When I think back to my childhood, I’m reminded of how wildly different life is for my kids than it was for me when I was growing up. I’m a child of the 1970s and ’80s (which of course makes me ancient to my kids) when we would play outside until dark. There were no cell phones but we did have these things called pay phones. There were no iPads. No Fortnite or Roblox, either. But we did have a treasured few hours of playing Pac-Man on the Atari or at an actual arcade. And there was no Netflix binging or DVRs. Instead, we watched our shows during their weekly time slots and didn’t have the magical ability to fast forward through commercials.
Thankfully some things never change. Until the pandemic, one of those things was the joy of getting that much-awaited call that schools were closed for a snow day. But because of virtual learning, that magic is being taken away from our kids at a time when they need it most. COVID has taken so much from our children—the ability for a normal in-person school experience and socializing without the added stress of a pandemic for starters. Add the long-term social, emotional and educational impact of nearly a year of remote learning and the untold profound effect this will have on our kids’ mental health and it’s clear that anything that can get them safely off a screen and outside with friends is a much-needed respite.
Full disclosure: This is far easier said than done but it should be the goal when Mother Nature dumps more than a foot of snow on us. If you have a job that isn’t flexible, snow days can be downright stressful but given the fact that virtual learning has already created unprecedented levels of stress, a day off for our kids seems like a good idea. It forces them to get outside and off their screens to make snow angels or build snowmen and then come inside for some hot chocolate with marshmallows.
Many superintendents get this. Last November, ahead of the season’s first snow, Mahwah Interim School Superintendent Leonard Fitts assured parents that the beloved snow day tradition would not be impacted by COVID and remote learning. “We have decided that few childhood acts remain unchanged due to COVID-19 and we will maintain the hope of children by calling actual snow days due to inclement weather. Snow days are chances for on-site learners and virtual learners to just be kids by playing in the snow, baking cookies, reading books, and watching a good movie. These are times for memory-making, and we believe these types of opportunities should remain intact.”
In Ridgewood, where we live, schools have closed twice for snow days this past school year. When we got the call yesterday that schools would be closed and there would be no virtual learning, my 5th and 8th graders were so excited and it took me right back to that blissful feeling as a kid when you knew you had a day of freedom (and time to catch up on the work you were behind on unless that was just me?). I’m so grateful our district still believes in snow days.
In Clifton, Princeton and many other school districts, students were online for a half-day of virtual learning during today’s storm. Because virtual learning days are abbreviated in many districts, superintendents say there is still time to maintain the continuity of learning and to play outside in the snow after a half-day of remote instruction. In December, Cherry Hill Superintendent Joseph Meloche cited these reasons when he said: “We are expecting our first major snowfall in nearly two years, but because we’re all on remote instruction, do not expect a phone call from Mrs. Wilson, because we will not be having a snow day.”
I know parents are worried about the in-person instructional hours our kids have missed out on for nearly a year. They worry their kids are falling behind and are happy to have virtual instruction continue during a storm. But the chance to get outside in the snow and go sledding with friends is just what our kids need to feel restored and ready to tackle a long day in front of their Chromebooks. And that goes for elementary, middle and high schoolers. Because the magic of excitedly finding out school is canceled never gets old, not even for teenagers clamoring for a chance to sleep in during a storm. The online fatigue is real and a storm is a great excuse to get everyone off their devices and out of the house. So next time it snows, I hope more school superintendents will remember storms like these don’t happen every day. The virtual lessons can wait.