Donna Stusser Early Childhood Waldorf Teacher Shares "Babies Need Hats"


Marali Creation’s  pilot cap

An Early Childhood colleague had an interesting idea years ago to sit in a railway station in Europe where there is a high concentration of Waldorf schools to see if she could identify the Waldorf families and children. What would she be looking for? Rosy cheeks, laughter, compliance with parents? You can be assured one of the identifiable traits would be a hat on the heads of any child under seven. Hats, hats, and more hats!

There would be warm woolen hats in winter and fall and wide brimmed sunhats for spring and summer.  On a baby there would be a certain kind of hat called the pilot cap but for sure there would be very few bare headed infants.* Families entering into a Waldorf community are asked when they enroll their young children to dress their children in layers of natural fiber fabrics, as this is best for the skin and health in general.

Children play outside all across the globe in Waldorf playgrounds and nearby parks no matter the weather as outdoor play and movement is intricately woven into the rhythm of the day. I like to consider myself a sensitive observer of infants and toddlers. They are like magnets to my two children and I when we are out in public. My children just have to look at me in a way that says “ Mom, a baby! Are you going to say something?”

What we do notice all too often is babies’ bare heads as well as their beautiful faces and bright eyes. As a concerned educator I feel their cold and hope this message goes a long way to motivate you in my cause. Babies grow from the head down. They are born with such big heads full of cosmic wisdom. Just look into a baby’s eyes and you receive a dose of heaven. Is this not so? It most often brings us to a quiet state of reverence and awe to just meet the eyes of a newborn floating so perfectly in the middle of their beautiful round head.

These heads are full of the life forces they need to grow their physical body. This growing and shaping is primarily fashioned in the first seven years of life before the emergence of the adult teeth. This is their chance to hold onto these forces and allow them to wield their way into the body, the organs, and the nerve sense system and beyond. We lose more heat from our heads then from our entire bodies.

Marali Creations Bonnett

They keep the growth forces in the body rather than escaping from the head. In this way the child reserves vital energy needed to grow rather than using it to stay warm. I have heard it recommended covering babies heads for the first two years of life with a pilot cap. These caps resemble an Amelia Earhart cap designed to protect the ears and the neck. They have strings attached to the sides for a secure tie under the chin. This keeps them protected from not only temperature but also sound and noise. The fontanel of the baby is open for the first few months. One can see the opening pulsing in the first few months. This tender portal is to be protected.

Many parents report that the toddler or child of three plus doesn’t like hats and children simply will not keep them on and the parents give up. When you start with the infant and tie the strings in a double knot they simply get used to the warm cozy protected feeling of the pilot cap. This is not to say they will not protest but who’s in charge anyway?  Compliance needs to be taught. I understand they still are able to take them off but perhaps less than if it had no strings. When I look at a baby clad with a cap it evokes feelings of comfort in me. Protection, warmth, coziness. Like the days of old.

And let me say a thing or two about fashion. These caps are basic, an everyday part of dressing like socks or underwear. There is nothing fancy about them so the attention is not drawn to the baby with the beautifully handmade knitted cap with the cherry on the top. Sorry knitters! I do love handmade caps but they are not practical for babies. They slip off and cover their eyes and become a toy to remove and toss. I repeat this recommendation of keeping the cap on for two years knowing it will be hard for the hat to stay on in those last six months with all that gorgeous hair revealing the sweetest toddler on earth. This will depend on the amount of hair, the temperature and your child’s constitution.

The longer the better and if not indoors then outdoors for sure. It can add to the child’s sense of security when this hat is always there as a reliable adult is present in the early years. Or perhaps it helps the child whose parent cannot be there and chooses another reliable adult to care for the child.  Keeping track of the child’s cap shows them you care.

When speaking of how to dress a baby my pediatrician recommended putting one more layer on the baby then I put on myself. We so often see the opposite. Bundled parents and thinly clad babies and toddlers. The beauty of the permanently placed pilot cap for the baby whether sleeping or indoor or out is the consistency it will provide for the little one who may be vulnerable to sudden changes in temperature when a door opens, a wind stirs, a siren suddenly goes off, etc.

The cap provides a small amount of space between the skin and the fabric for the warmth from the body to circulate increasing the infant’s state of comfort.

So let your relatives make jokes. Are we ever going to see his hair? Or does he have any hair? And rest assure there will be many years ahead where your child will either remember his own hat because he has grown accustomed to the warmth or he will be fine without one now and again because his strongly fashioned physical body has a solid foundation.

In conclusion when clothing your baby it is best to think not simply of the day or the amount of time they will spend outdoors (“I will not be gone long”) but the habit body they are growing for the future and the long term health of your child into a strong adult with good powers of judgment and a warm interest in others. So please put a hat on the baby and while you are at it put one on yourself so you too can stay warm and be a good example to imitate. Free pilot caps available by responding to this email.

Do you have a hat story to share? Email me at


Miss Donna

Donna Stusser has worked with infants and young children since high school.
Before her Waldorf Training she assisted families after childbirth.  She operated her own preschool in Sebastopol and began The Roots and Shoots Parent-Child Program at Summerfield Waldorf School in 1997. While home with her two infant daughters she learned about the Infant work of Dr Emmi Pikler  and Magda Gerber and continues to enjoy sharing this with others.

* Magda Gerber, the infant specialist from Santa Monica who founded the fantastic work of the R.I.E organization considers the child an infant until two years of age.

Purchase your child’s hat today with local mother, hat maker, and Waldorf  Early Education class member Elvira di Doni of Marali Creations:

Cloverleaf Ranch Summer Camps

18 Responses

  1. Betsy Hada

    Posted: June 9, 2011 at 4:41 pm |

    I have knitted dozens of Lucy Neatby’s Domino Baby Bonnets, [pattern & photos at: both for Waldorf babies and non-Waldorf babies. They’re my mission! I give one or two to every family upon the birth of a new baby — especially young parents at my office.

    The first two I made are for the child of a “cradle-Waldorf” mom. She (and the baby) loved them so much, she stretched my knitting skills to create them in sizes up to 3T (pattern stops at 12 months, or 16″ circumference). He wore them all the time, and as a toddler loved to choose the color of “today’s hat” as he got dressed in the mornings. She said it was the only hat design that he didn’t pull off. I think I made him 8 or 10, as he grew.

    Sock-weight (fingering weight) yarn comes in lots of colors, as well as being washable and comfy (not itchy). I usually use one hand-paint and 2 solids that “go” with the hand-paint, but are not exact matches. I also make them with self-striping yarns, which boys particularly like.

    One non-Waldorf (yet!) child fell so in love with her first hat that I made the same color combination 3 times, as she grew. No other color combinations were acceptable. (Very choleric little girl!) And she refuses to hand down “her hats” to her baby sister, so I made more for the new baby. Also, she will not leave the house without “her hat” on, even on a fairly warm day. And the toddler curls all around the edges of that hat are really lovely.

    Anyway, the pattern is easy, once you get the hang of it. And no baby is too young for beauty! Also, if you give parents a beautiful thing, they’re more likely to put it on their little darling.

    Now, back to my knitting needles and my mission!

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm |

      THank you Betsy,
      I am finally getting to respond to you. My daughters and I will hopefully try out this pattern. It sounds like you and I are on the same mission and having lots of successes. I am so pleased to be sharing this one with you. Keep spreading the word and the warmth!

      Thanks again,

  2. Christine Schreier

    Posted: June 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    Thank you Donna for taking up this topic! I wholeheartedly agree with you. I also would recommend to put on socks or booties on those little feet!
    Here is the pattern I use for my hats which was published in the fall 08 issue of Living Crafts Magazine (unfortunately with some hick ups in it) (it is the corrected version)
    You easily can change the size of the hat with using a different weight of yarn and needle sizes.
    Happy knitting and keep those children warm and protected!
    Thank you also Holly for posting this on your blog!
    Love to you all, Christl
    PS. I posted it on my FB page, I hope this is ok with you?

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 13, 2011 at 11:00 pm |

      Hello Christine,
      This is such fun to connect on the path.
      I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly about the booties years ago and now I see the way babies use their feet and I often recommend taking off the coverings so they can grip to pivot and commando crawl and grab a sock off in the supine position so as to suck a toe. I wouldn’t sacrifice movement for warmth but definetely for sleep and stroller rides , etc, booties are great.
      Thanks for the patterns.
      Much love,

  3. Courtney Deschenes

    Posted: June 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm |

    Thank you Miss. Donna,
    This was so nice to read. I love to see a baby in a hat. All 3 of mine always have one on. The two year old just started to take it off and toss it but she is learning.
    I found this on Bella Luna Toys blog.

    Courtney Deschenes

  4. Meg

    Posted: June 10, 2011 at 12:09 am |

    I am curious- what about those of us in very warm climates…obviously hats are an essential when out in the sun, etc. But we try not to use the a/c and my baby frequently got heat rash around her neck from her hair and sweat. I can’t imagine adding a hat on top of that…

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm |

      Dear Meg,
      I is true you want the baby to be comfortable. I recommend a daily wash behind the ears with some camomile tea solution or even a diluted lavender to help with rashes. A cotton silk blend is cooler. The smaller the baby and the more sensitive the baby and more important the constant covering. Light sun bonnets (not too tight) can help to cool you from the sun’s heat as you say.

      I hope this helps.

  5. Jackie

    Posted: June 10, 2011 at 2:12 am |

    What a nice reminder to protect those sweet little heads. Thank you for putting it so well. Our 18 month old loves to wear hats everywhere she goes and just finished a phase of asking for her hat before she was even out of bed in the morning!

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm |

      This is sweet.Keep it up. You can always shed the layers but getting them on is sometimes a chore. She is comfortable with the extra protection the hat offers.

  6. Cadi

    Posted: June 10, 2011 at 3:13 am |

    Thank you for this article. I do get the, “Does she have hair?” question a lot! :-) I’ll also share a link to a nice pilot cap pattern that is free on my blog…

    Kia Ora!

  7. Teresa

    Posted: June 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm |

    Thank you for the reminder Donna. My first born daughter now two and a half always had a hat of some sort on outside, she enjoyed them and still loves to wear them. I had always admired the pilot cap but didn’t know the significance of it until much later. After the birth of my son who I had at home, the midwife told me not to put a cap on him as this was the only way for him to regulate his body temperature. I was very fearful of SIDS so I followed the advice. I now regret it to some extent as now that my son is 8 months he simply refuses a hat. I now have the resolve to put caps on my two little ones again. Thanks!

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm |

      Hello Teresa,
      A good resolve. It is not too late! And in good Waldorf fashion I recommend not asking with words” Do you want to put on your hat now.”Rather… It is time for hats…”One minute it would be a yes the next a no… Best not to ask

      I hope you don’t mind the chance to slip this in . This is another campaign I am on.With a child under 7…Don’t ask with words but indicate with movements then adjust as needed.

      All the best,

  8. Mary Beth Fifer

    Posted: June 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    Thank you so much for your article. I am an Early Childhood teacher at Shining Mountain Waldorf School in Boulder, CO. I hope I can have permission to copy the article to give to the parents in my Fairy Blossom, Parent Child class. I have told them and explained to them why we have our children wear hats outside in all weather but seeing it in print sometimes (and being given sources for patterns for beautiful hats) makes a difference. Some of them learned to knit last year. Maybe this can be one of the projects for this year! Thank you again!

    • Donna Stusser

      Posted: June 23, 2011 at 5:01 am |

      Sure! Please spread the word.
      Happy Knitting . I hope we meet one day.


  9. Anna

    Posted: October 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm |

    Dear Donna,
    Thank you so much for your article. I recently purchased a wool/silk pilot cap for my 6 month old and I’m excited for him to start wearing it regularly. A question I have is about sleep. Most mainstream advice about sleeping is for babies not to wear hats because of SIDS. What is your take on this? With the baby sleeping in a sleep sack, I’m trying to make sure he stays warm through the night. When I nurse him in the night, I sometimes notice that his hands feel cold. Perhaps it’s better to have a small heater in the room to keep it on the warmer side? We live in Massachusetts, so this is just the beginning of the cool season. Thanks!


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