat stays up and open behind them while them try.

Hold the bottom of a buckle steady while they put the top in.

Un-do shoes and pull the tongue out wide before they put them on.

Read more in our Getting Dressed series

Getting Dressed: Shoes

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)

Pitter Patter Rain Drops

The beauty of rain play

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.

How to get outside

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! 

Read more in our getting dressed series

Getting Dressed

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. 

 Some favorites to try