During the casual chitchat that preceded a meeting of Maryland school heads amid a late January snowstorm, everyone was discussing their weather-related decisions. One head remarked that he hoped that virtual learning had not killed snow days forever. His observation hit a chord with me for a few reasons. First, I was feeling very sensitive about this topic because we at Holton had been dealing with an outcry in response to our decision to hold virtual school when all our peer schools had given their communities the day off. Second, I love snow days and share his hope for their survival in a world of practiced online school. 

The Anticipation

Snow days obviously have multiple dimensions. Technically, we have snow days because we deem it dangerous to drive to school or because snow has made it difficult if not impossible to even get to school. The latter conditions are a rarity in the Washington, D.C., area, where most of the time we deal with storms that hover between ice and snow and rain. This meteorological indecision makes calling snow days particularly difficult and prompts much anticipation and much disappointment, especially in the last few years when snow seems to fall to the south and to the north, but not on us.

We experience so much anticipation (and disappointment when they don’t materialize) because snow days represent much more than simply transportation safety. There is a reason for the many superstitions — wearing your pajamas inside out or putting spoons under your pillow, for example — that promise to bring about such an event. For decades, Holton had a librarian of Polish descent who performed a traditional snow dance punctuated by preternatural screams that she swore had never failed to produce a day off. We humor such practices because we know the unadulterated joy of waking up to discover the gift of no school because of snow.

We sometimes get surprise days off for other reasons — a broken pipe, no electricity, no heat, or other weather events. We once called off school because of wind — it was legitimately dangerous, but my son teased me mercilessly for the decision. None of these events, however, feels quite the same as a genuine snow day. That’s because there is something special about snow. Few things are more beautiful than a fresh snowfall, the landscape transformed into a wonderland by a sparkling white frosting, blurring objects and resculpting tree branches. It feels truly magical — and so quiet, the world muffled as though nature was asking us to stop, listen, and take in the beauty of her handiwork. Even when I lived in Connecticut where it snowed regularly, I never tired of the glory of new snow.

Reveling in a White Outdoor Blanket

Dogs and children love snow, as well they should. The dogs frolic, surprised and pleased with the change in their familiar environs. Children marvel at their snow angels, practice their creativity building snowmen (see this slideshow for a gallery of excellent snow people created by our basketball players recently) and snow forts, while snowball fights showcase athleticism. And of course, there is sledding. Few things compare to the thrill of speeding down a hill on some kind of snow conveyance. All ages can join the fun; even the dogs participate, chasing sledders down the slopes. When our son was younger, he and his friends spent hours careening down the hill below our house, flying into the air over their painstakingly constructed jumps. I fortified them with hot cocoa and cookies, and took numerous pictures that will undoubtedly show up in birthday and wedding photo montages in years to come. Building snowmen, sledding, snowball fights — we can only do these activities in the snow — making them and snow days all the more special. On that day in January, even the Upper School girls wanted to play in the snow!

Restoration Indoors: Cooking, Baking, Reading, and More

Snow days also afford indoor activities that, although not as unique as the outdoor ones, nonetheless offer respite and satisfaction. Hot cocoa and cookies can be enjoyed just as easily inside as out, and, personally, baking is one of my favorite snow day activities — cookies, brownies, cupcakes, or bread. I have also developed a tradition of making French onion soup, a recipe that relies on attentively tending the caramelizing of onions. Falling snow closes off the world, cocooning us in our houses and encouraging us to hunker down, to enjoy the peace and quiet. We may all be tired of being at home, but for me, playing a game, reading a book, or knitting in front of a fire as snow falls outside will never lose its appeal.  

An Opportunity to Slow Down

All of this is to say that, just because we have all learned how to teach effectively in the virtual domain, we should not eliminate snow days altogether. I regret not giving the Holton community that day off (even though we had already expended our one allotted snow day in December). Most of our students feel significant — sometimes crushing — pressure to perform in school. We push them and they push themselves academically and in other aspects of school life. In non-covid times, they are heavily scheduled with little free time for spontaneous fun; now, life feels like drudgery when they are prohibited from so much of what they might normally enjoy — sports, acting in a play, singing, or hanging out with their friends.

While the weather should no longer force us to suspend school-learning for multiple days, the occasional snow day (and maybe even more than one a year) can — and should — provide a break from daily demands, especially right now. All the things we do when it snows have remained largely the same for centuries. Indeed, it’s hard to be on your phone while you speed down a hill. The snow can make us slow down, enjoy the out-of-doors, take a restorative break, and soothe our souls with nature’s beauty. That will do our young people (and all of us adults, too) a world of good.