When Is it Too Cold for Children to Play Outside?

When is it OK to take children outside to play? When is it not? Winter brings about the challenge of taking children outside in cold weather. The Virginia Department of Social Services requires that children in licensed programs, open for more than 5 hours a day, go outside for one hour every day if weather and air quality allow. What does this actually mean?

A general rule of thumb is to not take children outside when it is below freezing at 32°F. Make sure you factor in the wind chill too. At 32° you may not want to stay outside for an hour. You can break the hour down into 15 minute periods. These periods can occur twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.

If you are looking for resources, “Caring for Our Children”, is a wonderful and free. It is available to guide you through many early care and education questions around health and safety. There is detail regarding how to protect children from the extreme temperatures. You will find tips on developing an outside play policy. Parents and guardians should understand your outside policy. Further, it is equally important that guardians know their responsibilities. They need to make sure children have the proper clothing. If a child is not properly dressed you wouldn’t take them outside.

What would be your plan? You may want to have parents leave a hat and set of gloves at your early care program so children will always be prepared. You could even have emergency backups for those that forget.

The Benefits of Outdoor Play

Why is it important to take children outside year round? Although getting children out for physical activity is important, it is not the only reason to get children outside. Outdoor play gives children a chance to breathe fresh air that is free of indoor germs. Being stuck in a stuffy playroom all day with germs, only breeds more germs.

Our bodies also need Vitamin D, which is produced when the sunlight reaches the skin. This helps us to fight off depression and allergies. Outside physical activity and play also energizes the brain to learn. Without this activity, children may lack the focus they need to grasp learning activities that require them to sit.

Myths About Cold Weather

Have you heard from someone or believe that cold weather can cause you to catch a cold? Research says that being outside when it is cold does not cause you to catch a cold! However, going out when you have an upper respiratory infection or asthma can cause breathing difficulties. To avoid this, make sure you are watching children closely and know if they suffer from asthma, are sick, or have allergies.

Tips for Taking Kids Outside in Cold Weather

  • Dress children in layers that include heavy coats, hats, gloves, and boots.
  • A thin layer of Vaseline on cheeks will keep them from getting chapped.
  • Always check the wind chill factor or the heat index when determining when it is too cold or hot.
  • Develop an outdoor policy that parents can read and understand the expectations for outside play in the winter. If a parent tells you their child is too sick to go outside it begs the question of “is she too sick to be at the program?”
  • Let parents know you will go outside if it snows and they should make sure they bring proper clothes and a change of clothes. Outdoor play is a great science activity as well as just plain fun!
  • Sometimes it might take longer to get children “suited up” than you might spend outside. Be prepared for this and allow enough time to get everyone equipped for the weather.
  • Take advantage of those days that are extremely nice! In addition to your one hour of physical activity outside, take a few walks to enjoy the day.
  • Preplan indoor physical activities for those days you just can’t get out. You can find ideas here.
  • Drink plenty of water in both hot and cold weather.

Visit Caring for Our Children for more information. For more information on licensing requirements, visit Virginia’s Department of Social Services website.

By Janet Burke, Director of Child Development Services

Janet Burke is the Child Development Services Program Manager for ChildSavers, a nonprofit organization that believes that all children can be safe, happy, healthy and ready to learn. She manages six core programs that support this belief: Child Care Aware of Central Virginia, Child Development Training, Child Development Associate Certificate Program, Virginia Quality Central Region, Voluntary Registration for the Central Region, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Janet joined ChildSavers in 1992 where she has worked as a trainer, supervisor, coordinator, and program manager. She has been a Master Rater and Master Trainer for Virginia’s Quality and Rating Improvement System since 2007 where she was trained in the

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