Outdoor Preschool in the Winter? Our Interview With Oakiwear

By Cori Simmons, Volunteer

Recently, a friend from California said to me: “How do people raise their kids up there in Seattle? Don’t you get frustrated having to be inside all winter?” I was so shocked, I just stood there, unable to respond. I was born and raised in the Seattle area and was outside pretty much every day of my life. My parents were avid outdoorsmen who never let rain, wind or snow stop my sister and I from fresh air and exploration. As such, I was totally flabbergasted at my Californian friend’s query: of course Seattleite kids spend winter outdoors!

We at Tiny Trees are used to hearing this sort of thing. “Kids… Outdoors? For preschool? Safely?” Fortunately, we have research and precedence in our corner. As outdoor preschools become more common, the public is rapidly becoming educated on the benefits of outdoor learning. From France to England to Scandinavia to New England to Georgia, year-round preschool is catching on around the world and in many climates. But one question seems to linger for even the most game of parents: How will know my child is warm and safe while they are at Tiny Trees?

 The short answer to that is: Oakiwear. Every child enrolled at Tiny Trees Preschool receives an award-winning Oakiwear rain suit to wear for the whole school year. These suits, paired with the appropriate under-layers, can keep children warm all the way from a heavy Fall rain to a winter a snowstorm. To help parents learn more about why Tiny Trees chose Oakiwear to keep our tiny learners safe, I tracked down Oakiwear owner and general manager, Benjamin Brewer, at their Vancouver, WA headquarters. As it turns out, Mr. Brewer has a lot to say about outdoor learning and the Oakiwear recipe for keeping kids warm and dry, many hours at a time.

Cori Simmons: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, Mr. Brewer. Let’s dive right in. Why do you think Oakiwear is the right gear for keeping kids warm at a Pacific Northwest outdoor preschool, year-round?

Benjamin Brewer: I’m happy to chat Cori. Oakiwear was founded for this exact purpose; getting kids outdoors. This year’s Oakiwear suit is the third version of our rain suit that we’ve made and supply to various outdoor schools. We keep redesigning the suit to make it the best we can. Parents need to know that we think of warmth and dryness. We tend to under-prepare our kids for outdoor weather around here. For example, you might put your kid in the right jacket, but then put them in jeans, which are water sponges. The 1 piece suit gives parents peace of mind because the whole suit is water proof. Even further, the suits keep the heat in, so the the Oakiwear rain suit even functions as a snow suit (with the right layers underneath).

CS: Can you tell me a little bit about the material and construction of Oakiwear suits?

BB: Certainly. So the material is breathable but waterproof, which is important for dryness. The idea behind the waterproof suit is keeping kids safe. Our current fabric is phenomenal and is quickly gaining popularity in the outdoor sports world, even outside of childcare, because it’s so effective. Pongee fabric has a waterproof membrane woven into the fabric as opposed to an exterior or interior layers. It’s not a coating, it’s actually inside the fabric layers. We do not use any PVC or toxic plastics in our suits.

We build these suits with the idea that a single suit can last a kid for a whole school year. This is a part of the cost of these suits, the quality and longevity. We price them at an intentionally affordable price for parents because we want parents to have the best product for their kids. And as in the case of Tiny Trees, we offer discounts to schools because we want to see kids outside!

Prepared for tide pool exploration... in January.

Prepared for tide pool exploration… in January.

CS: How about size and fit?

BB:  Rain suits run in size from 12-month to 6-7 year olds, perfect for a pre-school. We can fit virtually any pre-school aged child. And again, what you put under the suit in important as well. We keep wetness out and heat in but it’s important to have appropriate layers underneath.

CS: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to Oakiwear?

BB: I bought this company because of the mission. This company was such a great idea, it couldn’t help but grow. We knew this could go somewhere. Our mission is to supply the best gear for kids and that market is very limited. We don’t want people to be stuck between settling for a low-quality product they can afford or a $100 jacket for their child. That’s ridiculous. We are speeding up the production of products because the demand for affordable outdoor weather-wear for kids is strong and it is out there. Most of what we carry comes customer request. I like that a lot.

CS: You say you bought this company because of the mission, does that align with the Tiny Trees mission of outdoor preschool?

BB: Big yes! I attended an outdoor school in the 6th grade and it was a very impactful experience for me. So many opportunities are missed when we keep kids inside. I love that they are getting something kids can’t get in a classroom. I am so grateful for my experience with an outdoor school.

Outside, kids can explore, learn, bump, grow, test, feel hot and cold. That’s something that a lot of kids aren’t getting. That’s outrageous to me! This is so important to our success, reintroducing kids to the outdoors and making them lifelong learners.

The outside is where we came from. We are hoping to offer even higher discounts to schools down the road as we expand and we want to support outdoors schools as much as we can in the future, again as we grow. We plan to be a big support to outdoor schools because we share essentially the same mission and vision for getting kids outside, safely and affordably.

CS: What do you say to parents that are nervous about an outdoor school?

BB: I always hear parents concerned about safety or the benefits of an outdoor school. To which I say: “Think about it.” Think about that time exploring and learning in the outdoors. ABCs and 123s can be taught anywhere but you can never take away that outdoor experience.

Safety is not a real concern. When parents are worried about the weather I say: “That is what Oakiwear is for!” It is designed to give parents peace of mind. No matter what the weather, the kids will be fine. I have spent time with these schools and I just haven’t seen those concerns manifest. Inside, kids are crammed together sharing germs. That’s not the case outdoors. There’s an endless list of benefits for kids from these programs. No kid will ever say “I wish I had spent more time in the classroom instead of outside with my friends!”

CS: Wow, that’s a glowing endorsement! Thank you for your time, Benjamin.

BB: Thank you, Cori. Keep up the good work Tiny Trees!

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