How Cold is Too Cold for Kids to Play Outside

With the Polar Vortex sweeping across the Midwest, it can feel like winter is forcing us Michiganders to hibernate until March. For those with children, the winter months bring a whole new set of challenges as the temperature drops and it’s harder to spend time outdoors.

Getting in the recommended 60 minutes of exercise every day for your kid can be tough, but very necessary. Going outside helps prevent stir-craziness, allows for fresh air and adequate exercise. Although getting the kids outside is important and still an option in the winter, the temperature and wind-chill requires caution.

As a general rule, you should use the wind-chill as the best judge on if it’s too cold to play outside. In general, when the wind-chill is 32 degrees and above, it’s safe to be outside. In temperatures 13 degrees to 31 degrees, indoor breaks should happen every 20-30 minutes. For wind-chills of 13 degrees and below, you should move activities indoors and outside of the cold as frostbite can set in very quickly.

Another factor to consider is when children are at school and participating in recess activities. Currently, there is not a national mandate on temperature standards for children being outside. The best way to prepare is to stock your child up with proper clothing and warm weather gear. Be sure to dress in layers to start with. Children should be equipped with hats, mittens, or gloves. A good option for kids are wraps that cover the head and neck at the same time. For babies and children not yet mobile, it’s important to check their hands and faces so as to make sure they aren’t getting too chilled.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson

(Visited 129,064 times, 8 visits today)

Read 22 Comments

  1. Wish my daughters school would realize this!! I’ve called many many times because they’ve sent them outside when it’s bitter cold.

  2. had to comment as this seems to be the number 1 search hit from Google for “too cold to be outside”. I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and our school policy is as follows:
    “We expect all students will go outside for recess if the weather is –26 Celsius or
    warmer. We have indoor recess if the weather is –27 Celsius or colder (including wind chill).
    Please remember to dress for the weather:
    • Warm Jackets
    • Warm Mittens or Gloves
    • Toques
    • Ski Pants
    • Boots”

    I guess the scale of what is too cold is all relative and if you dress properly, you can be out in almost any temperature! -26C is about -16F.

  3. We go outside twice a day for 35 minutes if the wind chill is above 25°. I only wish parents would send their children to school with appropriate articles of clothing. Any suggestions on how to get the parents on board?

    1. Hi Cindy, thanks for your input! We recommend sharing this blog with your friends so that they can learn the importance of dressing their kids appropriately for winter. Best, Catia

  4. It’s always interesting to me how people’s version of how much cold is safe depends on the climate they are used to. Humans survive and thrive in much colder temperatures that what is typical in most of the USA.
    I live in Toronto, Canada. In our schools, for kids ages 5 and up, outdoor time for students is unlimited down to 0F. At that temperature, they are usually out for recess for 40-60 minutes. If it’s between 0F and -15F, we limit their outdoor time to 20 minutes at a time. And we only keep them indoors if it’s colder than -15F.
    At any temperature in the winter, we monitor them for cold related dangers (like frostbite) and help provide extra winter clothing for students who need it. Also, fresh cold air will kill germs, and boost your immune system. I say; dress well and get outside!

    1. Thank you for this comment! Absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be outside in single digit temps. No such thing as bad weather, layer up and get out there!

  5. I love your article I found it very helpful

    Note to kids === listen to your parents

  6. Just an FYI an edit I would make to this post is to remove the phrase “rule of thumb”. The term comes from a law that stated you were allowed to beat your wife, but with nothing larger than the width of your thumb, hence, “rule of thumb”. Thanks!

  7. “There is no bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” If your child refuses to wear a hat or mittens like the girl in tbe picture, your guidelines make a lot of sense. Dressed in a snowmobile suit, for example, a child could feel too warm playing in weather above 20 degrees f. Warm boots, a good hat and good mittens can keep a kid going for hours unless they get wet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *