How cold is too cold for recess? 24 parents across the globe weigh in.

How cold is too cold for recess? 24 parents around the world weigh in.

As a family we’ve always been big on eating and playing outside – even when the weather dips below freezing. Ava’s school is remarkably progressive in this regard – they’ll go out in snow, even if its just for a few minutes. But most schools in Oklahoma keep the kids indoors during recess for one simple reason – we’re more used to heat waves than snow storms. Our closets prove it: I don’t buy Ava a snow suit or snow boots unless a big storm threatens(otherwise it may never get used before her next growth spurt).

I remember being all bundled up as a kid during bitter-cold weather in Boston and wanted to know if there was a geographic difference in how kids spend their lunch breaks during “inclement weather.”  Apparently some babies nap outside in freezing weather.

So, yup. Turns out there is.

 

24 Parents answer my question:
How cold is too cold for lunchtime recess?

 

“I live in NE Ohio & if the wind chill is 20°F / -6°C or lower the kids can’t go out for recess” Laura P.

“I was brought up in the north of Sweden where we always had lots of snow and spouts of extreme cold (-30°C or so, which would make -22°F). I can’t remember a cutoff for not being allowed to play outside, it was more a question of when we were allowed to stay inside. And that may have been around -4°F / -20°C.” Jorun B.

“I live in Germany and kids play outside whatever the weather. But it doesn’t often get up to 6 feet of snow. Germans say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. When we lived in England, people would also freak out about snow. Nurseries and schools shut there at the slightest sight of snow. Employees get often sent home early. And kids rarely play outside when it is cold or raining.” Anabelle H.

“In the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, both the temp and the windchill have to be at least 10°F / -17°C for outdoor recess.  My 6 y/o and her 2 classmates that I drive home give me an update every day if they could go outside for recess or not, and if it was so cold that they “huddled” instead of played. Apparently when it’s close to our 10°F / -17°C cut-off, they huddle like little penguins, taking turns in the center of the huddle. They love telling me all about who was in the center, who almost blew away from the outer ring (very windy in greater Chicago!!!), etc. They talk like it is the funnest thing!” Julie A

“I am in central Japan. The kids are not playing outside anymore at school, but the parents dress their kids in shorts year round with long socks.” Tara C.

“The teachers [in Chicago] just make sure the kids have coats, hats, gloves, snow pants and boots – the cold weather works! The kids went outside today when the temperatures were in the upper 20s F / -2°C. But, they stayed indoors yesterday when it was a high of around 20°F / -6°C with a windchill in the teens! My younger son brought up an interesting point to me when we were discussing if I thought they’d go outside for recess today. (Today’s forecasted high is 25°F / -4°C.) He thought it was interesting that they go out in the snow and cold – but never in the rain. It could be 80°F / 26°C, but if it’s raining, they stay inside.” Aimee T.

“My kids had a day off from school in Northern California recently. It was a chillier day than normal, in the mid-lower 50s F / 10°C. Usually it averages in the 60s F / 15°C. Our Moroccan babysitter stayed with them that day and when I got home from work the kids complained they weren’t allowed outside to play all day. Why not!? Atika said it was too cold to go out. I smiled as it was so not cold but I also know when raised in the tropics your are much more sensitive to the cold. – Stephanie M.

“It was 30°F / -1°C when we lived in Massachusetts.” MaryAnne

“The children play outside [in Germany] except for when it is really raining.” Olga M.

“This isn’t about temperature but about snow – Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where it rarely snows, school would get canceled with even light snow. I do remember school being canceled once because of cold, but I can’t remember the temperature. But it was practical, because so many kids did not have heavy winter gear. In Minnesota they are very tough – once when I lived there school was canceled for cold. I can’t remember the temp but I believe the wind chill was -50°F / – 45°C (basically if your skin was exposed for more than a few minutes you’d get frostbite).” Leanna G.

“In Latvia school is off for primary school kids when it’s – 4°F /- 20°C outside and for older kids if it drops to – 13°F / – 25°C. Of course you wouldn’t exactly play outside much in such temperatures but you’d still go outside without anyone making much fuss about it.” Ilze I.

“I live in the south of France and it’s not about cold but snow. It used to snow about once a generation here but with climate change it now snows very lightly about once a year and it’s chaos! School is usually closed or kids sent home the moment it snows. It rarely gets below about 41°F / 5°C in the day here and by midday is usually 59°F / 15°C or more.” Phoebe T.

“I was raised in Canada. We went outside during recess & lunch break. I don’t even recall getting a single snow day while I was in grade school.” Jodi S.

“In Alaska, the cutoff was -15°F / -26°C. Anything above that and they went outside!” Sandy G.

“In Finland there are no official cutoffs, every school can set their own and they vary between 4°F / -15°C and -13°F / -25°C for when kids do not go out to play. The warmer cutoff would be for some schools in southern Finland – further north they are indeed more used to lower temperatures. I have never heard of a school that would have closed due to cold temperature. Snow is also never an excuse to stay at home from school in Finland. Here in England schools are very quick to close due to snow.” Rita R.

“No question that those from northern/colder climates are generally heartier and subsequently healthier. Scandinavian outdoor nursery schools (barnehage/barnepark) have much to do with that. We learned quickly that even sub-zero temperatures weren’t always reason to stay inside. “Ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær”=No bad weather, only bad clothing.” Melissa D.

“In France, they leave them out whatever the weather – in a sensible way of course. Rain, snow, cold… do not prevent going outside. However, here in Ireland, as soon as there might be a very small “danger” they cannot go out – so they do not go out when it rains, when there is half a centimeter of snow. As for their lunch, they have to eat them over their book in 10 minutes max.” Yzabeau O.

“In Seattle, Washington, our problem is not cold or snow, but rain. We’ve had two days of sunshine, but I can already hear the rain has started before I even look outside. Kids play here outside every single day, no exceptions. I started my daughters at a farm preschool years ago that plays outside every day to get them ready. Pretty much every item of clothing we have has a hood (locals never carry umbrellas) so you are always ready . We get snow and low temps too, but the kids are outside then too. Yesterday was 42°F / 5°C, but mine went out right after school with friends to play capture the flag.” Koloud ‘Kay’ T.

“When we were in Montreal, Canada my kids were in preschool. They had no outdoor recess if the temperature was below 30°F / – 1°C  due to the wind chill factor. One time they had no outdoor play for almost a whole month because the weather was so cold.” Amanda H.B.

“I let my kids play out in any weather, if they are bundled up. But in Houston, Texas, it is under 40°F / 4°C  they stay inside for recess!!! If it is freezing temps and even the slightest chance of precipitation, school (and many companies) close. I lived in Minnesota for a while growing up and we would always have to go outside- I remember wearing so many layers and snow pants, and ski masks and climbing on the huge towers of snow made from the snowplows around the edge of the parking lot that was our playground. It was SO fun. I agree- people in the north are sooooo much tougher. I am worried that my kids’ blood is thinning being here in the south! People here freak out if it is even close to freezing (32°F / 0°C). The news tells people to stay indoors and business close. It only happens once a year (if that) so it is a big deal.” Becky M.

“I’m in Minnesota and the cut-off is 0°F / – 17°C. If either the temp or the windchill gets below zero, they say inside. They also get on parents’ cases if we don’t outfit our kids head to toe in winter gear (snow pants, heavy coat, snow boots, gloves, and hat).” Terri T.

“We live in the North of England where it is cooler but as you live with that weather you get used to it over a period of time!” Richard W.

“In Marrakech, Morocco people are wearing heavy parkas and it’s 50°F / 10°C. But higher in the mountains it snows and is very cold. But there’s no school cancelled for cold (or hot on the flip side) there were June days where it was easily over 115°F / 46°C and schools aren’t air conditioned.” Amanda M.

 

What about where you live?
How cold is too cold?

Join the conversation below!

7 Comments

  1. Great post Sasha. Very interesting to read the varied comments. THIS comment summed it up well ” Germans say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing “.

    My feeling is that children must be allowed to play outside whenever safely possible Meaning don’t let your children out if there are hidden dangers like a busy street where cars can skid and hit them or they have bad clothing or there is a danger of falling snow from the roof. I apply the same rules, even on a very hot day, where children have to be given extra water among other things because they forget to drink and get dehydrated.

    Schools will play it very safe because of the liability issues of slipping and injuring their heads or other possible accidents. At home I would say you have to make a reasoned judgment with proper safety precautions, not just a snap decision.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Absolutely – all great points. Weather isn’t just about the temperature but how others behave in the weather. Roads can be treacherous when snows fall. We like to take long winter strolls when it snows but usually the neighborhood roads are totally quiet, so we hear cars coming from a mile away!

  2. I live in Australia so school is never cancelled because of the cold. But I have had school cancel on me during storm and cyclone season. Twice from when the school was flooded and once because an electrical storm cut off all electricity to the school. It was the first day of the school year so we had to have it. My bus driver has driven through flooded waters where it was too deep for cars to get us home. The water was up to car windows, luckily my mum wasn’t working that day so we didn’t have to walk through it!

    • Sasha Martin says

      I can’t even imagine that much water, let alone trying to walk through it – I’d be afraid of being swept away!

  3. Deanna T says

    I also live in Oklahoma and teach at a public school. Our students stay inside if it is actual or windchill of freezing or below. A lot of the reasoning for this is that students don’t have warm enough clothing – we have a high population of low-income families who can’t afford to buy a heavy coat their child will only wear a dozen times before outgrowing it. We have a ‘coat closet’ that donates as many coats as we can, but it’s frustrating that so many parents seem to not know how to check the weather and make their kids dress appropriately! It was 20°F on Monday & many students came to school with just a sweatshirt as their coat; some kids were in shorts!

  4. Great question! In Winnipeg, Manitoba, my cousin and her daughter walk five miles to work every day — for exercise — their limit is 20 below C.

  5. kevin smith says

    The Anchorage School District policy is no recess below -10F/-23C. But in Fairbanks it’s -20F/-29C.

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