Though the forecast had predicted as much, when we woke up to a white blanket of snow today, the quiet-before-the-snowball-fight energy was palpable. My kids, clad in their warmest feet-y pajamas, scurried to the window and tried to guess depth. (Six feet? 20 feet? It’s possible we need to work on measuring…) There were pleas for pancakes, frantic searches through closets for snow boots and wool socks that inexplicably fit all members of our family. We needed to call Zach around the corner to see what his plans were! We needed to locate the long underwear. We needed to get to the “good” hill before the bigger kids tramped it down to a slick mess of icy patches and grassy tufts.
But then we remembered. First…we had to Zoom.
See, our school in Brooklyn, like many in the country, has put an end to snow days in 2021 (and possibly forever), citing a crippling student achievement gap and the increased ease of remote education. Thus, instead of calling the whole day off, students will simply transition to distance learning, logging into their Google Meets just as they have for so much of this strange, strange year. Said New York City mayor Bill de Blasio of the policy, "I’m kind of sad for the kids on the one hand. On the other hand, we’ve got learning that needs to be done and a lot of catching up, so it’s the right thing to do."
But is it?
In a year that has brought unprecedented levels of childhood depression and anxiety, experts have again and again argued that both unstructured play and outdoor time are crucial tools for nurturing mental health. Plus, by my estimation, a masked snow-romp with friends is one of the few COVID-safe ways kids can engage socially in the middle of winter. According to child psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook, “A snow day is the perfect excuse to kick the kids outside and gives caretakers the ‘perfect excuse’ for a family mental health day. The fresh air and exercise will wear the kids out physically, and the inventive play will mentally stimulate and tire them out as well.”
A day off is also good for parents. “In before times, it was always a pain in the butt to be a working mom on a snow day,” says a friend of two elementary-aged children. “But at least we had the freedom to just send them out back to run around. Now, we’re supposed to be navigating Zoom classes and at-home-assignments, all while fielding requests about hot chocolate and doing our own work.”
But perhaps most importantly, the Snow Day (along with the Tooth Fairy and whatever other creepy-person-sneaking-into-your-house myths you may ascribe to) remains one of the few remaining vestiges of childhood magic. Remember sitting by the window before bedtime, praying for enough snow to make the roads impassable? Remember huddling around the radio or local news channel for the official announcement? Remember throwing on your parka, running headfirst into a snowbank and not giving one flying crap—for the next eight hours—about diagraming sentences or doing long division?
In this era of over-availability, technological readiness and of perpetual disappointment (“No we can’t have Mila over for a playdate today. No, we can’t have her over tomorrow), can’t we just let them have this?