Getting Dressed to Go Outside- Stories to Support this Valuable Part of Kindergarten!

A Toronto elementary school is considering canceling mid-morning and afternoon recess for full-day kindergarten because they say that class time is wasted while kids get dressed and undressed. Their concern is that they are losing  “40 minutes of instruction time” each day because it takes “too long for kids to get into snowsuits.”

As I shake my head I have to wonder- apart from having these children at school all day every day, how much of the FDK program is this school following? I am an early childhood educator with over 20 years experience working with young children. I have been working in full day kindergarten for 4 years. And don’t get me wrong- as soon as those snow pants come out, the transition from outdoor to indoor is my least favorite part of the day. But I understand that it is a fundamental part of the day!

And I can’t quite get my head around the term ‘instruction time” as the FDK program is an inquiry based program in which children learn through active engagement in meaningful activities. Children who get dressed and undressed in winter gear are actively engaged in the full day kindergarten curriculum. It allows for much needed physical activity once outside (don’t even get me started the recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity for children who spend a good chunk of their waking hours at school, or the valuable experience of engaging in outdoor play!!). The actual act of getting ready to go outside involves desperately needed exercise in fine motor control, and it develops imperative personal, social and emotional skills.

  • Think of it as Kindergarten Occupational Therapy! As an early childhood educator, I can tell you that many children in kindergarten lack the strength in their hands to not only perform necessary self-help skills such as putting on their shoes, but also lack the strength required to hold a writing tool properly, or bear down on a writing tool in order to print with success. Children will be more successful in academics if we give them the time and space to work those small muscles in their hands, and putting on and taking off all those clothes is an excellent way to do it!
  • It’s a Valuable Exercise in Self-Regulation  As children get themselves dressed and undressed in winter gear they are actively engaged in developing independence, self-regulation and responsibility. Children in full day kindergarten are expected to demonstrate independence, self-regulation, and a willingness to take responsibility in learning and other activities. They are expected to demonstrate self-reliance, and a sense of responsibility, as well as take care of their personal belongings. Every time children get dressed or undressed from all that snow gear they exercise these skills. BUT…in order for children to be successful the adults in the room need to give each child space, time and encouragement when it comes to maneuvering their young bodies into snow pants, boots, coats, mitts, neck warmers and hats. It’s a daunting task for sure, when a young child stares at that pile of winter items she needs to put on herself. No wonder there are so many meltdowns! But as adults we need to be patient and allow children time and space. We are not doing it for them. But we are encouraging them! It is so important that our expression and demeanour be one of patience and encouragement. This is hard work! We must not make these children feel that they are infringing on our schedule, or ‘wasting instruction time’. “Let me show you the firefighter flip. Why don’t you try spreading your snow pants out and then scooting into them…etc” My teaching partner and I invite the children to find a spot in the classroom to spread out their things when getting dressed. Split the duty, so that one adult takes out the children who are dressed, while the other adults stay with the children still dressing. This cuts down on frustration and behaviours from those poor kids who are ready and roasting in their gear.

You might even want to take some pictures of this dressing process and create a class visual schedule of getting dressed in the proper order.

  • It’s a Terrific Activity for Interacting Cooperatively  Children in full day kindergarten are expected to develop the social skill of offering and accepting help in group situations. This lifelong skill is exercised every time a class of young children gets dressed together. The adults encourage children to help their peers, whether it be to demonstrate the ‘firefighter flip’, help find a lost mitten or assist in zipping a coat. Don’t look at this as a waste of time! Put the watch away and give these children lots of time and encouragement and you will see that getting dressed to go outside can be a positive activity in community building.
  • Set the Stage for Success  Although we want children to dress and undress independently we need to recognize their limitations. Sometimes children arrive at school with the cuff of their coat bound so tightly around their mitten that I have a hard time undoing that Velcro! And that elastic on the bottom of snow pants is extremely tight. Many 4 year-old fingers are just not strong enough to lift that elastic away from their boots. We want the children to do ‘most ‘ of the dressing, but we can’t leave them stranded in an activity that is just beyond their strength at this point in their lives. But believe me, if they practice a few times a day, they will gain strength and master many skills they couldn’t do before. The kindergarten curriculum asks that children demonstrate a willingness to try new activities, and that they demonstrate self-motivation, initiative and confidence in their approach to selecting and completing a task. It takes time. It’s messy. It’s exhausting at times. But it’s worth it! And that’s kindergarten. There is nothing better than witnessing the joy on a young child’s face when he has mastered that coat zipper or when she stands in front of you announcing, “I got dressed all by myself this time!”

And I’ve got some books you can share with your children regarding the need for winter wear!

The Jacket I Wear in the Snow Image

by Shirley Neitzel

has terrific repetitive text that builds upon itself (think, The House That Jack Built). Children will relate to the daunting task of dressing when they hear,

“this is the scarf, wooly and red, that’s caught in the zipper that’s stuck on the jacket I wear.”

The Mitten Image by Jan Brett

For every child who struggles with keeping track of all his things, there is The Mitten, by Jan Brett. Nicki insists he wants snow-white mittens, and his Nana knits them, even though she’s concerned he will lose them. Nicki drops one white mitten in the snow, and one by one, woodland animals find it and crawl in. The wool mitten stretches with the arrival of each new animal, until finally a bear sized sneeze sends them all tumbling out. The mitten flies in the air and into Nicki’s hand just as he heads home.

This story makes for a terrific ‘re-tell’. Make a large mitten out of felt or construction paper and finger puppet animals and the children will enjoy re-telling this story over and over again.


How Cold Was it? ImageJane Barclay Janice Donato

Jane Barclay does such a terrific job describing incredibly cold temperatures

“freezing, sneezing, goose-bumpy, teeth-chattering…kind of cold,”

that children will be motivated to bundle up before heading outside.

This story is excellent for introducing the measurement of temperature!



Thomas’ Snowsuit  Image by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko

Children love to live vicariously through Thomas who refuses to wear his new snowsuit. This very silly story is a fun read aloud that illustrates to children that it might be a lot of work to get dressed, but it’s worth it in the end when you get to enjoy all that a winter’s day has to offer.



The Snowy Day   Imageby Ezra Jack Keats.

This classic story reminds children that all of that dressing is worth it so that they may experience the magic that is a winter day.

Want a great science experiment to go along with this story? Pack 4 snowballs and put them in bowls. Put the bowls in different spots that the children believe have different temperatures (ie; back outside, in the classroom, in a refrigerator etc.) Chart predictions. Check on the snowballs throughout the day and encourage the children to document their findings.

“To Elf or Not to Elf??” that is the Question!!


My girls are teenagers so I missed the “Elf on the Shelf” craze, created by Carol Aebersold and Shanda Bell


So when this year’s creative elf photos once again began appearing on Facebook, I was thinking, “I would have totally been into that when my girls were young!” So a Facebook status from a great friend (who just happens to be an amazing grade one teacher) sparked my plan to have an elf on the shelf appear in my kindergarten classroom. I put my own status on Facebook…and that’s when the controversy began!

It seems that people feel very strongly about this little elf- on both sides of the shelf. Teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect posted what a terrific experience it is for the children, how much joy and excitement it’s added to their class. Other teachers and early childhood educators who I highly respect stated that the elf reminds them of the boogy man, and that those eyes watching your every move gives them the creeps. Even my daughter in second year psychology sent me a private message, “Mom we read a study in child psychology that the elf on the shelf can be damaging to children.” Yikes!

I did some poking around and found that experts have chimed in on both sides of this elf craze. David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D wrote in Psychology Today that the “Elf on the Shelf should be Benched”. He states that the elf on the shelf is a ‘steroid shot for the Santa lie.” He says our children will mistrust us if we ‘lie’ to them about Santa. He also states that promoting this belief promotes credulity in children, which is a gullibility and propensity to believe things that are false.

“But where does imagination and creativity fit in there?” I have to wonder.  I have visions of Dr. Johnson walking through my dramatic center saying, “No you aren’t the mom. And he can’t possibly be the dog- he’s a boy.” How many stories do we read to children that ‘suspend reality’.  We’d have to throw out everything from Franklin to Calvin and Hobbs to Harry Potter.

Melinda Wenner Moyer for Slate Magazine says that believing in Santa helps children develop everything from cognitive development to ‘theory of mind’ (helping children predict and understand other people’s behavior).  She points to studies that show that fantasy play bolsters children’s reasoning skills and is therapeutic for children going through a difficult time.

So I am once again very thankful that my teaching partner is so open to my ideas- I got my elf! The storybook was wrapped up when the children arrived in class. We read the story. And a survey was quickly constructed over what to call our elf. Votes were tallied and his name is Zoomy Caloomy. Our one rule (as stated in the book) is that you don’t touch him. This has proven to be a great exercise in social development, as the children understand that Zoomy is our classroom elf and that, as tempting as it is sometimes, they have a responsibility to their peers to keep this rule.

But they do know that they can talk to him. Nothing is more precious than seeing a four-year-old boy with his elbows propped up on a shelf having a heart to heart talk with his elf!

And they know that they can write letters and draw pictures for him. The literacy center has been packed with children sending notes to Zoomy.

Our day begins with joy, magic and excitement as the children search for Zoomy’s new spot.

I don’t go on the website, or watch any tv shows. I don’t focus on him watching their every move. I don’t discuss the implications of being ‘caught’ being ‘bad’. (ever). In our classroom we know that in kindergarten we learn- about numbers and letters…and about being kind to each other and being responsible for ourselves. And when we learn we make mistakes. When we’ve made mistakes we try again next time. And Santa will still come.

I don’t see it, as Dr. Johnson described as “the fun you have tricking your children into believing something false”, but I see Santa and his little helper elf as a way of encouraging creativity, and imagination. And in terms of Christmas, it’s a hands-on concrete way for very young children to grasp the abstract understanding of that incredible gift that was given to us on that day. I’m keeping the elf, and focusing on the magic, the joy and the love that Christmas brings.

Picture Book Stories of the Nativity

Christmas excitement has definitely hit my kindergarten classroom! My teaching partner and I are searching for the perfect balance of constructing a variety of Christmas countdowns and encouraging letters and lists to Santa, with keeping a focus on Advent and the true meaning of Christmas.

So for my read aloud, I focus on nativity stories. Reading a variety of nativity stories allows me to expose the children to different texts that each tells the same story, whether it be the classic Little Golden Book, from my childhood, THE CHRISTMAS STORY by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Eloise WilkinImage

 to ROOM FOR A LITTLE ONE, by Martin Waddell and Jason CockcroftImage

we talk about what is the same and what is different in each story.

I love ‘playing nativity’ where the children take on the role of different characters as we build our own live nativity scene. This is an excellent way for the children to work together, to sequence and to retell a story.

One of my all-time favorite nativity stories is THE CRIPPLED LAMB by Max LucidoImage


 (Though I have to confess I cringe every time I hear the word ‘crippled’ and struggle with saying it out loud.) But it is such a beautiful story about Joshua the lamb who once again is left out and left behind because of his disability, but then realizes God’s plan for him when he has been chosen to cuddle the newborn king and keep him warm on that cold winter’s night. I look forward to reading it every year!

After we’ve enjoyed a few nativity stories I love to introduce Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman’s MORTIMER’S CHRISTMAS MANGER.


This charmingly illustrated picture book is a perfect balance between a secular and religious Christmas story. I love how Mortimer is a ‘not so perfect mouse’ whose initial intention is to find himself a better home. He thinks he finds it in a stable full of statues. He removes the statues and makes himself at home. But after hearing the story of the nativity, he sees the significance of each statue and makes room for Jesus in the stable and in his own heart.

I also love how this story illustrates to children how simple and natural it can be to have your own ‘talk with Jesus’.

As Max Lucado said, “Returning to a familiar story is like revisiting an old friend…inviting and comfortable.” This is how I feel, and this is the feeling I strive to instill in young children, when Christmas rolls around and we can crack open familiar and newly discovered stories of the nativity.

The Many Lessons Learned by a Great Creative Non-Fiction Picture Book

There’s something very special about a great creative non-fiction picture book that opens doors to new information while entertaining and inspiring young children. This week I spent quite a bit of time with some great creative non-fiction, starting with Katherine Otoshi’s ZERO.


I wanted to make the connection with last week’s read aloud, ONE, but soon realized that this engaging story about the number Zero wanting to feel like he counted, would serve as a terrific learning tool for number recognition, for printing numbers, and for number ordination. I love the message in the story about being yourself. I love the personalization of the numbers. And in my kindergarten class where we are encouraging number recognition and the printing of numbers, this story was perfect, as we examined the shape of each number. “One was solid and strong with bold strokes and squared corners. Zero was big and round with no corners at all.”

And the end of the story provided a fun way of counting by 10s.


This week also marked the first day we had snow! It was the perfect time for me to crack open my new copy of Lizann Flatt’s SIZING UP WINTER.


Flatt is one of my favorite creative non-fiction author’s. Her book, LET’S GO!” is a terrific romp through the history of transportation. And her new ‘math in nature’ series is a must have for every kindergarten library.

SIZING UP WINTER is a beautifully written rhyming picture book, terrifically illustrated by Ashley Barron, that’s a joy to read aloud. Children not only experience animals enjoying the wonders of winter; they explore measurement of area, time, capacity and temperature.

My next book purchase will be to get the other 3 books in this series;

COUNTING ON FALL number sense and numeration

SORTING THROUGH SPRING patterning, data management, and probability

SHAPING UP SUMMER geometry and spatial sense


And as my week rounded out, I found the need to pull out another great creative non-fiction picture book. There were some pretty strong behaviors that erupted in the classroom. There was an incident where one child acted aggressively toward another child, and another incident where a child used some pretty unkind words. I was seeing a lot of anger, frustration, and hurt feelings. So I pulled out one of my favorite books, TODAY I FEEL SILLY & Other Moods That Make My Day, by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell.


This book is fun! And it also puts a name to a lot of emotions children experience. It validates children’s experiences and feelings and is a great way to open up conversation on how we respond and react appropriately to those feelings.


Those three books kind of sum up my week. Life in kindergarten is definitely like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates. “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Good thing I’ve got a pile of picture books to help me along the way!