01/14/2016 11:57 EST | Updated 01/14/2016 12:59 EST

School Recess Cold Weather: Temperatures Really Have To Drop Before Kids Are Kept Inside

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Snow on hood and coat, very cold face

In Australia, school officials have to make safety decisions around extreme heat alerts. But in Canada, we have the exact opposite problem: frigid temperatures. Whether or not Canuck schools keep kids indoors or even shut down all together depends where you live in this snowy country.

The big worry, of course, is frostbite. And the possibility of this...

According to Environment Canada, there is a high risk of frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia if skin is exposed to temperatures of -28 C to -39 C for a long period of time.


The temperature that schools across Canada will keep kids inside during recess varies.

In Toronto, schools will keep kids indoors if the temperature drops to -28 C degrees or lower.

If the temperature or wind chill is between -20 C to -28 C, recesses will be shortened to 10 minutes and outdoor lunch breaks to 20.

Similar to Toronto schools, kids in Saskatoon and Winnipeg are kept indoors if the temperature or wind chill drops below -27 C. But if wind chill is between -20 C to -26 C, students are expected to dress warmly and head outdoors for regular, daily exercise.

While these school boards have set guidelines, others have no strict standard. According to Ontario's Upper Grand District School Board, it’s up to principals to decide how cold is too cold for kids.

“Principals are required to be sensitive to the safety and well-being of students during periods of severe weather,” their website reads.


Like recess, many school boards don't have set temperature for complete closures. In several areas of Ontario, this decision is made by the Director of Education, usually the night before or by 5:15 am.

Other areas across Canada follow different guidelines for when schools will close. Ontario's Waterloo region implemented a new cold weather policy this year. When the wind chill hits -35 C, schools close.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, school boards consider age and maturity when determining whether or not it’s too cold for kids to attend class.

When temperatures drop to -45 C degrees, kids in kindergarten to Grade 3 do not have to go to school. For Grades 4 to 7, the temperature must be -50 C or greater, and for Grades 8 to 12 it must be -55 C.


Not everyone thinks kids should be kept inside in cold weather, though. Toronto pediatrician Dan Flanders believes kids should be sent outdoors, even in extreme cold weather.

“If you dress your kids up properly, if you dress them according to the weather, there really isn't much risk,” he told CBC in 2014. “We know from the scientific literature that play and movement and physical activity is crucially important to kids’ health and well-being that strikes me as quite a benefit.”

Parents seem to disagree. Last year, the Weather Network polled its readers, asking: “At what temperature do you think children should be kept indoors for recess?” The results revealed that 52 per cent voted for temperatures between -15 and -20 degrees.

In the comments, one woman explained her reasoning behind her vote. “Just three or four years ago, kids (in Ontario at least) were allowed to run, play tag, slide on the ice or down a hill at the school, build snow forts and have snowball fights at recess or during lunch break. Now, the vast majority of schools no longer allow these activities,” she said.

“If the kids were allowed to run around and play, then temps of -20 C would be fine since they would be moving around and keeping warm. Now, kids just mill around until they have to go back inside, so to me, they shouldn't have to endure temps of more than -10 C or so.”


Signs Of Frostbite