To say that a lot has changed in education since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement. One unforeseen result of schools going all virtual during the shutdowns was the subsequent death of the snow day. What used to be an age-old tradition filled with snowball fights, hot chocolate, and best of all, no school, now looks totally different.
For those who grew up in a snowy climate, it's safe to say that snow days were something every child (and teacher) looked forward to. There was something magical about going to bed knowing a big storm was on its way. Waking up to a blanket of white covering the town and knowing there was no way the school buses would be out was, quite simply, one of the biggest joys of childhood. Of course, one still had to take part in the tradition of waking up extra early to watch TV or listen to the radio to see if your school “made the list.”
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Whoops and hollers would ring throughout the house when children saw that school was canceled for a snow day. However, if you ended up with the dreaded two-hour delay, or worse, a regular school day, sadness ensued. For those of us who were lucky enough to experience a true snow day, the memories have stuck with us even into adulthood.
Snow Day Memories
One apparent reason administrators have killed snow days is that “kids aren’t learning if they aren’t in school.” But while education is extremely important, those who say kids aren’t learning on snow days may have forgotten about all the hands-on learning that can happen on a snow day. Growing up in Minnesota with a mother who was an art teacher, snow days were the perfect moment to let my artistic ability shine. I remember sculpting all manner of snow creatures. From the Loch Ness monster to an Easter bunny, snow days were art class for me.
There was also the opportunity for developing and testing hypotheses. Erin Beers, a seventh-grade language arts teacher, shared that her favorite snow day memory was trying to make a snow cone by squirting Capri Suns on snowballs. Not to mention, some kids built giant snow forts that were as structurally sound as could be given the material used to build them.
Snow days were also an excellent way for kids to get some much-needed physical education that a P.E. class just couldn’t compete with. Katelyn Rigg, a literacy and reading specialist and assistant professor of education, shared that her favorite snow day memory was “getting together with neighborhood kids at the school administration building down the block from my house. We all built snow forts and had snowball fights for hours.”
How the Pandemic Changed Snow Days
Before the pandemic, no one would have ever thought of replacing a joyful childhood day with virtual learning. Snow days used to be about getting outside and playing with friends. Now, for many children, they are about spending just one more day on a computer. After the past two years, many children and teachers have hoped to never have another virtual day. But, administrators across many districts have other plans.
Standardized testing results from the beginning of the 2022 school year showed a stark picture of pandemic learning loss. Math and reading scores for 9-year-olds dropped to the levels they were at 20 years ago. These test scores left educators scrambling to make up for learning loss, which disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color. Ditching snow days was one way schools attempted to make up for lost time.
“Teachers, students, and families got accustomed to doing school from home and having to be flexible in transitioning from one to the other,” said Rigg. Although the transition was sometimes a challenge, administrators felt it was important to catch up on lost time resulting from the pandemic. On the other hand, some question the point of engaging in even more virtual days. After all, for many kids, virtual school simply wasn’t effective. Despite the many notable drawbacks of virtual learning days, the death of the snow day arrived at schools across the nation.
Prior to the pandemic, in some school districts where winter weather leads to frequent closures, several snow days were already built into the academic calendar. For example, Rigg says her district had 10 built-in snow days in the past. Now those built-in days have gone away in favor of virtual learning days. In other districts, snow days had to be “made up” in the summer. Schools would add more days at the end of the school year, delaying summer vacation. At that point in the school year, educators and students were typically more than ready to be done with school. Those end-of-school jitters may have impacted the amount of education happening on these “make-up days.” After all, the kids could barely stay in their seats. “There is no longer a need for this since 'virtual days' are considered school days,” said Rigg.
What Snow Days Look Like Now
Now that snow days have gone by the wayside in favor of virtual learning, things look much different. For most, classroom teachers and students are required to work some or all of the day. Rigg said her district even goes so far as to start the day with a Zoom staff meeting where attendance is taken. Each district has its own set of policies and procedures for virtual learning days, but several general trends exist.
Most teachers are, at a minimum, expected to send out virtual assignments for students to complete that day. Taylor Beal, who has worked as a teacher and reading specialist, says teachers in her district must post “virtual assignments for students to complete that would take about half of their normal class time.”
In other districts, teachers spend time on video calls with their students all morning. Beers says teachers in her district have up to an hour of direct video instruction in each language arts, math, and science before lunch. Meanwhile, Rigg states, “elementary teachers are required to conduct two 20 minute Zoom classes, where teachers focus on math and reading in separate morning and afternoon sessions.”
How Teachers Feel About the Death of the Snow Day
“Most teachers believe snow days should be snow days; a day off to rest, relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the snow. A few snow days spread throughout the winter months is honestly what keeps teachers going, especially through the long months between January and March, where few breaks are built into the calendar. I think we need them now more than ever, as this time is being called The Great Resignation. Teachers are leaving the field of education in droves,” says Riggs.
Beal even goes so far as to call the death of the snow day a tragedy. “Don't get me wrong. Learning is important. Why else would I be in education? But childhood is important, too. Kids should have time to be kids,” Beal continues.
On the flip side, some administrators, like André Teixeira, founder and director of Lusa Language School, believe the death of the snow day is necessary to ensure students don’t fall even further behind. “We didn't have classroom time for almost two years, and both students and teachers experienced difficulties in a fully virtual learning environment. Although snow days are a treasured part of childhood, I agree that schools should use them for virtual classes, even just for a few hours,” said Teixeira.
Even Parents Miss Snow Days
Interestingly, the teachers we spoke with expressed opinions that clearly differ from those of school administrators. But even parents have chimed in expressing their frustration regarding the death of the snow day.
“Virtual learning days are honestly a hassle for parents,” said Brandon Walsh of Dad’s Agree. “All devices must be set up. Breakfast needs to be made and served. I also have to ensure that the kids are attentive while they take their lessons, and I have absolutely no time to do anything else like finishing chores.”
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Most of the parents we spoke with talked about how much they miss snow days. One reason is that these unexpected days off give parents a breather from rushing everyone to get ready in the morning. It gives the whole family a chance to slow down in our go-go-go society. Most of all, though, parents miss the magic of snow days for their kids.
“As a mom, I miss the excitement my kids would get when they woke up to a snow day,” said Victoria Taylor of Best Case Parenting. Taylor said in the days of snow days, her kids would race to the windows to see if it was really snowing outside, and then they would spend the rest of the day playing in the snow. “With virtual learning, our magical snow days are no more,” added Niki Yarnot, a mom of three boys. “I miss the opportunity to slow down; to cuddle in our jammies, looking out in wonder at the quiet, white world.”
Snow days were more like holidays for Walsh and his kids. “I wish we could go back to when the kids would go out and have snow fights. Building a snowman was also something that we really looked forward to as a family. I hope things can return to normal and we can enjoy these little things again,” he said.
What was once a sweet, special treat for children is now just nostalgic memory lost to COVID and technology. Yarnot said it best. “The magic of childhood is a fleeting thing, and snow days with the kids were one of the few moments that we, as adults, got to revisit that magic. Let's not lose that rare and wonderful gift.”