Maine schools can not agree on cold weather for outdoor vacations

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Several weeks ago, Asa Adams Elementary School Principal, Darren Akerman, had a hard choice to make. The toboggan run near Orono School was covered with ice and students could barely walk without slipping on the icy playground.

Akerman decided to cancel the outdoor recreation that day. It was just dangerous to let students play outside.

"They could hardly go out and walk," he said. "In these cases, you have to make difficult decisions. You do not want them to be hurt. "

Primary school principals in the Bangor area agree on the importance of outdoor recreation and the benefits of outdoor and unstructured playtime for students. But most do not let students out if the temperature is below 10 degrees. In addition, schools generally do not consider the number of outdoor recreation days lost to cold.

All of this places schools in the Bangor area of ​​Maine, according to a University of Maine researcher who has surveyed state schools about their outdoor recreation policies and practices during the summer months. winter. She was trying to know the temperature thresholds at which schools cancel outdoor recreation and whether schools are noting when they cancel outdoor periods.

"I already knew that recreation policies varied in schools. So I wanted to understand where these policies came from, "said Lauren Jacobs, a lecturer in Kinesiology and Physical Education at UMaine.

Gabor Degre | BDN

Gabor Degre | BDN

First-year students from Old Town Elementary School play in the snow on Monday during recess.

She found a correlation between a school's geographic location and its temperature threshold: schools in northern Maine let students out for recreation in cooler weather than their southern counterparts.

In his paper published in 2017Jacobs divided the state into three climatic sectors: the north, the south of the interior and the coast. She found that most schools in the North cancel outdoor recreation when temperatures drop below freezing, while most schools on the coast have higher thresholds of 11 to 20 degrees.

Of the 50 schools she surveyed in the Southern Interior – which includes the Bangor region – 33 schools reported a 10-degree threshold.

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"We want our students to be outside," said Dan Chadbourne, director of 14th Street School in Bangor. "We did things for which we reduced the time spent outside. Bringing them inside is the last resort. "

When Bangor schools cancel out-of-town vacations, they use classrooms and gyms to do physical activity. They sometimes use GoNoodle, a website designed to guide children in movements such as dancing and jumping obstacles, to allow students to stay in motion.

"We make sure kids are active throughout the recess," said Fruit Street School director Richard Fournier.

In the old city, the primary school takes a similar approach, trying to keep the students as active as possible, said the director, Jeanna Tuell.

Gabor Degre | BDN

Gabor Degre | BDN

Holly Libby, an education technician at Old Town Elementary School, helps six-year-old Brady Chase put on his gloves as freshmen begin playing in the snow on recess Monday.

Gabor Degre | BDN

The school is developing what Tuell called a "sensory corridor" that will feature a series of squares on the floor, each containing instructions for an exercise or movement that students can do when they enter this square.

"We want them to go out and play," she said. "We have the feeling of doing them a disservice even though it is for their safety."

Extensive research has shown that younger children learn better when they have unstructured play times, especially outside.

"Without outdoor recreation, students are not as good at it," said Akerman, principal of Asa Adams Elementary School. "They need this break."

Jacobs said she felt the Maine winter was not extreme enough to make students miss out on outdoor recreation. She added that she also thought that schools should note how many days students miss outdoor recreation to find ways to reduce that number.

"I would encourage schools to think of creative solutions," she said, "ways of overcoming these challenges rather than saying, 'We can not go out. »»