As remote learning surges nationwide in response to the pandemic, several officials are calling for an end to snow days altogether. After all, why close the schools when you can just log in to classes from the comfort of your home?
While this argument may make sense at first glance, a closer examination suggests that remote learning can hurt students’ long-term academic performance, especially among low-income and minority students.
On the other hand, the quick and temporary closure caused by the occasional snow day can provide important academic and social benefits.
Here are five reasons why schools should consider keeping the snow day tradition:
1. It provides a welcome break for students.
Many private school officials recognize the importance of their students taking a day off. Ben Blair, the principal of Rogers Park Montessori in Chicago, explained his philosophy during a recent 10-inch winter storm.
“I think there’s value in these moments of reckless, joyful abandon,” he said. “Whether flopping in the snow or meeting neighbors out on the street shoveling, that human connection that serendipitously happens during a snow day is fantastic.”
Parents who remember their own snow days can relate to the experience.
“Every district needs to do what they need to do, but for our kids it was nice to have a true snow day and not have to check in,” said Katie Lutzow. “And as a parent it’s nice they can just come out and do this.”
2. It provides a welcome break for teachers.
Educators often advocate for snow days because they provide much-needed respite from standardized test prep and winter drudgery.
“When our district doesn’t give a snow day on days we probably should have had one, you can feel the angst among the staff and students,” said teacher Derek Boillat on the WeAreTeachers blog. “Teaching in these months is long and hard, and sometimes you just need a day to recharge.”
The blog post’s author, Trevor Muir, explains that snow days provide a morale boost that continues into the classroom after the break.
“Ask any educator, and they can speak to a change in energy in their students the day following a snow day,” he writes. “This energy increases engagement. Engagement, of course, leads to more successful learning.”
Given the looming teacher shortage that many expect in U.S. education, snow days can help educators recharge just as much as children.
3. It allows for free play, which has proven developmental benefits.
“Play satisfies a basic human need to express imagination, curiosity and creativity, which are key resources in a knowledge-driven world,” UNICEF wrote in a 2018 advocacy brief. “They help us to cope, to find pleasure, and to use our imaginative and innovative powers. Indeed, the critical skills that children acquire through play in the preschool years form part of the fundamental building blocks of future complex ’21st-century skills.’ “
The advocacy brief explores the nature of play, which has characteristics that people from all cultures can easily identify. For example, it is often spontaneous, self-directed and meaningful for its participants.
“When children choose to play, they are not thinking ‘Now I am going to learn something from this activity,’ ” the brief’s authors wrote. “Yet their play creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development.”
The AAP explains in a 2018 clinical report that opportunities for play have declined in recent years, citing the rise of digital distractions, less parental engagement because of full-time work, and fewer safe places to play.
“Play provides a singular opportunity to build the executive functioning that underlies adaptive behaviors at home; improve language and math skills in school; build the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress; and build social-emotional resilience,” the report concludes.
4. It promotes hands-on learning and sensory regulation.
Pediatric therapists encourage the use of snow to help children with special needs promote their sense of sensory regulation. However, the benefits of this kind of play extend to children from all ages and backgrounds.
“Snowy days provide great opportunities for heavy work proprioceptive input!” writes Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist for PlayWorks Therapy Inc. in Chicago. “Proprioception refers to our sense of awareness of body position, which our bodies process by receiving input through the muscles and joints.”
Machado explains how this type of input helps children increase their attention spans and body awareness. It can also promote more organized behavior, improved sleep and a calmer demeanor.
Specific snow activities recommended by Machado include pulling or pushing someone on a sled, rolling big snowballs, making snow castles, and shoveling. Children can also climb snow mounds and play “snow hide and seek” to uncover small plastic toys buried by a supervising parent in discreet locations.
More extensive challenges involve burying children’s legs in snow, then letting them move against the natural resistance to free themselves. They can also use rakes to create “snow art.”
5. It helps schools build slack time within the schedule for make-up days.
A 2014 Harvard study explored the impact of snow days on student achievement and found some surprising results: keeping schools open during a storm may be more detrimental to learning than school closures.
“With slack time in the schedule, the time lost to closure can be regained,” wrote Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman, who conducted the study. “Student absences, however, force teachers to expend time getting students on the same page as their classmates.”
Goodman attributed his findings to the typical planning that school districts historically conduct for weather-related disruptions. By adding extra days in the schedule, he concluded, schools allowed for students to make up for any time lost in learning.
“Many kids will miss school regardless either because of transportation issues or parental discretion,” he writes. “And because those absences typically aren’t made up in the school calendar, those kids can fall behind.”
This winter, give yourself and your children permission to enjoy the occasional snow day – and reflect on all the lifelong learning, play and happy memories that provides!