It's Freezing! How Cold Is Too Cold for Outdoor Recess?

Freezing temperatures across the US have parents worried about how much outdoor play is safe

Baby, it's seriously freaking cold outside -- at least in the Midwest and Northeast right now. But are your kids frolicking in the white stuff, or are the chilly temps keeping them indoors? How cold is too cold for recess?

The answer is up to your child's individual school, according to USA Today: "There is no national temperature standard for when to keep kids inside during the winter months, the U.S. Department of Education says. Decisions are made at the local level, either by principals or school districts."  

So at some schools, a temp above 0 degrees is considered fine for outdoor play, while at others, a comparably balmy 35 degrees keeps kids indoors. But is it really safe to send kids out to play in such chilly temps? And are they more likely to get sick if they do?

Yes, and no, says Jennifer Shu, M.D., pediatrician, co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn. "Kids should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day, and it's great if they can do so outside for the fresh air and more room to play," she says. "Just be sure to bundle up and limit exposure to as few as 20 or 30 minutes for little kids if it's [below freezing], and make sure they warm up and change into dry clothing if necessary when they come in."

As for fears of catching a case of the sniffles, Shu says that although germs do thrive in cold, dry air, kids still need to be exposed to them to get sick -- and when kids are outside, they’re likely to be farther away from their classmates' germy hands and runny noses. "You can't catch a cold from simply being in the cold," she says.

Growing up in Minnesota, I can barely remember a time when we didn't have recess. Instead, on winter days we simply bundled up in snow pants, coats, scarves and boots, and spent our post-lunch free hour sledding, ice skating and playing boot hockey. Were we cold? Sure. But looking back, I think those recesses that left us rosy-cheeked and winded were often the best part of the day. Now if only my school had served hot cocoa…

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