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

Polar Bear Clubs help kids to learn and demonstrate their cold-weather savvy, and could be the key to keeping them walking and playing outside year-round. The concept is simple: while it is generally accepted across Manitoba school divisions that outdoor recess is cancelled when the wind chill drops below –27C or so, Polar Bear Club members get to continue going outside for recess down to a colder windchill, e.g.–40C. Club membership is completely optional, so students must hand in a permission from their parents, and still get checked to make sure they are appropriately dressed for those days. And 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 see the benefits that outdoor play has on their students’ ability to focus and learn. We believe kids are totally capable if given the chance: our friends up north continue to play outside at recess down to -35C!

Schools across Canada have implemented these clubs, 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 sounds like a pretty amazing way to cultivate independence and year-round resilience in kids!

Does your school have a Polar Bear Club? Have you had to work with your school division to get permission? Need some help starting one? Let us know in the comments below!