What Is “Too Cold”? Recess and Physical Education Weather Policies in Maine Elementary Schools

(Two-minute read)

Policy in Brief:

Researchers investigated weather policies concerning outdoor recess and physical education in Maine. They gathered data through a statewide survey of Maine elementary school principals, interviews, and an analysis of existing school administrative regulations. This information, combined with a decade of historic weather data, revealed a significant correlation between geographic location and minimum cutoff temperature for outdoor recess. Further, the research team discovered discrepancies between the reported number of missed outdoor recess days and the historical weather data. These findings illuminate both the vast differences in weather policies across the state of Maine and the perceived amount versus the actual amount of outdoor recreation time missed by students due to these policies.

Fascinating Features:

Despite understanding the health benefits of adequate physical activity, only 42 percent of 6- to 11-year-old children in the United States meet the recommended daily levels of physical activity. Research also shows that children who spend more time outdoors engage in more moderate and vigorous physical activity and are less likely to be overweight than their peers who spend less time outdoors.

Preschool and elementary school children engage in more physical activity playing outdoors than indoors. This highlights a correlation between the amount of time children play outside and their cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance performance.

chart showing temperature cutoff and days outdoor play missedThis graph shows the estimated number of cancelled outdoor recess days per week between November and April at five different temperature cutoff policy levels. As shown, the higher the temperature cutoff policy, the more cancelled days of recess per week.

The map above shows a significant correlation between temperature cutoff levels and geographic location. The further south a school district is located the higher their weather policy for canceling outdoor playtime.


These research findings show a lack of awareness of how temperature and windchill policies actually affect the time Maine elementary students are able to spend outdoors during a school year.

Administrators may not realize how many outdoor days students are actually missing, and they may not realize how even slight changes to policy could positively affect that number. Dressed appropriately, children in every corner of Maine can be safe during a recess at zero degrees Fahrenheit, especially considering how short most school recess periods are. Indeed, the school district in Fairbanks, Alaska, does not cancel outdoor recess for elementary students until the temperature drops below -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Study authored by Lauren E. Jacobs, Anush Y. Hansen, Christopher J. Nightingale, and Robert A. Lehnard.

Dig Deeper:

Jacobs, Lauren E., Anush Y. Hansen, Christopher J. Nightingale, and Robert Lehnard. 2019. “What Is ‘Too Cold?’ Recess and Physical Education Weather Policies in Maine Elementary Schools.Maine Policy Review 28(1): 49-58. (9 pages, 15-minute read)

From MPR‘s Archive:

Brawley, Susan H. , Judith Pusey, Barbara J. Cole, Lauree E. Gott, and Stephen A. Norton. 2008. “A Revolutionary Model to Improve Science Education, Teachers, and Scientists.Maine Policy Review 17(1): 68-80.

Desjardins, Fern, and Gordon A. Donaldson Jr. 2008. “High School Achievement in Maine: Where You Come From Matters More Than School Size and Expenditures.Maine Policy Review 17(1) : 84-93.

Ravenelle, Jeremy. 2018. “Cafeteria Waste Reduction Programs in Three Southern Maine Elementary Schools: A Waste Audit Analysis.Maine Policy Review 27(2) : 43-50.

Related Resources:

Cleland, V., D. Crowford, L.A. Baur, C. Hume, A. Timperio, and J.A. Salmon. 2008. “A Prospectve Examination of Children’s Time Spent Outdoors, Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Overweight. International Journal Obesity 32(11): 1685-1693.

Fernandes, Meenakshi, and Rolland Sturm. 2010. “Facility Provision in Elementary Schools: Correlates with Physical Education, Recess, and Obesity.” Preventive Medicine 50:S30-35.

Ramstetter, Catherine L., Robery Murray, and Andrew S. Garner. 2010. “The Crucial Role of Recess in Schools.” Journal of School Health 80(11): 517-526.