With much of the U.S. currently experiencing severely cold temperatures, many families, school administrators and childcare providers are limiting kids’ outdoor activity. During extreme weather conditions, it’s a good idea to keep kids indoors. However, over the course of the winter season, it can be difficult at times to determine when children should stay inside or play outside.
Rules about outdoor play are included in statewide childcare center licensing regulations. Some states categorize weather conditions using a color code system to help childcare providers assess the weather before allowing children to go outside:
- Green: Winter temperatures at which it is safe for children to play outdoors comfortably are between 40 degrees and 32 degrees Fahrenheit when the wind speeds are between 0 and 15 miles per hour.
- Yellow: Winter temperatures are between 30 degrees and 13 degrees Fahrenheit when the wind speeds are between 0 and 40 mph. Use caution when deciding how long children should spend outdoors and closely observe them for signs they are too cold.
- Red: Winter temperatures are below 9 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of wind speed. Outdoor play is not recommended.
The green, yellow and red conditions are only general guidelines for outdoor play in cold weather. Each child will have a different reaction to various temperatures.
Before letting children go out to play in cold weather, be sure to take the proper precautions:
- Make sure children are dressed appropriately. Several thin layers are recommended to stay warm and dry. Children should also wear a hat, gloves or mittens and insulated boots.
- Ensure they are drinking enough water. Dehydration is possible in cold weather, especially when kids are bundled up and working up a sweat while they play.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen. The winter sun still emits damaging UV rays.
- Watch the clock. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting reasonable time limits on outdoor play to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Be sure to bring children indoors periodically to warm up.
How’s the weather where you live? Are you aware of any regulations in your state that restrict children’s outdoor play in extreme weather conditions?
 Child Care Weather Watch, Iowa Department Public Health, Healthy Child Care Iowa, Produced through federal grant (MCJ19T029 & MCJ19KCC7) funds from the US Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources & Services Administration, Maternal & Child Health Bureau. Wind-Chill and Heat Index information is from the National Weather Service.