A bit of winter shouldn’t stop students from getting the outdoor play they need.

Polar Bear Recess keeps kids walking and playing outside year-round, and helps kids to learn and demonstrate their cold-weather savvy.

The concept is simple: Recess continues happening outside down to cold temperatures, as low as -40C. School divisions across Manitoba cancel outdoor recess when the wind chill drops below –27C or so. All you need to do, is simply decide to let your students play. Kids are totally capable if given the chance – yet rules for indoor recess vary across the country. Kids in northern Canada stay outside for recess down to -35C.

We put together a short guide to help you get started.

Polar Bear Recess Guide >>


The Basics: Start a Polar Bear Recess

1. Communicate Polar Bear Recess to students and parents. During announcements or home-room, let students know you’ll be having Polar Bear Recess. You can also let parents know by sending home a letter or email, so families can get ready and wear appropriate clothing. This should include:
Warm toque/hat
Warm, insulated jacket

2. At recess time, let your students outside! For the first while, let students choose. Some students want to stay indoors, but many will rush at the chance to go play. Check that they have adequate clothing. If students start looking cold, send them inside to finish recess safely. 

3. Let students and parents know how it went. Share photos or stories about the fun things students did outside in the snow!

Some schools get permission from parents to be part of a Polar Bear Club, and some simply decide that recess will continue happening outside. It’s really up to you and your school how you want to approach it. But judging from these students in Saskatoon who started a polar bear club petition, the demand is there!

It’s a win-win. Students learn an important life skill and get the physical activity they need. Teachers get to see the benefits of outdoor play (check out this great report on getting movin’ and brain health). 

Schools across Canada have started Polar Bear Recess or a Polar Bear Club, recognizing how valuable outdoor play is for student health and readiness to learn. These include:

St. Andrews has set a precedent for this type of program in Manitoba, and we think their program is a good springboard for other schools. One thing to note is that, while their club is reserved for grade 4-6 students, not all schools in Canada have adopted a minimum grade. Your polar bear club may look different, but don’t hesitate to start with your older students to see how it goes! You can always adjust things as you go forward.

No matter how its implemented, it is a pretty amazing way to cultivate independence and year-round resilience in kids!