Being Prepared for Rainy Days at Forest School

By Sonja Lukassen

One of the many wonders of autumn weather is cooling temperatures. The bugs retreat, the air is fresh, and the leaves start to change colour- it’s so beautiful. Along with this cooling weather comes the added challenge of being prepared for and managing rainy and puddly fall days. Rain in the summer is a delight, rain in the fall can be fun that leads to damp, withering chill. Once children are wet and cold they get uncomfortable and it becomes really hard to have a good time or to follow our curiosity and imaginations. 

Hiking to the Deep Dark Woods on a rainy day, not a frown or concern in sight.

There will be nuances based on the age of children, location of a program, and amenities available on site, but making room for individual differences, here are some helpful steps to prepare your child to weather a rainy or puddle-splashy day on the land with a smile on their face.

The Clothing System– This is pretty much the same process that would work for the winter, but not quite as thick and warm. That makes sense, since the goal in both seasons is to minimize damp and cold and to maximize warmth and dryness.

Start with a Warm Base Layer– Wearing warm clothes against our skin can help us stay warm and dry all day. Synthetic fabric like polyester, or natural fabric like wool or silk, are really great choices because they wick moisture away from the body and help us stay warm even if they’re wet. Cotton is a great fabric when we’re trying to stay cool but it works against us once it’s wet, holding the cool and damp in. Polyester long johns are available many places. Many pyjamas are polyester, too, and are pretty fun to wear all day!

Some children opting for hoods on a rainy day.

Next have a Warm Insulating Layer– For rainy, wet days that are above 15 degrees, this layer will be unnecessary, but as the temperature drops, more layers become essential. This can be a fleece or a wool sweater and fleece pants. Again, a sweatshirt made of cotton might be warm and cozy on a dry day but will soak up the rain like a towel. This layer doesn’t have to be thick. There are pros and cons of the sweater having a hood- the hood can be put up to keep the rain out and for added warmth but when it isn’t up it’s just exposed to the rain and gets soaked.

Wool Socks– This is the most important place to opt for wool instead of cotton. Once socks are wet, feet get cold and that really gets in the way of being able to explore and play. If wool socks get wet they are still able to provide some insulation. These are available, even in kid sizes, at outdoor stores as well as many discount stores.

One piece rain gear or two, both work great to keep children dry while they play.

Full Rain Gear, one piece or pants and jacket– One piece rain suits, sometimes called newt suits or muddy buddies, are only available for young children and do seem to be the easiest to manage and most comfortable for our youngest friends. For older children (and adults) rainproof pants with a rain jacket are great. These don’t need to have any built in insulation since children will wear that underneath. Full zippers are ideal, with a velcro or snap flap that goes over it as added protection from leaks and splashes dripping in. (It’s important to opt for layers instead of an insulated jacket because even in the rain we can get hot hiking and playing and being able to shed a layer helps to manage that.)

Demonstrating the value of boots that are truly waterproof.

Waterproof Rain Boots– These are available in many stores and there isn’t much difference between them. The key is that they don’t have any cracks or holes, and that they aren’t too tight. (These are both challenges, I know, as being able to hand down clothing and footwear among siblings and neighbours is cost-effective, and children grow so quickly.) Tight boots lead to cold feet faster than looser ones, and leaky boots seem to have this magical ability to let water in but never let it out!

It’s amazing how detailed the process is to try to stay warm and dry while playing all day in puddles or in the rain. This play is so valuable, hopefully it will feel worth it, and once the system is sorted out it can become habit and hopefully feel quite simple.

There are a few extra steps, in addition to planning what children wear, that can contribute to a smooth rainy, splashy day.

The Extras

Have Children Wear Their Gear at Drop-off– Getting out the door in the morning can be a challenge, for so many valid reasons. It makes it easier to step (or splash) right into play and to stay dry if a child is wearing their layers, warm socks, and rain gear when they arrive on site. It helps them keep their dry clothes dry and makes for a smooth transition into play. Many Forest School programs have limited access to indoor spaces and going in to get changed can be complicated or not possible. Being dressed and ready to go on arrival helps set the stage for a great day. (Some families have children partway ready for the drive to site, then finish in the car when they arrive.)

The call to play in the water is strong!

Send Extra Everything– We’re going to get wet. We’re out playing in the water all day, after all! Some programs in schools, community centres or childcares have access to dryers, so taking a break, then reusing dried gear is a possibility. For programs that don’t have this option, sending extra clothes is the way to get dry. We often recommend sending 2 full changes of clothing, including underwear and socks, as well as some kind of waterproof bag (grocery bags are fine) to put all the wet stuff into once changed. We know most families won’t have extra rain suits and boots, and that’s completely understandable. If you do have them, it makes sense to send them in!

We ask that families send a child’s lunch and water bottle in one sized-to-their-child backpack that their child can carry, and all of the extra gear in another bag- that helps us keep it organized and sorted. (Name tags on everything really help, too.)

Hats– Sun hat, rain hat, beach hat, baseball hat- the only 2 factors that really matter when choosing the hat for a rainy forest school day is that it has a brim and that your child will actually wear it. (In my experience most children will keep a hat on in the rain. We always strongly recommend it because it will help keep the rain out of their eyes, and if a child chooses not to wear it, that’s fine.)

Keeping mitts dry by poking the puddle with a stick instead of with hands.

Mitts or Gloves– Mitts are tough on a puddly day- children wear them because they’re cozy, and while some children will strive to keep them out of the water, others will dunk them into the mud immediately. Each family can decide for themselves if they make sense. Once the temperature gets between 0-10 degrees and it’s raining, waterproof or water-resistant mitts can make a lot of sense.

Lots of Food– Whether or not we actually do burn more calories trying to stay warm and dry, we certainly seem to get hungrier on rainy days. Some families send a thermos with warm noodles or soup which helps their children to feel a bit cozier when they’re eating. Some children (like mine!) aren’t really interested in that kind of lunch, but definitely do appreciate a couple of extra snacks. It’s always better to have a bit too much food packed than not quite enough.

A rainy day is as good as any other to take a break to swing in a hammock.

With practice and experience, each family will find the system that works best for them to help support their children to stay warm and dry on wet autumn days. I wish you luck sorting it out. Hopefully there will be plenty of wet days for you to be able to fine-tune your approach!

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