'We get soft': Why Regina teacher says kids need to embrace cold, not escape it

A Regina schoolteacher says keeping kids inside on extremely cold days makes them less prepared to enjoy winter, a necessary skill on the prairies. Most schools in Saskatchewan keep students inside when winds makes temperatures feel like –25 C or lower.

Prairie Sky School sends students outside in cold when others keep them inside

Prairie Sky School has a winter clothing swap in November so parents can share high end jackets, snow pants, toques, balaclavas, mitts, and wool socks. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

When others hide inside and moan about the bitter cold, the kindergarten class at Prairie Sky School in Regina bundles up and goes outside no matter how frigid the temperature.

It's part of their daily routine.

Their teacher, Anna Rose, says her students would have gone stir crazy if they had been forced to stay inside during the cold spell that stretched through most of February.

"We were outside every day," Rose said. "The wind is the biggest challenge. When the wind is really biting, especially if it's blowing snow sideways and it's stinging your face, we're not going to last outside for an hour. So there have been some days we've only lasted outside for 20 minutes or half an hour."

Most public and Catholic schools in Saskatchewan have a policy that students stay inside when the wind and temperatures makes it feel like –25 C. In February, 23 out of 28 days reached that cut-off.

Anna Rose leads her kindergarten class in morning songs inside the school's teepee. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)
 
The kindergarten class at Prairie Sky School starts every morning inside a teepee on school grounds. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

When Rose started teaching at the private school seven years ago, it had a policy that students had to stay inside when the mercury dipped to  –30 C, but Rose said it didn't work.

"We went crazy. And then they got soft, and they kind of forgot how to be outside. And so even when it was –20 they were crying and they were cold," Rose said.

"I think we get soft. Making it part of our daily routine really helps. The kids come dressed and prepared to be outside."

There are a handful of schools and nurseries in Saskatchewan that prescribe to nature-based outdoor education philosophy. In warmer months, students spent most of the day learning curriculum outside exploring the neighbourhood, parks and playgrounds.

The winter is more challenging. In Saskatoon, a private daycare told CBC News that kids didn't complain when they were sent outside when it felt like –49 C with wind.

Kindergarten kids at Prairie Sky School in Regina are expected to bundle up and brave the cold temperatures, no matter how low the mercury dips. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)
"It's important to remember that nature doesn't just happen from May to October," Anna Rose, a teacher at Prairie Sky School in Regina, said. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

At Prairie Sky School, students start every morning outside. Carter Burrows, 6, and his buddy, William Fink, 6, play tag on a giant pile of snow dubbed "snow mountain" by the kids. 

"We wear our heavy jacket and layers and we move around to stay warm," Burrows said. Fink said he prefers being outside because the teachers tell him he can't run inside. 

Clare Campbell, 5, has a scarf wrapped around her face and a tuque pulled down so that only her eyes peek out. She said she likes "the fresh air."

Clara Selinger, 5, tries to stick a magnet on poles, fences, and garages in the school neighbourhood as part of a science lesson. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)
"I don't know how other schools manage with indoor recess and indoor lunchtimes, I think I would go crazy. I know my students would," Kindergarten teacher Anna Rose starts every day outside, no matter how cold it is. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Rose said children need to learn that their relationship with nature isn't restricted to May through September.

"If we keep moving, and we stay active, and we're dressed for the weather, I think they'd far rather be outside than be cooped up inside," Rose said.  

Parents pay hundred of dollars in tuition every month to send their children to the school, but Rose said buying proper winter gear is still a daunting expense. The school holds a winter clothing swap to help kids collect jacket, snow pants, balaclavas, mitts, long underwear, and wool socks.

The lesson here — don't escape the cold — embrace it. 

About the Author

Bonnie Allen

Senior Reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. Before returning to Canada in 2013, Allen spent four years reporting from across Africa, including Libya, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. She holds a Master's in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. @bonnieallenCBC

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