Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2017

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Kinesiology and Physical Education

Advisor

Robert Lehnhard

Second Committee Member

Christopher Nightingale

Third Committee Member

Anush Hansen

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to investigate how Maine elementary schools decide when students may or may not go outdoors for physical education (PE) classes and recess based on weather conditions, and how those decisions impact the actual frequency that students are kept indoors. This topic is important from both education and public health perspectives because previous research has shown that exercise in outdoor settings has specific benefits compared to that done indoors. PE classes and recess in school provide all children with access to physical activity.

A mixed-methods approach was used and included three components: a statewide survey of Maine elementary school principals, focused qualitative interviews of principals, and an analysis of school policies in the context of actual weather data. This three-pronged approach was warranted as the study was of an exploratory nature. As far as the author is aware no previous research has been completed on this topic.

The survey was sent to principals via email and completed online with a response rate of 26.6%. The potential for self-selecting bias was a possible limiting factor in the study. Three principals representing five schools from different parts of Maine participated in focused interviews that uncovered more detailed data on the study topic. The historical weather analysis was completed for six towns, two each from Maine’s three climate divisions.

A statistical analysis using survey results showed a significant correlation between geographic location and minimum cut-off temperature for outdoor recess. More northerly schools were more likely to have lower minimum temperature cut-offs. Statewide, the minimum temperature cut-offs ranged from 0°F to 20°F. No relationship was found between minimum cut-off temperatures and school poverty rates. Substantial differences were found between the survey-reported number of missed outdoor recess days and the estimated numbers using actual weather data. The lowest number of estimated cancelled outdoor recess days due to cold according to historical weather data was 10 per school year at a southern Maine school with a minimum temperature cut-off of 0°F. However, this estimate does not take into account rainy days, and nearly every responding school indicated cancelling outdoor recess and PE when it is raining.

The findings of this research are important for three main reasons. First, it uncovered the vast differences in weather policies for outdoor recess and PE around the state. The reasons for these differences are complex and go beyond simple safety concerns. Second, there appears to be a general lack of understanding about how many days of outdoor recess and PE classes Maine elementary students miss due to weather. Students around the state are experiencing very different cancellation rates because there are such divergent weather policies. Finally, these findings may help Maine school administrators, teachers, and community members realize how relatively small changes to their weather policies could impact the outdoor time available to their students.

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