We’ve all heard the infamous outdoor learning quote, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” or something like it. We have used it before in another blog and on our socials, it’s a fan favourite! Alfred Wainwright famously wrote it in his 1973 book, Coast to Coast, and it’s true, so long as you have access to or permission to wear the right clothing. Many of our pupils don’t have high quality outerwear, appropriate warm layers or are heading out in their uniforms that they have to wear as per school policy, and yet doesn’t offer protection from the elements. 

 

What is the right clothing anyway?

During the cold and wet(ter) months of the year, each child should ideally have a good quality, lined rain jacket and waterproof trousers with taped seams, warm socks and waterproof footwear such as wellies or walking boots. Then add a pair of gloves, a hat, a fleece or down jacket, heavy duty trousers and a backpack with a rain cover to the list. It’s starting to get long, right? 

You can read more of our recommendations for a kit list here.

Even in the summer, everyone still needs a raincoat and good shoes to hand for sustained outdoor enjoyment to overcome the ever-changing weather. For most families with growing children, this is a lot to purchase, especially when they don’t know how much use they’ll get out of it. So, if we are serious about outdoor learning, we have to get serious about the kit list.

 

School uniform reform

Let’s start with the clothing that most school children wear each day. For the most part, school uniforms are not designed to support regular outdoor learning. Most uniforms don’t provide warmth in winter, promote cooling and breathability in summer or waterproofing at any point in the year. We get why schools prefer a uniform and how they promote a level playing field for all pupils, but not why they are so impractical for modern learning.

 

There will always be pupils who don’t want to wrap up and wear practical clothing, after all waterproof trousers aren’t usually the fashion statement teenagers are looking for! Even so, how do we make sure that unsuitable clothing isn’t a barrier for young people getting outdoors to learn and play? 

 

Imagine if school uniforms consisted of fleeces instead of blazers or reinforced work trousers instead of suit-style trousers so that pupils were prepared to be outdoors? Pupils can still look smart and uniform while being protected from the elements. This is a straightforward suggestion to make children comfortable learning in the outdoors. Stuffy, impractical school uniforms are an obvious barrier to year round outdoor learning for many in the UK. They need an update for children to get the best out of their education. 

 

Time for change

Decision makers at school and local council level as well as on the national stage need to address the fact that most school uniforms are not fit for purpose. By now, we all know that outdoor learning is hugely beneficial for children’s academic and life education. Yet, something as silly as the clothes children are mandated to wear to school are often standing in the way of them reaping all those benefits. It’s time to get practical and make changes. 

 

While you wait

 

Outdoor clothing library

While we wait for overall school uniform reform, impractical dress code restrictions should not stand in the way of outdoor learning. There are some excellent solutions and strategies to support outdoor learning in all weathers. Many schools have set up outdoor clothing libraries for pupils to use when they head outdoors. We’re talking wellies, waders, rain jackets and trousers, gloves and warm layers. It can take time to build up a collection, teachers will often ask for donations or apply for a grant like this one.

 

Get the PTFA involved in fundraising for outdoor clothing for your library and ask for their support in identifying local businesses to approach for donations. One school asked families to leave a pair of wellies at school for their children to use. Then at the end of the school year they appealed to families to donate their child’s pair if they could. And just like that, they had enough wellies for an entire class (or at least those who needed to loan a pair) to get outside for the following year. Start small and watch it grow over time. Check out our other suggestions for building an outdoor clothing library here.

 

Prioritise the basics

The list parents receive for their child when they start school each September can be daunting and expensive. Therefore, it’s imperative to prioritise what clothes and shoes are really important. A good rain jacket and wellies go a long way for most children and their school outdoor learning adventures. 

 

A specific type and colour of PE jumper seems a lot less important when a regular school jumper or one from home would do. Perhaps there is wiggle room for other items to replace ones like this on the traditional list. Can your school compromise on a plain white t-shirt instead of a school branded one to help parents save money for other things? These are just examples, and maybe you are already thinking this way. The message here is to get creative and think outside the box to prepare children to play and learn outside again and again!

 

Rip off the plaster

We’ve shared a couple of nice ideas to get around old fashioned uniform policies, but really what we need to do is get more children outside for longer periods of time. To all the school leaders and education workers reading this, let’s get practical and focus on the very real positive outcomes for children who learn and play. Surely, they are worth more than a polished pair of overpriced, leather shoes! School uniform policies need a rethink, and soon!