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12 December 2022

Covid has killed the snow day

When children and adults can work from home, snow loses its magic.

By Ariane Sherine

No longer does an abundance of snow mean a magical day off school, where nature brings everything to a halt. Where there’s nothing for kids to do but gleefully throw snowballs in the street, pelting each other with ice and screaming with joy. Or take delightfully chilly walks, feet crunching, and build snowmen (or, as my eleven-year-old daughter just corrected me, rather crossly, “snow PEOPLE!” There is no gender stereotyping to be had around Gen Z).

No: kids are still off school today, but now they’re cooped up inside working instead of playing. Right now my daughter is staring glassy-eyed at a laptop screen, doing “online learning”. History and science lessons just aren’t the same as a cold, fresh day of mischief, the sort of day that looms large in childhood memories. As my daughter just said wistfully, “Then everyone could have snowball fights and it would be so fun.” The beauty of snow days was that, for children, the outside world turning into one big playground coincided with their being unable to do any learning.

We’ve had the internet widely since the 2000s but during the Covid pandemic we proved fairly decisively, in a way that we somehow had been unable to do previously, that we could all work remotely. The March 2020 lockdown meant kids were at home for three months, until June. Understandably we didn’t want to pause their learning for that long and stunt their educational chances, so most children got iPads and laptops: the government promised to buy 1.3 million laptops for students. It is telling that Google Classroom, a tool for remote learning, is trending today on Twitter as schools announce their snow day arrangements – a sort of dystopian reminder of the world we live in now.

The problem with online learning is it’s even more boring than school. Or, to quote my frustrated daughter in April 2020, “I hate home school and I hate you!” With Google Classroom, there are no other kids to nudge, giggle and pass notes to, no bad behaviour at the back of the class to enjoy, no real live teacher to ask questions if you get stuck. Yes, there’s a chat function, and teachers make videos – teachers try to make it fun and interactive – but in general kids are just expected to get on with the work, on their own, in silence (which, to be fair, is often what’s expected at school too, it just rarely happens). Real school can be lively and playful and mischievous – even if it’s no comparison to a day in the glistening white snow.

Even for adults the snow day brought its own kind of magic. It was sort of astounding that something beyond the control of governments and lawmakers could make whole industries to grind to a halt. It was almost supernatural. For many employees, if you relied on going into the office to get your work done, or had kept your laptop there overnight, you simply had to hold your hands up and say you couldn’t work today, sorry, because it was snowing.

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Sure, we couldn’t have allowed our kids three months off school during Covid. But since lockdown, the virus is not just ruining our health and social lives, it’s also ruining our children’s snow days. Is it too much to ask that they could have a single blissful day of freedom in a winter wonderland?

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