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Outdoor play is recommended for children. In general, children don’t have to be taught to play, they just need the opportunity to play.  What are the benefits of outdoor play? Here are a few:

  1. When children run, jump, throw balls, climb on play equipment, they are building gross motor skills.
  2. Outdoor play allows for physical activity that supports maintenance of a healthy weight.
  3. Outdoor activity reduces indoor challenging behaviors including biting, emotional outbursts, and aggression.
  4. Active, outdoor play contributes to better nighttime sleep.
  5. During the current COVID pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending outdoor activities to help reduce the spread of the virus. Fresh air is important in reducing the transmission of COVID-19.
  6. Children learn about nature while outside. Nature provides opportunities for observing, exploring, discovering and learning.  In fact, it has been said that nature is the most information-rich environment people will ever encounter.

Children should engage in outdoor activities when the weather conditions do not create a safety hazard. Winters in Idaho can be accompanied by dangerously low wind-chills, blowing snow, and poor air quality. According to Caring for Our Children, “Weather that poses a significant health risk should include wind chill factor at or below minus 15 degrees F”. Wind chill temperature is the temperature it “feels like” outside. As wind increases, the body cools at a faster rate which in turn drops the skin temperature. Wearing multiple layers of clothing traps air between layers and offer insulation as opposed to one layer of clothing. Childcare teachers should ensure that the children in their care wear appropriate clothing. Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing body tissue. Areas of the body that are most susceptible to frostbite include: fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. There may be a loss of feeling in the affected areas that appear white or grayish. Medical attention is needed for frostbite. The affected areas should be warmed slowly by immersing them in warm water (around 100 degrees F). Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat resulting in a dangerously low body temperature. Symptoms include shivering, drowsiness, weak pulse, clumsiness, slurred speech, and confusion. It is a medical emergency. What can we do to avoid the risk of frostbite and hypothermia? As mentioned earlier, make certain that children are dressed appropriately including hats, gloves/mittens, and snow boots. Caring for Our Children states that children should wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Outer garments such as coats should be tightly woven and be at least water repellent to precipitation such as rain or snow. Teachers should check children’s extremities for normal color and warmth frequently (every 15 minutes).  Air Quality is another consideration. Air stagnation is a weather event that is caused by a major buildup of air pollution in the atmosphere. This occurs when the same air mass is stationary and remains in the area for several days. During this time, winds are usually calm to light and are not strong enough to cleanse the air of the buildup of smoke, dust, and gases and other industrial air pollution. According to Caring for Our Children, “Children need protection from air pollution. Air pollution can contribute to acute asthma attacks in sensitive children, and over multiple years of exposure, can contribute to permanent decreased lung size and function”. Childcare providers should check the air quality index (AQI) and use the information to determine if it is safe for children to play outdoors. Below are resources that provide guidance for outdoor activity based on the current air quality. During events such as smoke in the air due to wildfires and air stagnation associated with high pressure, it is important to monitor the air quality continuously. Most local health departments monitor weather and air quality in their area and make appropriate announcements. AQI is usually reported by local weather stations. Individuals can sign up for email or text message alerts at:


By taking steps to ensure that children are properly dressed for the current weather conditions and monitoring and adhering to all weather alerts, teachers can promote healthy outdoor play for the children in the classroom.