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

Starting a Polar Bear Club is an easy but effective way to promote outdoor activity year-round, and teach children how to stay warm. It’s a win-win: students learn an important life skill and get more active play outdoors, while teachers see the benefits that outdoor play has on their students’ ability to focus and learn.

The concept is simple. Whereas it is generally accepted across Manitoba school divisions that outdoor recess is cancelled when the wind chill drops below –27C or so, it’s not so for Polar Bear Club members, who can continue going outside for recess down to a colder windchill, e.g.–40C. Club membership is completely optional, meaning students must get permission from their parents, and still get checked to make sure they are appropriately dressed for those days.

Families have identified weather as a factor in whether they allow their children to walk to school. Polar Bear Clubs help kids show their cold-weather resilience, and could be the key to maintaining walking rates year-round.

St. Andrews School in Lord Selkirk School Division has run a Polar Bear Club for years. Working with the division, they have developed a policy that can serve as a template for schools in other divisions who want to cultivate a positive winter attitude in their students. These are the conditions for their club:

  • Grade 4, 5 and 6 students will not be eligible to participate without permission from their parents/guardians.
  • The staff at St. Andrews School supports the idea, both in theory and in practice.  The school’s administrative team and any willing staff members will be responsible for supervision duties.
  • The intermediate students at the school have been educated about both the benefits (healthy living, exercise, fresh air) and risks of going outside during cold weather.
  • Once permission has been granted, students will still have the option – at each recess break – to remain inside the school on days when “Indoor Recess” is occurring.
  • Before heading outside, Polar Bear Club members will be expected to check in with a designated playground supervisor to ensure that they have permission and are appropriately dressed.  (Dress in layers of warm clothing, with an outer layer that is wind resistant.  Cover all exposed skin.  Wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, neck tube or face mask and insulated, waterproof footwear.)
  • If a student elects to head outside and then changes his/her mind, that student will be permitted to return inside.
  • When the wind chill exposure becomes “Very High Risk” (–40° Celsius and colder as outlined by Environment Canada), the Polar Bear Club will be cancelled.  For further information about cold weather, we encourage parents to refer to Environment Canada’s Wind Chill guidelines at: http://www.windchill.ec.gc.ca.

Does your school have a Polar Bear Club? Let us know in the comments below!