A dad's argument on why recess shouldn't be cancelled on cold days in Calgary

A Calgary dad says Calgary Board of Education is keeping kids indoors at recess too much, because of misguided concerns about how cold is too cold.

'Wind chill is not measured in degrees Celsius. It's not a temperature'

5-year-old Stella enjoying recess recently at William Reid Elementary School. A dad whose daughter attends the same school says the Calgary Board of Education is cancelling too many outdoor recesses. (Submitted by Doug Dunlop)

Is the wind chill fake news?

It is when it comes to deciding whether the weather is bad enough to keep kids inside for recess, says one Calgary dad.

Elbow Park resident Doug Dunlop, whose daughter attends William Reid Elementary School in southwest Calgary, thinks the Calgary Board of Education has lost the thread when deciding whether or not to keep kids inside during recess.

Recess used to be cancelled — at each school principal's discretion — when the temperature hit -20 C, according to CBE guidelines.

Several years ago though, the CBE amended those guidelines to -20 C including wind chill, which, according to Dunlop, is a whole different winter ballgame.

Doug Dunlop believes that the CBE cancels too many outdoor recesses because it recently changed the temperature minimums to reflect the wind chill, which Dunlop believes doesn't accurately reflect the temperature. (Doug Dunlop)

"We essentially went from letting the kids outside, or being recommended to be let outside, at -19 C, -20 C, [and] a bit of a breeze makes it -28 wind chill," Dunlop said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener. "That seems pretty reasonable as a cutoff.

"What we've switched to now is -20 wind chill, which means if it's a little breezy, your kids aren't going outside in -13 C," he added. 

"Obviously I think there's a whole bunch of factors here," he added, "and one of the big factors is just not putting a high enough priority on getting [children] out for recess."

Additional variables

Calgary Board of Education spokesperson Megan Geyer confirmed the temperature guidelines, but added there's another variable in the equation for each school — namely, that some kids come to school woefully unprepared to play outside during relatively chilly winter recesses.

"Ultimately, the decision to have recess indoors or outdoors is at the discretion of the principal," Geyer said. "So they'll look at their school population, what the weather is like around the school that day, but [overall], the guideline is that when the temperature reaches below 20 below Celsius, including the wind chill factor, the recommendation is that students are kept indoors for recess or lunch  time.

"You might have children that are adequately dressed and are fine to go outside for recess and that is great, but you also might have children who aren't coming to school in winter gear that's appropriate for -20 [C] including the wind chill."

Misinterpreting 'wind chill'

For Dunlop, the problems start with how the Calgary Board of Education — and a lot of people — misinterpret what wind chill is.

"What I think she said shows a fundamental misunderstanding of windchill," he said. "She referred to -20 degrees Celsius including wind chill — and that's an oxymoron.

"Wind chill is not measured in degrees Celsius. It's not a temperature."

Dunlop also says there is a general tendency to overinflate the risks, which is confirmed, he says, by  Environment Canada's own wind chill guidelines.

"If we look on Environment Canada who invented the wind chill scale — and I'm not by any stretch saying it's a bad scale, I think it's a very useful tool. If you look on there, the risk for frostbite for short term exposure — we're talking 10 to 30 minutes of being outside for kids — the moderate risk comes into play at -28 wind chill," Dunlop said.

"If your t-shirt and shorts kid goes outside at -20 wind chill and stays outside for the 15 minute recess, that kid's not in danger of getting frostbite," Dunlop said. "He's in danger of being uncomfortable.

"The wind chill chart on the Environment Canada wind chill page actually mentions this. What's the health risk? Well, it's discomfort. We're not talking about putting the kids in danger. We're talking about letting the kids outside to play."

'The kids are like caged squirrels'

Dunlop says the real risk lies in over reacting and keeping rambunctious children cooped up indoors when they could be outside, blowing off steam in the snow.

"If you ask any teacher, they'll tell you that at the end of a week of not getting outside, the kids are like caged squirrels," he said. 

Going outside for recess "calms them down," he said. "It prepares them for learning. Everyone is better behaved. Everyone learns better."


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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