Teaching Outdoors in Winter

A visual gear list to give families
A visual that shows how to dress in chilly, cold and extremely cold weather
An example of a boot drying rack. It is a rectangular box structure that is made out of wood. The Each side has 3 horizontal pieces of wood with PVC pipe sticking out of them. The boots go onto the PVC pipe.

Winter Clothing Resources

Gear List for Families

Example Gear List with some recommended brands

Visual gear/clothing list for families (pictured on left)

How to get gear?

Collect donations for extra clothing (Rotary clubs, community drive, donated gear students grew out of...). Check your school Lost & Found items before they get donated!

Donors Choose is a great way to fundraise for gear!

Check with individual gear manufacturing companies & stores for school discounts.

Extra Gear in Backpack:

ALWAYS have extra socks, mittens and neck warmers in your teacher backpack to swap out as needed.

How to dress for winter (Video Examples):

Article: How to dress your kids for the outdoors (REI)

How to Dress for Cold Weather (Video + Gear List) Rain or Shine Mamma

Video - Getting Dressed for Winter: Active Kids

Drying & Storing Winter Gear in the Classroom

If you have floor vents, these are great for drying mittens & gloves: https://theecodryer.com/

Use a clothesline to clip mittens and gloves to air dry. Clip so the opening is hanging down

Put hooks on the outside of lockers or on the wall for jackets and snow pants to air dry.

Boot racks that put the boots upside down but allow airflow to help with drying.

Face Masks Outdoors

Monitor facemasks closely to ensure they are dry. Swap regularly if they get wet. Wet face masks on cold skin will increase the risk of frost bite.

Hand Warmers

HotSnapZ - Reusable hand warmers

DIY Hand Warmers: Baby socks filled with rice

*Store in thermos until needed to keep them warm longer

Snow Sleeve/Gators

Have trouble with students keeping their mittens on or snow getting between the mitten and coat sleeves? Old socks with a hole in it work great to keep the snow out and mittens on!

You can also buy "Snow Sleeves" or "Wrist Gators"


NOAA Wind Chill Chart: Based on the wind chill, how long can I stay outside before risk of frostbite on exposed skin?

Hypothermia & Frostbite: Warning Signs & Prevention (CDC)

  • Always make sure students pull up their sleeves when washing hands, or wet sleeves against skin = frostbite!

  • Bread bags can protect feet if boots get wet - Make sure to change into dry socks as soon as their old socks get wet. Then put the bread bags over the dry socks/feet to keep them dry while wearing the boot.

  • Old socks can serve as an extra barrier to protect the skin between the coat and the mitten if snow is going up the coat sleeve. (See example)

Ice Safety: There is no such thing as 100% safe ice. Learn about ice thickness and survival strategies in the event of breaking through ice.

NOAA Wind Chill Chart
A lean-to style shelter created using a tarp
An ice fishing sled

Shelter, Outdoor Seating, & Transporting Materials Resources

  • Shelter with Fire for warmth: Whelen Lean-to style. Purchase a whelen lean-to tent or construct with tarp (see picture on left)

    • NOTE about fires: Make sure you have a safety plan & connect with someone experienced in using a fire with children before attempting to do this on your own!

  • Other shelter ideas: Picnic shelters with temporary walls, Carports, greenhouses, yurts

  • Seating: Straw bales, stumps, sit-upons (great for extra barrier between students and snow), Tarp with picnic blanket on top, 5 gallon buckets with lid. This material is great for sitting on (and can also be used for portable fort walls and sledding too!)

  • Transporting Materials: Heavy-duty wagons work great (here one that is loved by teachers in Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools) until there is deep snow. Switch to using sleds (ice fishing sleds work great & have deeper sides).

Tips for Teaching & Assessment

Writing Outdoors

  • Wear mittens AND a glove (keep glove on when writing) - Older students can do this too!

  • Rite in the Rain paper works great in all types of weather

  • Keep pens warm (ie put in an inside pocket of your coat) when not using them. Felt tip pens work great in the cold.

  • Have reusuable hand warmers to use during and after writing process

Be flexible!

  • Know your learning goals/objectives. Be ready to use the materials and opportunities that nature provides.

  • Adjust your plans/focus based on the weather.

Students looking at animal tracks


  • Remember, photos and videos are great forms of documentation!

    • Keep technology (iPads, cell phones, etc) warm when not in use or the battery will drain quickly.

    • Voice to text option is great for the winter months!

Screenshot image of the Outdoor Learning in Cold Weather publication
Screenshot image of the Outdoor Learning in Cold Weather publication

Professional Development:

Outdoor Learning in Winter Webinars

Winter Tips & Tricks, Winter Friendly Snack & Beverage Ideas, Winter Activities (for those working with with Infants-PreK students)

Hosted by Inside-Outside Nature-based Educators of New England and the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association (NINPA): Our four dynamic panelists come from a range of programs that spend time outdoors in all seasons - a forest Kindergarten teacher, a nature-based preschool teacher, a forest preschool teacher, and a Waldorf Nursery teacher. Each one of these ECE experts will provide several ideas of tried-and-true outdoor activities that will inspire new educators as well as seasoned pros. (For those working with Infant-Kindergarten aged children)

Hosted by Inside-Outside - Teaching and learning outdoors in colder climate winters requires resilience, good humor, grit, training, and the right clothing. In this webinar, Amy Butler and Anne Stires, will lead participants through preparation, routines, schedules, and activities to help educators continue to teach and learn with students outdoors this winter and beyond. For those working with elementary age students

This webinar was hosted by the Toronto District School Board and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Highlights several examples of inquiries that can be done during winter months including Art - Andy Goldsworth (@20:00) How can we make ice less slippery? (@27:09), Can we design more environmentally friendly alternatives to salt to keep people safe when its icy? (@29:02), Windy Days & Schoolyard Design (@30:30), What can investigating tracks tell us about our local environment? (@32:41), How can you build the tallest, free standing structure (@33:57) How can we support nature and create art on cold days? (@35:34) How can winter inspire artistic photography? (@37:13) Energy experiments (@37:28)

Secondary Ideas start at 38:52

Outdoor Winter Activities for Young Children

Jenny Hanlon is a Parent Educator at Stillwater Public Schools. She is also a Nature Preschool Teacher. This video is a great resource for early childhood educators AND parents/caregivers.

Animals in Winter

Video Recording of the Presentation

Presenter: Mona Davis, Fergus Falls Public Schools and Molly Stoddard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Prairie Wetlands Learning Center

Target Grade/Age of Students: Upper elementary but adaptable to all

Details: Search for evidence of 3 strategies animals use to survive winter right outside your door. You will need a notebook or journal, pencil, and outdoor clothing. MN science standards alignment will be provided.

The Chat from the presentation

Additional Resources Shared:

Fergus Falls Public Schools Logo
Prairie Wetlands Learning Center Logo
National Wildlife Refuge System Logo
Two people standing in a prairie in the summer

Molly Stoddard and Mona Davis

Photo credit: Sue McDonald/USFWS

Ice Fishing

Video Recording of Presentation

Presenter: Karl Erickson and Matt Wilkie

Target Grade/Age of Students: Elementary & Secondary

Mysteries in the Snow: Winter Animal Tracking

Video Recording of Presentation

Presenter: Larry Wade and Cindy Eyden

Target Grade/Age of Students: 2nd – 6th grade

Details: How to bring the outdoors into your classroom by creating live / virtual field trips, in which students observe animal signs and tracks, are able to ask questions and learn the joy of pondering nature's mysteries. Handouts included. Modifications to integrate to language arts, science, math will be discussed.


Winter Nature School, Week 1 – Mysteries in the Snow – Animal Tracking

Fall Nature School, Week 7 – Signs of Deer in Nature

Animal Track ID Cards

Find more animal tracking ideas on our Winter Resources Page

Larry Wade

Cindy Eyden

Presenter: Travis Zimmerman, Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post

Target Grade/Age of Students: Elementary & Middle School


Outdoor Learning Tips & Tricks from a Nature Preschool

Bathroom Tips:

Not only are mid-lesson bathroom breaks tricky when outdoors, but empty bladders are better for staying warm! So make sure your students use the bathroom before heading outside!

For early childhood programs, this portable potty is helpful for outdoor toileting. These compostable liners can be used with it.

Additional Reading & Resources for Teachers

Cover of the book Winter World by Bernd Heinrich