Lessons From La Nina: What We Learned This Winter at Outdoor Preschool

Tiny Trees opened six outdoor preschools during the wettest winter since record keeping began in 1890. Here’s what we learned:

1) Dress like an Alaskan Fisherman. We tried many different rain suits this year and our favorite was Grundens – designed for use by fishermen in the Arctic and Alaska. The thick rubbery material is impregnable – that means no water gets in or out. Combine a fisherman’s (fisher-person’s?) suit with long underwear and insulating layers and your child is set for a wet and wild winter.

2) Children don’t care. One parent shared a story about her child coming home after a very wet day: Mom: “What did you think about the weather?” Child: “What weather?” From a child’s perspective rain brings joy – big puddles to jump in, frogs to catch, and mud to get messy with.

3) Bring a change of clothes. One of the challenges of always living in the present is our children would be fearless when it came to water. Children laid down in puddles. Walked into ponds. Rolled in the mud. A few hours later that change of clothes came in handy.

4) Make a fire. After a few cold October days we added camp stoves to all of our schools. And at some locations like Camp Long, John C Little, and Jefferson there are designated fire pits (or BBQ grills) that we used in the park. In the coldest days of December when it never got above freezing we use little (and child safe) propane heaters to help small hands warm up or for the group to circle around for story time. One of our favorite camp fire activities: bread on a stick!

5) Laminate your books. We’re big fans of children’s books. Especially when we can read a book about nature and then go searching for that book in the world around us (think Very Hungry Caterpillar followed by finding leaves and plants that caterpillars have munched on). Want your book to last more than a couple winter days? Laminate.

6) It’s the transition days that are hard. It’s that first day when the weather changes from 50s and raining to 20s and snowing that families and children need the most support. La Nina brought sudden and savage transition days (think early December). Our lesson is to watch the weather ahead of time and prepare families well in advance with tips over text message and lots of coaching from teachers.

7) Puddles never get old. After seven months of the most epic puddles, our students are still seeing who can make the biggest splash.

8) There’s a lot of hidden sunshine. When you are outside every day you realize how many beautiful sunny moments break up our rainy days (like this December rainbow).

9) Wool & synthetic layers are essential. Cotton clothes like jeans, sweatshirts, & t-shirts always got soggy quickly and children got cold. Look on the tag at what material it is made of: wool, nylon, or polyester is going to keep your child warm. If it’s cotton save it for the summer.

10) Keep it cheap. Kids are so rough and tumble with their clothes that we discouraged parents from buying new & name brand. Look at Goodwill, Costco, or consignment stores for cheap deals. Remember, the clothes are going under a fisherman’s suit, so don’t think about fashion, think about warmth and cost.

11) Mittens matter: Our big surprise was that children don’t know how to use the thumb hole. When most kids put on mittens for the first time they used them like flippers, and would take them off after the flippers failed. Once they learned how to use the thumb hole they were much more excited to keep them on.

12) Hand warmers are handy. So soothing to stick in a boot or a glove. We ended up using so many hand warmers we moved towards rechargeable ones. They last longer and can be passed around.

13) Hot drinks & hot water makes a world of difference. We introduced camp stoves in the fall at all our forest schools. We used our camp stoves to make hot cocoa and tea, for oatmeal and hot foods during snack time, and to make lots of hot water. One snow day tip: fill an old Nalgene water bottle with hot water and put it in your rain suit.

14) Celebrate the awesomeness! From sledding and snow-fort building, to spontaneous mud slides, every day this winter brought a new opportunity for awesome adventures.

  • Glenn Herlihy
    Posted at 08:47h, 27 April

    Awesome update, laughed out loud at the videos and appreciate your observations of kids and the rainiest year! Wish I could be one of your students…wait I am… kind of..
    Glenn Herlihy
    Founder Beacon Food Forest

    • Tiny Trees
      Posted at 09:16h, 27 April

      Hi Glenn, thanks for the shout out! We’re loving the food forest, our kids are there quite a bit. It’s especially cool right now with the spring bloom. Can’t wait till harvest time! Best, – Tiny Trees

  • Gary Tribble
    Posted at 12:20h, 27 April

    Excellent report — very informative, both as to the practical advice and the reactions of the students (not to mention very entertaining).

    Congratulations on weathering your inaugural year!

    Only wish we could know you would be at the Chinese Garden next September.


    • Tiny Trees
      Posted at 12:36h, 27 April

      Thanks Gary! It was fun to dream with you about a school at the Chinese Garden as well. Hopefully in the next few year it can happen! Best, Andrew

  • Claire Wilson
    Posted at 04:47h, 28 April

    Andrew Jay I’m in love! So excited to see this come to fruition. The faces on the children say it all. Love! ❤️

    • Tiny Trees
      Posted at 11:41h, 28 April

      Thanks Claire! I appreciate the shout out!

  • Markus Bergman
    Posted at 11:12h, 01 May

    I hope they aren’t drinking hot water from Nalgene bottles since the hot water causes harmful chemicals to leach into the water. Hot water should only be placed in stainless steel cantines. Otherwise great tips and advice!

    • Tiny Trees
      Posted at 12:17h, 01 May

      No, just as hot water bottles. The really old ones have BPA when used as drinking water bottles so we don’t use them. But they are great for holding buttons, rocks, insect collections, and other small objects when not used as hot water bottles.