Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 3: Health Promotion and Protection

3.1 Health Promotion in Child Care

3.1.3 Physical Activity and Limiting Screen Time Playing Outdoors

Content in the STANDARD was modified on 8/8/2013 and 05/29/2018.

Children should play outdoors when the conditions do not pose any concerns health and safety such as a significant risk of frostbite or heat-related illness. Caregivers/teachers must protect children from harm caused by adverse weather, ensuring that children wear appropriate clothing and/or appropriate shelter is provided for the weather conditions. Weather that poses a significant health risk includes wind chill factor below -15°F (-26°C) and heat index at or above 90°F (32°C), as identified by the National Weather Service (NWS) (1). Child Care Center Directors as well as caregivers/teachers directors should monitor weather-related conditions through several media outlets, including local e-mail and text messaging weather alerts.

Caregivers/teachers should also monitor the air quality for safety. Please reference Standard for more information.


Sunny weather

  1. Children should be protected from the sun between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. Protective measures include using shade; sun-protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses; and sunscreen with UV-B and UV-A ray sun protection factor 15 or higher. Parental/guardian permission is required for the use of sunscreen.

Warm weather

  1. Children should have access to clean, sanitary water at all times, including prolonged periods of physical activity, and be encouraged to drink water during periods of prolonged physical activity (2).
  2. Caregivers/teachers should encourage parents/guardians to have children dress in clothing that is light-colored, lightweight, and limited to one layer of absorbent material that will maximize the evaporation of sweat.
  3. On hot days, infants receiving human milk in a bottle can be given additional human milk in a bottle but should not be given water, especially in the first 6 months of life. Infants receiving formula and water can be given additional formula in a bottle.

Cold weather

  1. Children should wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing. Outer garments, such as coats, should be tightly woven and be at least water repellent when rain or snow is present.
  2. Children should wear a hat, coat, and gloves/mittens kept snug at the wrist. There should be no  hood and neck strings..
  3. Caregivers/teachers should check children’s extremities for normal color and warmth at least every 15 minutes.

Caregivers/teachers should be aware of environmental hazards such as unsafe drinking water, loud noises, and lead in soil when selecting an area to play outdoors. Children should be observed closely when playing in dirt/soil so that no soil is ingested. Play areas should be fully enclosed and away from heavy traffic areas. In addition, outdoor play for infants may include riding in a carriage or stroller. Infants should be offered opportunities for gross motor play outdoors.


Outdoor play is not only an opportunity for learning in a different environment; it also provides many health benefits. Outdoor play allows for physical activity that supports maintenance of a healthy weight (3) and better nighttime sleep (4). Short exposure of the skin to sunlight promotes the production of vitamin D that growing children require.

Open spaces in outdoor areas, even those located on screened rooftops in urban play spaces, encourage children to develop gross motor skills and fine motor play in ways that are difficult to duplicate indoors. Nevertheless, some weather conditions make outdoor play hazardous.

Children need protection from adverse weather and its effects. Heat-induced illness and cold injury are preventable. Weather alert services are beneficial to child care centers because they send out weather warnings, watches, and hurricane information. Alerts are sent to subscribers in the warned areas via text messages and e-mail. It is best practice to use these services but do not rely solely on this system. Weather radio or local news affiliates should also be monitored for weather warnings and advisories. Heat and humidity can pose a significant risk of heat-related illnesses, as defined by the NWS (5). Children have a greater surface area to body mass ratio than adults. Therefore, children do not adapt to extremes of temperature as effectively as adults when exposed to a high climatic heat stress or to cold. Children produce more metabolic heat per mass unit than adults when walking or running. They also have a lower sweating capacity and cannot dissipate body heat by evaporation as effectively (6).

Wind chill conditions can pose a risk of frostbite. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing body tissue. The most susceptible parts of the body are the extremities such as fingers, toes, earlobes, and the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremity and a white or pale appearance. Medical attention is needed immediately for frostbite. The affected area should be slowly rewarmed by immersing frozen areas in warm water (around 104°F [40°C]) or applying warm compresses for 30 minutes. If warm water is not available, wrap gently in warm blankets (7). Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. An infant with hypothermia may have bright red, cold skin and very low energy. A child’s symptoms may include shivering, clumsiness, slurred speech, stumbling, confusion, poor decision-making, drowsiness or low energy, apathy, weak pulse, or shallow breathing (7,8). Call 911 or your local emergency number if a child has these symptoms. Both hypothermia and frostbite can be prevented by properly dressing a child. Dressing in several layers will trap air between layers and provide better insulation than a single thick layer of clothing.

Generally, infectious disease organisms are less concentrated in outdoor air than indoor air. The thought is often expressed that children are more likely to become sick if exposed to cold air; however, upper respiratory infections and flu are caused by viruses, and not exposure to cold air. These viruses spread easily during the winter when children are kept indoors in close proximity. The best protection against the spread of illness is regular and proper hand hygiene for children and caregivers/teachers, as well as proper sanitation procedures during mealtimes and when there is any contact with bodily fluids.


Additional Resources

  • The National Weather Service (NWS) provides up-to-date weather information on all advisories and warnings. It also provides safety tips for caregivers/teachers to use as a tool in determining when weather conditions are comfortable for outdoor play (
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) broadcasts continuous weather information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, directly from the nearest NWR office. As an all-hazards radio network, it is a single source for comprehensive weather and emergency information. In conjunction with federal, state, and local emergency managers and other public officials, NWR also broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards, including natural (eg, earthquakes, avalanches), environmental (eg, chemical releases, oil spills), and public safety (eg, AMBER alerts, 911 telephone outages). A special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal is required to receive NWR. Such radios/receivers can usually be found in most electronic store chains across the country; you can also purchase NOAA weather radios online at
  • To access the latest local weather information and warnings, visit the NWS at; for local air quality conditions, visit
Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Active Opportunities for Physical Activity Protection from Air Pollution While Children Are Outside Caregivers’/Teachers’ Encouragement of Physical Activity Sun Safety Including Sunscreen Inclusion in All Activities
Appendix S: Physical Activity: How Much Is Needed?
  1. National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wind chill safety. Accessed January 11, 2018

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Increasing Access to Drinking Water and Other Healthier Beverages in Early Care and Education Settings. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2014. Accessed January 11, 2018

  3. Cleland V, Crawford D, Baur LA, Hume C, Timperio A, Salmon J. A prospective examination of children’s time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32(11):1685–1693

  4. Söderström M, Boldemann C, Sahlin U, Mårtensson F, Raustorp A, Blennow M. The quality of the outdoor environment influences children’s health—a cross-sectional study of preschoolers. Acta Paediatr. 2013;102(1):83–91

  5. KidsHealth from Nemours. Heat illness. Reviewed February 2014. Accessed January 11, 2018

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Children & disasters. Extreme temperatures: heat and cold. Accessed January 11, 2018

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Winter safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Published January 2018. Accessed January 11, 2018

  8. American Academy of Pediatrics. Extreme temperature exposure. Web site. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed January 11, 2018


Content in the STANDARD was modified on 8/8/2013 and 05/29/2018.