Why Winter Recess is Important


Winter recess is important to the health and development of our children. We all know the physical benefits of getting our kids outdoors for some fresh air and exercise in the summer. Once the cold weather hits, however, getting outside becomes more difficult. Many schools limit or cancel outdoor exercise. School, sports, after-school activities and the cold itself can make it difficult for kids to get their necessary outdoor time even outside of school. Winter and colder temperatures offer an additional challenge for healthy exercise and play.

Winter Recess is Important. Why Don’t Kids Have More of It?

The Council on School Health from the American Academy of Pediatrics reports “recent surveys and studies have indicated a trend toward reducing recess to accommodate additional time for academic subjects in addition to its withdrawal for punitive or behavioral reasons.” Even when a district supports the idea that winter recess is important, it still may not be able to facilitate it.

When temperatures drop, schools and school districts have tough choices to make. Do they send children outside in colder weather or not? What is the “cut-off” temperature for no outdoor recess? What does a teacher, a school or a district do, when a child arrives to school without appropriate winter clothing?

When Does Recess Get Canceled?

Generally, a policy is made for all of the schools in a given district to regulate going outside during break. Many schools are forced to limit going outdoors, even though they know that winter recess is important for kids. Sometimes policies allow kids to go out, but only if they have the means to be adequately clothed–only if they have warm coats to wear. The schools must decide whether they prevent some kids in the class or all kids in the class from playing outside when the temperature goes down.

How Low-Income Students Can Affect Winter Recess Policies

When a school or school district has a large number students from low-income families (Title 1 Schools), the choice they must make becomes obvious. With a majority of children not prepared for outdoor recess, the school may choose to cancel it altogether. Some schools can accommodate indoor recess, while others do not have a gym or other facilities. In the latter case, students may not be able to get much exercise at all. It is possible for a student to go days without getting quality time outdoors.

Why Outdoor Recess Makes Better Students

“After they come in from outside, they are able to re-focus faster and they’re able to concentrate,” says Jess Jones, an after school teacher from Pennsylvania. “They’ve gotten the fresh air and time to run around.”

In fact, there are numerous scientific studies that have found that being outdoors for 20 minutes or more gives children a mental edge, not just a physical one.

Short Term Memory Boost

Psychological Science reported a study done with University of Michigan students that showed that after a walk in nature, students had a 20 percent boost in their short-term memory. “We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January,” Berman reported in the study.

Reversing Mental Fatigue

The Journal of Environmental Psychology featured a study that found that youngsters could reverse mental fatigue just by getting out and experiencing nature. Being in the restorative environment of the outdoors may just give the brain a chance to rest and rejuvenate.

School Success is Part of Our Mission

At Operation Warm, making outdoor recess an option for all children is part of our More Than A Coat mission. We believe a child’s ability to get outside for healthy exercise and fresh air is important. We recognize that not all families are not in a position to provide warm winter coats to their children.

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