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In defense of snow days | COMMENTARY

Josiah Sierra, left, and his friends Michael and Joshua McDonald enjoy a sled ride down a snowy hill by Longfellow Elementary in Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.
Josiah Sierra, left, and his friends Michael and Joshua McDonald enjoy a sled ride down a snowy hill by Longfellow Elementary in Columbia on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Do you remember the magic of a snow day? For many kids, few things are more exciting than waking up to see your school on the “closed” list. For parents, the excuse to stay home and spend time with family is often a welcome respite from the daily grind, even when the driveway needs to be shoveled.

We need to find a way to preserve the magic that happens when everything closes because the outside is covered in a blanket of white. Due to the rise of distance learning and remote work, snow days may soon become a distant memory.

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We now have the tools and technology to learn and work from anywhere, but does that mean we always should? As a strong advocate for educational technology, a former elementary school teacher and a mom of teenagers, I am raising my hand in defense of snow days. We need them now more than ever.

Much like the pandemic has forced us to slow down, snow days are Mother Nature’s way of slowing life down for kids, parents and educators. Here are three reasons I believe snow days are essential — during a pandemic and always.

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1. Time off is good for our mental health.

While there are silver linings to learning in a virtual setting — more involvement from parents, students becoming self-sufficient learners, improved technical skills — we’re already seeing the detrimental impact of kids being glued to their screens with little free time beyond virtual learning and schoolwork.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children’s hospital visits from March to November 2020 was up 31% due to mental health challenges for those 12 to 17 compared to 2019.

For a generation of kids whose daily schedule is rigidly structured, snow days offer an unstructured time to just be. They can escape their devices and responsibilities and engage in physical play that’s beneficial to both their mind and body.

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Snow days also give teachers the opportunity to pause and take a breath — which is especially needed in the current environment. Many educators have struggled to adapt to hybrid or distance learning models, have been coping with isolation, and are exploring ways to improve learner motivation through a screen. A snow day for teachers would be a welcome and well-deserved break.

2. Just because we have the tools doesn’t mean we’re obligated to use them.

Although we have the capacity to offer school virtually at any time, that doesn’t mean we should.

According to a recent study, 70% of parents estimated their kids spend at least four hours a day with screens — up from three hours before the pandemic. This increased exposure can have its benefits: Kids are learning new skills, discovering creative ways to connect and mastering new apps. But it can also be draining.

In my role as the director of Loyola University Maryland’s educational technology program, I instruct educators on how to implement technology mindfully and conscientiously into their classroom.

My philosophy is that it’s not just about recommending or integrating tools or the coolest new app or learning platform, it’s about improving accessibility, keeping students engaged and creating a welcoming environment that’s conducive to learning.

While technology helps us achieve all these aims, it’s also important to recognize when to step away from it. In the case of a snow day, growth and development can and should happen outside of the classroom.

3. Snow days build lasting memories.

When all is said and done, students will remember an unexpected day off over a missed science or math lesson. The inherent value snow days bring far outweighs the missed day of school in the grand scheme of a curriculum.

Teachers will be able to catch students up on a day or two of content — this is something we know how to do. But a snow day spent inside is a missed opportunity for children to form memories that last a lifetime.

During the pandemic — a period of unprecedented global despair — we need the simple joy of a snow day more than ever. A tradition as simple as snow days helps keep some of the magic in the school year and our daily lives. I urge school systems to honor snow days in a virtual learning environment and beyond.

Kelly Keane is the director of the Educational Technology Program at the Loyola University Maryland School of Education. She can be reached at kjkeane@loyola.edu.

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