Let Kids Have Recess Outside In Winter

What's with school districts canceling outdoor recess when the temperature dips below freezing?


In America, you can grow up a brave, blustering bear of a kid ready for anything nature unleashes, or a sallow, soft sad-sack of a sniffler afraid of the first flake, and it may all depend on one thing: Your school's outdoor recess policy.

Consider the fact that one mom from Fairbanks, Alaska, told me that outdoor time gets canceled there only when it hits 20 below zero, while in Corpus Christi, Texas, another mom said her son's kindergarten class had to stay inside when it dipped below 60. Brrrr.

"I live in Washington state and moved to a new school district," April Doiron wrote to my Facebook page when I asked about local weather policies. (Hundreds of parents responded to the query.) "I was showing up to volunteer just as they were announcing indoor recess. The weather was sunny, dry and cold. I asked the front desk why it was indoor recess and they said it was because it was below freezing. I was a little shocked and a whole lot mad. It was literally in the upper 20s."

The freezing point does seem to be a line in the mercury for many schools, a fact that drives Erin Stone McLaughlin in Columbus, Ohio, crazy. One day early this year, her 8-year-old son told her, "I just can't stand sitting in a chair all day! I was made to be outside and work!"

I called Erin, who is a teacher as well as a mom of two, and she said that the school where she works sometimes cancels recess if it's cold because some of the kids can't afford warm winter clothes. But her school also cancels recess if it's too hot and sunny—something that has already happened once this school year. "Because the [ultraviolet] index was high, they thought the kids would get sunburned. And of course you can't have sunscreen or anything like that because it's considered a medication." So the kids stayed in.

Dawn, the mom who called me from Corpus Christi, could not believe how often her son's kindergarten canceled recess. She told the principal that he should know better than anyone that her ADHD son needed to get out and run around—"He's in your office every day!" No dice. Dawn has since found a school that's a better fit for her boy. (She asked that I not use her last name, as she's a teacher, too.)

In Syracuse, New York, Karen MacLachlan Miller is fed up with all the weather advice the school gives, reminding parents to send their kids in with hats and mittens and coats. "It's just overkill," she says. "There's a hard copy and then the digital reminder, and, you know, I live in the snowiest city in the entire 50 states, so we know how to dress for the cold. It's kind of our thing."

Miller's school district has also started building in more snow days—eight of them now, she says, "which was simply unheard of even 10 years ago."

In Alaska, with the minus 20 cutoff, the schools recognize that kids desperately need outdoor time, "because when they go to school it's dark, and when they come home from school it's dark," says mom Whitney Rivera, who lived in Fairbanks for five years before recently moving to Georgia. And if an Alaska kid isn't dressed warmly enough, she added, "the lost and found is always crazy-stocked because kids forget so much."

Ah, but that, says Virginia mom Stephanie Lips, is what upsets her the most: One day when her daughter went to school without a hat and the principal felt it was too cold for recess without one, the girl was told she had to wear one from the lost and found. "The school had lice and they were making my daughter wear a hat from the lost and found? Really?"

That principal got an angry call, too. Cold weather recess is a very hot topic.

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  1. I actually empathize with schools a little here. Litigious parents are a thing few administrations can afford to deal with.

    This elementary school student walked to school no matter what the weather and then had a couple paper routes after. And I sued EVERYONE over it.

  2. WHY do these parents persist in believing that they have anything to do with the kids once they are turned over to the state for indoctrination?
    Women, make your choice; either kill the kid in the first nine months or so, or submit to the state.

  3. “Free range parenting” has a lot more credibility when you don’t try to outsource it to the government

    1. It takes a village to sit on your lazy ass and not perform any of the functions of a parent and pretend that it’s a social movement.

  4. the school where she works sometimes cancels recess if it’s cold because some of the kids can’t afford warm winter clothes.

    With all due respect, how do those kids survive the trips to and from school?

      1. Mama, papa or the nanny drive them there.

  5. We use to play in the show, ride down the hill behind the school and have snow ball fights. Even played with cap pistols when it was nice. When I was in HS we took our guns in our car so we could go hunting right after school. Their raising a generation of wimps.

  6. We go through this when the weather is hot in Florida. The real reason is that the teachers, mostly female and aged 40’s to 60’s, do not want to stand outside to provide the required supervision when the temperatures are greater than or less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

  7. When I was in HS we took our guns in our car so we could go hunting right after school. find the best Instagram Summer Captions

    1. and look how you turned out

  8. We lived in Alaska when my kids were in grade school, and they did indeed have a temperature limit for outdoor recess (I think I remember 0 F, depending on other things like wind).

    The school also had an age-dependent clothing scheme. First graders had to have 5 things to go outside: coat, hat, gloves, boots, winter pants. With each higher grade, the required clothing count decreased by one. Sixth graders, if dumb enough, could run around outside naked.

  9. This will leave more time for “Global Warming” lectures inside the schools.

  10. How can a Sikh play hockey? A good yank on his turban would drill him into the ice.

  11. I doubt schools do this out of concern for the kids being too cold/hot. Probably the teachers unions don’t want the teachers to have to stand in the cold or heat while they watch the kids. One of my kids is at a private school where they get at least three recesses a day unless it’s raining, the other is at a public school where they do cancel if it’s below 32 or above 90

  12. How about a little sideways thinking: Why not hold clothing swaps a couple of times a year, which would allow parents with low incomes to pick up clothes other families have outgrown? I’m always kind of amazed that swaps aren’t a part of just about every school’s culture. No one wants lightly-used outgrown clothes to go to waste, and that is even more true for cold-weather gear.

    1. No one wants lightly-used outgrown clothes to go to waste, and that is even more true for cold-weather gear.

      No kid wants to be caught dead wearing his classmates’ hand-me-downs either. Being poor is embarrassing.

      1. Yeah, but being rich is a crime.

      2. We had uniforms at our private, Catholic schools. Parents did “hand down” the older kids’ unis to the younger ones, and when the youngest outgrew something they would let their fellow parents with even younger kids know that cheap or free threads were available. There was a regular pipeline. I remember how furious my Mom was when my grammar school changed uniforms, making about 4 years of HMDs obsolete. I grew up with 8 siblings, so splashing out for the new togs was no small expense.

        Sometimes the best place for inexpensive clothes that don’t look like they came from Wal-Mart are charity shops in wealthier towns. Upscale “vintage clothiers” caught onto this, and buyers from Manhattan would go on road trips to Greenwich, CT or Scarsdale, NY to clean out the Junior League stores and the like.

      3. I wore homemade shirts to school until my last year of high school. Nobody cared.

        1. Your handle suggests otherwise.

  13. In Siberia the kindergartners put on swimsuits go outside in the snow and pour buckets of water over their heads.

  14. There are so many things that kids can do outside in the cold weather its a shame to keep them inside. I think that young boys especially need that time to get out the excess energy. It is sad that we would rather drug these young kids instead of sending them outside and running them around for 15 to 30 minutes.

  15. When we were kids in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Barbados, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and Brazil we never knew what winter was–aside from Stateside Thanksgiving or Xmas at Grandma’s. Shooting guns made the cold less aggravating.

  16. I doubt schools do this out of concern for the kids being too cold/hot Probably the teachers unions don’t want the teachers to have to stand in the cold or heat while they watch the kids.

  17. God, save us from the nanny staters.

    I live in Central Georgia and these clowns around here will cancel school over the *threat* of snow. We had snow forecast and they closed schools at noon the day *before* it was supposed to snow. 48 and sunny outside and they cancelled school. Next morning, when it was supposed to snow, it rained. Temp never got below 40. Fucking morons.

  18. In Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, kids are out all the time no matter how cold. Young moms take their babies out in buggies everyday. While the babies nap, the moms stand around and talk often with snow falling.

    Kids play on playgrounds even when it’s cold. They even put up extra playground equipment around the New Years Tree so that people can gather. The adults will talk and the kids will play. The kids have a great time and go home tired.

    1. I agree with you completely. Fresh air and outdoor activities are essential for children! They always know Тwhat to do indoors and therefore adults have to come up with entertaining activities for outdoor activities.

  19. amazing post…keep up the good work..Dosti Status

  20. What a great blog about kids I have read your full blog you have excellent writing skills can you please share any idea about content writing because I want to become a good writer.

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