Hello Winter!

Written by Julie Bisnath, BSW, RSW

(Originally posted Dec. 4 2019)

Well, it’s no surprise, we knew it would happen sooner or later—winter is well on its way. There’s a chill in the air, frost on the car, and snow on the lawn. It’s that time of year—time for snowsuits and hats and mitts and boots. Whether you are helping to dress one or more children, it can be exhausting. Here are a few reminders and ideas to help ease you and your children into the season.


Know what to expect from a developmental perspective. Expectations that are too high will lead to frustration for you and the children.


Teach skills that are age-appropriate and set the children up for success. Try different techniques to find what works best. Is the child having a hard time getting on her coat? Try the flip trick (see #8 below), use a chair (place the open coat against the back and have the child sit to put her arms in), or try hanging the coat off of her head (from the hood) to provide a bit more stability.

Keep in mind that we all have different learning styles. Some children will learn best with a demonstration and visual prompts (having the clothes laid out in order, or having a poster listing the tasks (see #6 below). Others will need verbal prompting. “Sit down. Wiggle your legs into your snow pants. Ok, now stand up. Put your arms through the straps. Great! Now pull up the zipper!” Other children will need the physical prompts of the adult physically assisting. Try placing your hand over the child’s hand to teach or cue them. This could be you placing your hand over the child’s hand to pick up their hat to prompt them to put it on their head. Many children will benefit from more than one type of prompting.

Try chaining to teach a skill. Forward chaining works by breaking a task down into small steps and then teaching each specific step within the sequence by itself. The child masters one small step at a time and the adult provides assistance to complete the task. Putting on a coat for example, would start with teaching the first step of putting in one arm and eventually working your way up the chain to teach subsequent steps (using verbal/visual/physical prompts). Backward chaining teaches from the last step of the task rather than the first. The child is provided with adult assistance throughout the process until the last step. The child is then encouraged to complete the last step alone. For putting on a coat, the last step would be to pull the zipper up once it is started. The adult then works down the chain teaching (using verbal/visual/physical prompts) each previous step. Each method includes lots of positive reinforcement for the steps that the child completes independently.



Provide opportunities for children to practice and learn new dressing/undressing skills.

  • Keep a bin of dress up clothes accessible to entice the children to dress and undress themselves with fun costumes and dress up props. Include items with zippers, buttons, Velcro, and snaps.
  • Create a mitten and glove bin, let the children practice putting on and taking off different types of mittens and gloves—perfect for odd and mismatched items!
  • Provide dolls and doll clothes.
  • Invest in a quiet page or book featuring zippers, buttons, snaps, etc. Lydia (lydiamo[email protected]) makes a beautiful assortment of quiet pages.
  • Have older children help you dress the younger ones.



Plan ahead. Have your bag packed and ready by the door.  Make sure that all of the necessary winter clothing and boots are close by.  Having items readily available will ensure that you aren’t looking for things at the last minute. Have families label all of their child’s winter clothes and boots.  This will help to avoid mix-ups between children in your care and even more importantly, potential mix-ups when you are out in the community enjoying playgroups and/or other events. There can easily be duplicate (or triplicate!) snowsuits, boots, etc. Having the items labelled will make things much easier.  It’s also a good idea to help older children learn to recognize their name/label as their own. This is an important self-help skill for starting school.

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Allow plenty of time for getting ready. It is hard to learn and/or practice a new skill when you are feeling rushed or pressured to perform. Having extra time built in to your schedule, specifically for this purpose, is sure to help. Just as with any new skill. Time to practice is essential.


Use visual cues such as sequencing cards with real photos of the children getting their winter clothes on and off or design your own. Search Pinterest for ideas or purchase a ready-made poster from Following a consistent “order of operations” each and every time the children get dressed/undressed will help.


Include a transition song to help remind the children and to prompt the order in which to get dressed.  Here is a simple example to the tune of “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”:

Snow pants, boots, coat and hat, coat and hat, coat and hat

Snow pants, boots, coat and hat, mittens go on last!


Make it fun. Use distraction, humour, or a simple “game” to get the task done.

To keep the children on track it can be helpful to distract from the task by talking about what will happen next.  If you are leaving playgroup, heading home for lunch, talk about lunch. If you are getting dressed to play in the yard talk about something specific in the yard.  If you are going for a walk, talk about something you might do or someone you might see. Focus on something interesting to motivate getting ready.


Model and describe what you want to see. Narrate your actions as you are helping to dress the children or are getting dressed yourself: “First I line up my boots, then I slip in one foot and then the other!”


Offer lots of encouragement and specific praise regarding effort.

  • “Jody—I saw that you laid out your coat and flipped it on! Now you are ready to zip it up!”
  • “Sunil—you’ve got on your snow pants, boots, and coat….what’s next?”
  • “Kayla—I see you’ve almost got that zipper up.  Zippers are tricky, keep trying! I’m here if you want help.”
  • “I like how you are all sitting while I finish putting on my gloves.”



When possible, stick to a consistent routine for outings/outdoor play. Routines create stability of knowing “what’s next”. If every morning after snack you go out to play, the children will be more likely to get dressed willingly.   Build in the task of getting ready as part of the routine. Talk about it just as you would any other element of the day.


For those times when you are running late and it’s not possible to give the children the extra time they need, try to give them some choice or control over the situation. If you are interrupting engaged play offer to “pause” or “freeze” the play for later.

  • “It’s time to get Jenny off the bus. We need to hit “pause”. Should we tidy up the blocks or leave them out for later?”
  • “Today we are in a hurry! We need to be so fast!  Let’s do it together. Should we sing the getting dressed song or do a countdown?”
  • “We have to be so fast today friends. I will help everyone get ready and get into the van.  When we’re on our way you can listen to music or you can look at a book.” Keep certain books, songs, or small toys only for use in the car.



For children who consistently have a hard time getting dressed in winter wear consider whether a larger issue might be at play: Could it be sensory related? Are the boots too small? Is the child uncomfortable? Discuss concerns with the family and problem solve together.


Finally, for toddlers who insist on getting undressed faster than you can get out the door, here are some tips from

Embrace the Wonders of Winter:

Experiencing winter with young children definitely brings out the best of this wonderland.  Bundle up and enjoy. Breathe in the cool crisp air. Teach your children to welcome winter and all of the season’s bright possibilities. Explore together. Marvel at their wonder and curiosity. Delight in the sparkle of their eyes and admire those oh so fresh rosy red cheeks

Additional Resources:

Dressing for the Cold—learn how to dress properly for the cold so that you and your children stay warm and dry.

Car Seat Safety— dressing to play outside is not the same as dressing to ride in a car seat.  For information on how winter snowsuits and bulky clothing prevent proper tightening and positioning of straps and buckles go to or follow the SEATS for Kids Facebook page

The M.A.T.C.H. Strategy—to support and encourage dressing independence.

  • Modify the task
  • Alter your expectations
  • Teaching strategies
  • Change the environment
  • Help by understanding

Ideas for Exploring Winter with Young Children:

  • Catch snowflakes—black mittens are best for looking at snowflake details
  • Build a snowman or a snow family! Give them various faces—happy, sad, surprised, and talk about feelings
  • “Skate” on frozen puddles
  • Make and follow footsteps or other tracks
  • Play at the park
  • Build a fort—use shovels, pails, dump trucks, etc.
  • Go for a walk and collect sticks/pinecones/rocks—use them to decorate the fort
  • Fill cookie cutters with snow to make “cookies”
  • Feed the birds
  • Shovel!
  • Spray the snow with coloured water (use easy to squeeze spray bottles)
  • Work together to roll a giant snowball
  • Clear a path in the yard for running
  • Go sledding or sliding (a mini hill where you can stand beside the hill to help as needed)
  • Make snow angels
  • Pack snow onto a tray and paint with water colours
  • Hide toys in the yard and search for them together—the smaller the toy the harder the challenge
  • Create an eye-spy list together before going out and take it with you on a walk—see how many items you can see (school bus, squirrel, red car, dog, etc.)
  • Hold an outdoor concert—give the children buckets, pots, spoons, bells, etc. as “instruments”.