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How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

  • 1.  How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-14-2018 01:43 AM
    PLEASE share any information/research based articles regarding benefits of children playing outdoors in cold weather AND/OR guidelines/policies your school/program follows regarding temperature/windchill (please indicate region you live in). I would very much appreciate any feedback and insight on this topic! Thank You!!!

    Sara Larsen

    Concordia MO

  • 2.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 01:49 AM

    Yes, regional differences are important but there are many conditions to consider on a day to day basis.  Many, many, many years ago when I was coordinator of the Child Development Laboratories at Iowa State University, we did not have a specific and descriptive written policy but we told parents there would be some outdoor time most days.  An amusing situation occurred when a head teacher newly transplanted from California to Iowa wrote in a letter to parents that children would play outdoors any day the temperature was above 50 degrees F.!  I had an overdue chat with her about Iowa winters.  Yes, temperature is important but so is wind chill factor, precipitation, activities planned for outdoors, playground facilities and conditions, clothing of the children (and teachers!).  Others can probably name many other conditions to consider in making the outdoor decisions.  The best answer a college student ever gave in my class was, "That all depends...…………."  "Yes!" I said.  "Now tell me what you'd consider in making that decision."

    As a head teacher during Iowa winters, I would frequently tell parents to bring their children dressed to be outdoors and we would then have them dressed to go out into the weather for the trip home.  If we went outdoors first, we could quickly judge if we'd made the right decision to go out and then decide how long to stay outdoors.  Teachers would handle the undressing routine for indoor activities and the dressing again for going home.  That way we had one dressing and undressing routine for parents and one for teachers.  There are so many worthwhile outdoor learning experiences!  Yes, please PLAN for outdoor learning and not consider outdoor time just time to "turn children loose" to "free them" from indoors where "real learning" occurs.

    Kathryn Miller
    Ames IA

  • 3.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 02:54 AM
    In addition to Kathryn's experiences, I would add that children need 20-30 minutes of activity to get their hearts pumping.  I would aim for that, and make on the spot decisions while outside about wind conditions (will something blow into their eyes at their level?).  My personal philosophy was if they were sent in with a coat, they have to wear it. I was just reading up on how exercising in the cold burns the bad fat, so I may rethink that.
    I have seen families move from cold states to warmer ones.  They may feel like sweaters when others wear coats.  When I moved from PA to NV six years ago, I did not wear a coat in the 40s.  Let's just say my body has regulated to the change and 40 is brrr now.
    Cold weather states may have a licensing reg stating a temperature range the children could be outside.  I know PA does and I would check with licensing.

    Patricia Jack
    Boulder City NV

  • 4.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 05:27 AM
    The CT State Office of Early Childhood does not have a "temperature clause" in the Rules and Regs. I once phoned to ask (in response to a parents question) and was told that it was up to the teachers/administrators to make the decision. I firmly believe in the benefits of "fresh air/outdoor play". Conversations with parents on this topic can be more difficult. Getting the point across that "cold weather" does not cause illness is often a difficult one. When I was in the classroom I requested "outdoor gear" be brought in everyday, whether we used it or not. I always had extra boots, snow pants, mittens in the closet. For ideas re: outdoor play check out the Facebook page "Raising Outdoor Kids". It is wonderful. There are also numerous articles regarding the importance of outdoor play in all kinds of weather. Be advised that sometimes you must take a families cultural background into consideration as well.

    Karin King
    Education Consultant
    Trumbull CT

  • 5.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 07:15 AM
    I am part of a school that goes up to 8th grade. Our policy is to go out for recess (up to 30 minutes) unless the wind chill is 0 or below. I teach/live in southern Wisconsin. I have a friend who taught in Minnesota near the Twin cities. They went outside up to -10 wind chill. If you Google frostbite times, you'll see how much time skin can be exposed at various temperatures. I'm on my phone so it's hard to copy and paste.
    Children in European countries spend much more time outside. Being outdoors is good for everyone. Special consideration must be given for those with medical conditions that are made worse by the cold weather.
    The hardest part for us is getting patents to send proper clothing such as hats and gloves. In the past wevwe had some to lend, but that becomes an issue with lice and other things that are easily shared. We don't have laundry facilities at school and we got tired of taking it all home daily to wash.

    Heather Finnegan
    Preschool Teacher
    Our Redeemer Lutheran Church with School
    Delavan WI

  • 6.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 09:45 AM
    I work in public school in an area in Idaho where winters last from November to April.  The following is in our policy letter that we send home with parents.


    Clothing suitable for outdoor play is needed every day, even in winter.  We play outside every day unless the weather is severe, it is raining too hard, or it is below 10 degrees.  Outdoor play is very important.  Please be sure to dress your child properly for the weather (boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, etc.).

    We also have extra snowsuits, gloves, hats, etc... for children that need it.

    Emily Brown
    Hailey Elementary Preschool
    Hailey ID

  • 7.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 10:43 AM
      |   view attached
    You can find this chart on the KDHE site we use it as a bases. Hope it helps.

    Melissa Mosher
    Assistant Director/SA Director
    Christ The King Early Education Center
    Auburn KS


    weatherwatch.pdf   332K 1 version

  • 8.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-16-2018 10:22 AM
    This is a nice chart and very helpful.  Thank you for sharing.  Though it may not be something for everyone, I will keep and use as a guide.

    Christi Crittenden
    Lexington VA

  • 9.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 01:13 PM


    That chart was amazingly helpful. As a person from LA and works with educators this question has come up often. I think below 60 is too cold :) but I know on the East Coast that would mean you would never go outside, so this is a good chart. People want to know what can hurt children, not personal feelings on if it's cold or not, I know that I'm overly sensitive about that and my husband from northern Wisconsin will walk around in shorts at 30 degrees.


    Lark Sontag
    MA, Early Childhood Education
    Alumna Pacific Oaks College
    Trainer, Adjunct Early Childhood Education Faculty, and Early Childhood Education contributor to 30seconds
    New York Metro

  • 10.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 10:54 AM
    I live and work in an inner city, where many of our young students come to school without appropriate outerwear fro the weather.  This is particularly an issue for their feet. Additionally, if a student gets wet or muddy that means extra laundry for a parent who doesn't have laundry facilities easily available. I'm an early interventionist who goes into many pre-schools and I cannot think of a school that takes little ones outdoors on a snowy day because of this issue.  We may actually have snow on the ground less than 20 days a year, so it may be different in northern climates where it is more dominant.  I KNOW that there are benefits to allowing children to play in the snow and splash in rain puddles, but the realities of many of the families I work with mean that there is more indoor time than would be ideal.

    Chris Schmidt
    Special Instructor
    MO First Steps
    St Louis, MO

  • 11.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-15-2018 03:23 PM
    We are in Denver, Colorado, and our guidelines are 20 degrees- 90 degrees. There is a sliding scale for wind chill as well. We go out almost every day. I do shop thrift stores and keep extra clothes on hand in case someone doesn't have mittens, hats, etc

    Jennifer Monson
    Denver Public Schools
    Denver CO

  • 12.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-17-2018 01:34 PM
    Rusty Keeler addresses this issue in a 10-minute podcast called "How Cold Is Too Cold for Outdoor Recess?" You can find it here:

    Rae Pica
    Rae Pica Keynotes & Consulting
    Alexandria VA

  • 13.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-18-2018 07:03 AM
    Many thanks for the question and conversation! I'm the Director of Forest Preschool at North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier VT. I also train Early Childhood Educators around safety and best practices for outdoor play and learning. Our area has a snow day today so I have a little extra time to share.

    A guiding thought that inspires my dirve to get kids outside learning and playing is this: Our parents, grandparents, and beyond, spent much more time outside as children and adults than we do now. The benefits of outdoor play and learning in all weather, except severe, are nemerous and vital!

    In central VT over the past couple of weeks, we've had temperatures in the teens and 20's at night with some snow. The transition from grass and mud to ice and sparkly snow has been magical! It has offered our children delight, wonder, and direct, joyful learning. I was thinking about so many children who live in colder climates and don't have as much access to the incredible seasonal changes or direct learning and gross motor opportuinitues.

    Thanks for the questions, when is it too cold to play outside? I wonder if there are more questions to ask as well: How can we safely bring kids outside in the winter so they don't get frostbite? How can we get them dressed properly so they stay warm and have fun playing and learning outside?

    At our school in VT, we start every day outside, for the most part. In the winter, we base the amount of time spent outside on the windchill as opposed to temperature. Here is a link to a windchill guide that's mentioned above:

    We had many mornings last winter around 0 degrees but the air was still, no windchill, and the sun was shining. On those days, we made sure the children had on proper layers including a neck warmer or balaclava. We kept children moving those mornings, sledding is a great way to do that, and also paid special attention to children letting us know when their feet were cold. We offer hand warms and foot warmers to those that seem to stuggle with circulation. On a zero degree day without a wind chill value, we stayed outside on average of 20-30 minutes, enough time to have a direct experience with sights, sounds, smells, feel, and taste of the day and moving bodies in satifying ways!

    On a day where there is a wind chill, the wind chill chart if very helpful!

    Having the proper clothing and gear for children is key to ensure skin does not get frost bite and children stay warm and happy. Having the proper clothing can, as some have talked about, be a real barrier to getting kids outside in the winter weather, especially in schools where free and reduced lunch numbers are high. This takes some extra effort but can be worth it! Our nature center works with public schools and finds that many children do not come to school with proper clothing and gear to be outside safely and happily. We suggest and have seen classroom teachers ask the school and borader community for winter clothing and gear donations. Some teachers head to thirift stores to purchase extra wool socks, hats, mits, and neck warmers.  Boots a size bigger than feet offer an air pocket to keep feet warm. Boots that are too small = cold feet. Try 2 pairs of wool socks in boots to keep feet warm.

    Enjoy the winter if you live in a part of the country that winter visits!

    Mary Zentara
    Forest Preschool at North Branch Nature Center
    Montpelier VT

  • 14.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-18-2018 04:54 PM
    For our center we are required to take the children out for 30 minutes for every 3 hours they are in school so we have to take them out even if it's really cold.  Our policy is if the wind chill is 10 degrees or above then the children can go outside.  We remind parents of this very often so they remember to bring all of the proper winter gear but we also have extra boots, hats, gloves, etc. at our center.  The children really love being out in the snow, they learn so many things from being out in the winter.  One thing we do in the winter is fill spray bottle with water colors so the children can paint the snow.  We also bring snow inside and put it in our water table which the children love!

    Ashley Byers
    Flint MI

  • 15.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-19-2018 09:08 AM
    I think it depends on where you live and what the normal winter climate is. Here in the interior of Alaska we go outside until -20. Yes, 20 degrees below zero. For us it's all about layers and ensuring the children still get outside in the winter months. That policy is borough wide and the only exception is for infants who is many programs go outside until 0 degrees.
    But just because that works here doesn't mean I would expect someone in Michigan or New York to follow the same policy since -20 isn't what I expect their normal winter days include.
    No matter what temperature your program decides on the biggest key to outdoor play in the winter months is knowing how to properly dress and ensuring that the policy doesn't create issues with weeks of being stuck indoors.

    Nicole Austin
    North Pole AK

  • 16.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-24-2018 09:14 AM
    Thank you for posting a question regarding outdoor play and a concern for the weather changes. The responses from fellow early childhood educators varied from across the country. I hope that you found the shared dialogue helpful.

    I ask that everyone please take the opportunity to read related articles in the Special Edition of the includes a cluster of articles on outdoor learning. Visit to dive in! ( ENJOY 

    Crystal Darlene Sanford-Brown
    Early Childhood Consultant
    Ashance Associates
    Bloomfld Hls MI
    Member of the Naeyc Governing Board; Vice-President

  • 17.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 11-26-2018 03:41 PM
    Thank you for the great dialogue.  My colleague and I recently wrote a book and one of the sections is entitled "How Cold is Too Cold" Here's what we said-

    "How cold is too cold?

    Keeping children safe and comfortable in the winter is important to encourage play and learning. Determining how cold is too cold has more to do with the wind and weather gear that the children and teachers wear than just a temperature gauge. If children and adults are wearing several layers, water- and windproof outerwear, warm wool socks, warm hats with earflaps, insulated boots and water- and windproof mittens, then they should be safe and comfortable in most temperatures. When the wind chill starts to dip below zero, make sure that children have additional warm gear like neck gaiters or scarves that can help cover their noses and mouths. During this weather, the ice becomes crunchy and walking in the deeper snow becomes hard work, so it is also important to be sure children don't get overheated. Observation and communication with children outdoors is key in figuring out if they may need to shed a layer or two or add another layer. For example, even at days that are 20 below zero, if we are building a quinzhee or snow fort, and shoveling piles of snow, playing tag, or hiking up a sledding hill repeatedly, it is possible that children may need to shed a heavy coat and wear just their under layers that usually comprise a thermal layer, a shirt, and a sweater or jacket liner."

    My program is in Minnesota and we do not have a temperature cut off, but are very careful to make sure that children are prepared.  It does involve lots of extras and having a washer and dryer.  We strive for  45 minutes to 1 hour outside during our 3 hour day, year-round.  

    Sheila Williams Ridge
    U of MN Lab School
    Roseville MN

  • 18.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-05-2018 12:50 PM
    Hello.  I hope everyone is finding wonderful resources for enjoying some time outside when it's cold.  I found this blog that has a good list for gear:

    Sheila Williams Ridge
    U of MN Lab School
    Roseville MN

  • 19.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-06-2018 01:13 PM
    I conducted a staff development training in Virginia yesterday and was told that they're not allowed to take the children outside when it's below 40 degrees. Essentially, that's the entire winter -- at least! Children need to spend time outdoors, where they can burn more calories, practice and refine their large motor skills, engage in messy and boisterous behavior, and reap the rewards of the outside light. I would love to see teachers push back against policies such as this one, which do children more harm than good. :(

    Rae Pica
    Rae Pica Keynotes & Consulting
    Alexandria VA

  • 20.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 06:10 AM
    I'm just entering the field in Virginia and I'm disappointed to hear that any school would keep the children in at those temperatures.

    However, when I was in school we walked to the bus stop so we were properly dressed for the weather. Today as I drive down the road parents are sitting at the end of their driveways and when the kiddos get out to get on the bus they have little more than a sweatshirt and never a hat.

    It almost seems like you'd have to have them bring outdoor play clothes and find somewhere to store them. We just hung our snow suit on our hook and put our mittens and hats on the radiator to dry.

    That will be one big question for my first center position. Thank you for sharing.

    Janet Allen-Smith
    Liberty University
    King George VA

  • 21.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 09:14 AM
    Janet, you make an excellent point about children not dressing for the weather because they no longer have to experience it!

    This is another important topic to address with parents. If we can help them understand the many, many benefits of outdoor time, when possible, they will be more willing to send the children to school with appropriate clothing.

    Rae Pica
    Rae Pica Keynotes & Consulting
    Alexandria VA

  • 22.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-08-2018 09:39 AM
    I agree with Rae, and with Sheila that "Having children prepared for the places they live is so important." In cooperative programs where parents are included in daily staffing, they see the benefit of outdoor play and experience the clothing needs themselves. Articles such as "A Parents' Guide to Nature Play" can help families see the fun and value in being in nature. If more of these articles showed photos of children comfortably experiencing nature in all kinds of weather it could help us all embrace outdoor play in cold and hot weather.

    Virginia is a big state and the rules for children's outdoor play vary with latitude. In Alexandria one program I worked with used 32* F (including windchill) as the cut-off for staying indoors.
    Are there "Winter boot" drives similar to the Coat Drives that collect donated winter coats for children whose families have difficulty affording them?
    Best wishes,

    Peggy Ashbrook
    Early childhood science teacher
    Alexandria, VA
    NSTA The Early Years columnist, Science and Children
    Early Years blogger,
    Author: Science Learning in the Early Years, and
    Science Is Simple

  • 23.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-06-2018 03:00 PM
    ​This is a great chart to use:

    Lynne Robbins
    Jericho VT

  • 24.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 09:22 AM
    That can be a good chart for warmer weather areas, but I would caution against using it as a tool to prohibit programs from going outside.  The previous posts about the gear are so right!  Having children prepared for the places they live is so important.  It has only been a few generations where we didn't have central heat or air conditioning and everyone experienced whatever the climate they lived in was and learned how to prepare.  It is sad to see things like the Virginia rule about 40 degrees.  All of the wonderful winter, sensory, social, and problem solving experiences those children will miss out on, not to mention their scientific understanding of seasons, weather, and climate.

    Sheila Williams Ridge
    U of MN Lab School
    Roseville MN

  • 25.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 09:44 AM
    The Virginia teachers who have to follow such an arbitrary procedure has nothing to do with what is best for the children.  It does however, I am sure have to do with teachers "complaining" because it is soooo cold!  We take our children outside in weather that is below 40 degrees and oh my goodness even when it rains!
    I just shake my head when I see such ridiculous procedures...sometimes I think our own worst enemy in the field of early education is ourselves!

    Luellen Matthews, MPA
    Crystal City Children's Center
    Arlington, VA

  • 26.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-07-2018 10:28 AM
    Sometimes the rules and regulations can be very frustrating, but also useful, and I think their goal is safety.  How have other states worked with different agencies to help infuse some of our current understandings about what children need for their healthy development? What has worked?

    Sheila Williams Ridge
    U of MN Lab School
    Roseville MN

  • 27.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-09-2018 12:46 AM
    I visited a childcare program in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a couple of years ago and I was told that all of the children spent an hour outside everyday even in the winter. Having grown up in Michigan I know it can get really cold but I was also a child who walked to school (almost a mile one way) and back everyday and I survived (and thrived) in this environment. I also don't recall ever getting frost bit. I believe as long as children are properly dressed they should have opportunities to be outside in the fresh clean air that winter months provide.

    Julia Smith
    Assistant Professor
    Purdue University Fort Wayne
    Fort Wayne IN

  • 28.  RE: How cold is too cold? - Winter outdoor play

    Posted 12-09-2018 03:06 PM
    I agree the proper clothing is essential, especially warm boots and waterproof gloves/ mittens.  Winter clothing is an added expense; we recommend specific second hand stores in our town.  There is also an informal clothing trading network at my school.  Other schools where I have taught set up a "show the swap" for families also.

    I teach in Reno, NV.  In addition to the regular classes spending at least an hour outside each day, we also have an outdoor classroom which comes inside for lunch and rest time.  This past week we had about four inches of snow, and the kids had a blast sledding, panting in snow, cooking in snow, shoveling it (under supervision, of course), and feeding the birds.and look forward to going outside  This picture is several days after the original snowfall

    Happy outdoors!

    Anne Lowry
    Aleph Academy
    Reno NV