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How Cold is too Cold to Play Outside?

child bundled up outside in the snow

We've all heard the tales of kids from the Midwest and Northeast toughening up by playing outside in rain, ice, and snow. Admittedly, as someone who grew up in sunny Southern California, I must confess to my weather-related weakness. Kudos to the children raised in the frosty climates who truly deserve recognition for braving winter play (cue memories of Ralphie's brother's snowsuit in A Christmas Story).


I wholeheartedly support as much outdoor time as possible for all children, but how cold is too cold when it comes to our littlest ones and when should you raise questions with your daycare or preschool? 


There is no universal standard for the average temperature at which children are allowed to play outside, as it depends on various factors such as local climate and individual health considerations, but a good rule of thumb that most state guidelines follow is to look at not only at the temperature (most avoid going outside once it is below 32 degrees F), but also the windchill. The windchill measures how cold it feels when exposed to wind and cold temperatures. Windchill numbers are always lower than the air temperature and begin calculating when the temperature is below 50 degrees. 


wind chill index chart

Spotting references to windchill and heat index in your daycare or preschool's outdoor play protocols is a positive sign. It indicates a holistic and safety-conscious approach to determining when it's either too cold or too hot for your child to play outside. Providers may also regulate the duration of outdoor play during colder weather, ensuring children have ample time to bundle up, expend energy, and smoothly transition back indoors.


As mentioned, I am a big supporter of getting children outside as much, and as safely, as possible because the outdoors provides amazing opportunities for learning, physical activities, sensory stimulation, stress reduction, and social interaction. So, here are some tips to handle the outdoors like a midwest/northeast pro, for both your home and daycare/preschool: 


  • Dress children in layers and a good coat, being especially mindful of including hats, gloves, and boots! 

  • A thin layer of Vaseline on the cheeks will help with windburn

  • Make sure to pack a change of clothes to handle any wet situations 

  • Always have water available 

  • Be mindful of children with pre-existing conditions exacerbated by cold or heat, such as asthma, and monitor any signs of illness in all children.


So, let’s all embrace that cold weather…safely  ☃️

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