When the recess bells rang at schools across the city Wednesday, almost no one was allowed out.
Such is the cold reality of the polar vortex that has made indoor recesses a regular event this winter, an occurrence that is frustrating to both students and teachers.
It's safety first, superintendent Duane Brothers of Louis Riel School Division said.
"When it's this cold outside, typically -27, outdoor recess is cancelled and the students are kept indoors," Brothers said. "There's been a lot of indoor recess over the last few days. The gyms are open, we pull out board games."
Brothers said division superintendents and school principals monitor the weather reports almost constantly, starting daily at 6 a.m. "If it's -45 (with wind chill) at 6 a.m., the school buses don't run."
In Winnipeg, the city's nine school divisions are organized into a phone tree with one superintendent (Brothers) in charge of the weather. He's the one who gets word out to the media the buses aren't running.
"Different school divisions in Manitoba will have different policies that relate to the temperatures and the wind chill," said Paul Olson, president of the 15,000 public school teachers in the Manitoba Teachers Society.
Most city divisions cancel outdoor recess when the temperatures drop below -25 C, especially if it's windy. It was -27 C at 10 a.m. Wednesday with a wind chill of -38. It "warmed" to -24 C at 3 p.m. but the wind chill was -29.
"Here's the bottom line: We want our students safe and we know the wind chill and the bitter cold can cause concern so we work hard to keep our students safe and indoors," said Olga Wyshnowsky, student services co-ordinator for the city's largest school division, the Winnipeg School Division.
Temperatures have been hovering around -30 C almost every day since the beginning of December. So it's no surprise to see schools mix it up, a lot, at recess these days.
"Especially in our elementary schools, where the kids are young, they need a little break time," said Jason Young, superintendent at the Beautiful Plains School Division.
At Hazel M. Kellington Elementary School in Neepawa, a couple of grades were in the gym at recess on Wednesday. A couple of other grades were down the hall in art class, with paints and paper. And another group was watching a short movie in the library.
That's been routine since early December and two months into the cold stretch, planned indoor recess is stretching a little thin.
"The longer the stretch, the more we have to vary the activities because it gets a little tiring for the kids, and the teachers as well," Young said.
Elizabeth Langtry, a teacher for 25 years, said it's tough for the students to be stuck inside at recess when they'd rather be running around outside.
"It has been challenging because children need to be active and when they get outside, they have a chance to get all that energy out and it makes a huge difference in their learning. When they have too many indoor recesses it can be challenging," said Langtry, who teaches a Grade 3 class at Greenway School in Winnipeg. "When children are more active, their brains are more active."
Activities at Greenway School during indoor recess have included yoga, doing exercises and stretches in the hallway as well as some free-choice time in the classroom.
"They do love their choice time but we try to give them a variety of activities to do in the classroom. Sometimes we do some exercising by walking around the hallways and do that for 15 minutes to vary it for students," Langtry said.
"We've put up letters of the alphabet (in the hallways) and when they get to that letter of the alphabet, they can do the exercise that the station asks them to do. We've gotten feedback from our gym teacher for different ideas and we also do yoga here and Fit Kids (instructional fitness DVD for kids)."
Langtry said "Brain Gym" has been particularly popular.
"When our children don't have any kind of active (physical) type of activity, when they've sat too long, we do Brain Gym to stimulate the brain," she said. "Each part of the exercise stimulates parts of the brain."
Brain Gym, developed in California by the Educational Kinesiology Foundation, is a program of 26 simple physical skills that have been associated with learning and achievement.
"Teachers come up with activities that are entertaining and even adults need a break. In the school where I taught, the principal would stand in the hallway and trade hockey cards. He would just make a point of it and it gave everyone a break. That was really impressive," Olson recalled.
At the Lakeshore School Division in the western Interlake region, superintendent Janet Martell said it's just as important to recognize the role the outdoors plays in keeping kids healthy.
"We recognize the importance of kids being outside but at the same time we monitor their safety," she said. "If it's -42 C they might not get out. Then it's indoor activities. It could be in the gym, reading books in the library or using technology -- iPads, computers, laptops that have apps related to class work."
-- with files from Ashley Prest