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Schools & Child Care



Physical and mental health are linked to the natural and built environments. For example, the climate, the quality of air and water and the ways our communities are designed all influence our health, wellbeing, and quality of life. Children are among those who are most affected by environmental health risks. However, many environmental health risks are preventable. Moreover, strategies to reduce threats often have many health benefits for individuals and communities.

This section contains information on outdoor environmental conditions that can impact student health and safety and provides additional resources to assist you with providing safe and enjoyable activities for students. 
Climate Change & Health 

Climate change is harming health and wellbeing in Simcoe Muskoka. Climate change leads to a range of negative physical and mental health outcomes related to extreme weather, extreme temperature, vector-borne disease, air quality, food and water quality, safety and security, and ultraviolet radiation. Children are at greater risk of climate-health impacts. Climate-health risks will continue to rise as global warming continues caused by Greenhouse gas emissions. Many students are worried about climate change. For some students, this can affect their mental wellbeing. Climate change adaptation and mitigation measures can prevent or reduce climate-health risks and offer many additional health benefits. Taking part in climate action can support students' mental wellbeing. There are many ways families and school communities can get involved.  

For more information on how climate change impacts children's health and how you can get involved, visit SMDHU’s climate change & health webpage and

Preparing for extreme temperatures and weather 
Due to our changing climate, Simcoe Muskoka is experiencing more frequent, severe, and longer-lasting extreme weather and temperature events. School communities can take action to prepare for and respond to these events to protect staff and student health and well-being. Preventative actions (before an event) include: 

  • Identifying who is at risk.
  • Evaluating risk to school infrastructure and identifying safe zones.
  • Knowing where to find reliable information (e.g., SMDHU, School Boards, Environment and Climate Change Canada etc.).
  • Ensuring plans and emergency preparedness plans include extreme weather events and extreme temperatures, and potential compounding threats (e.g., power outages).
  • Ensuring school staff and student gradians are aware of strategies to prevent temperature-related illnesses during extreme heat and cold events, what temperature-related illnesses look like and how to respond.
  • Improve school environments and climate resilience. Promote heat safe playgrounds (e.g., shade, green space) 

It is important to consider the weather when planning outdoor activities. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) issues weather alerts which include watches, warnings and statements. When heat or extreme cold warnings are issued by ECCC, we communicate health risks associated with exposure to hot and cold temperatures, so children can be protected against extreme temperatures. When making decisions about outdoor breaks, instructional time and/or field trips during extreme temperatures consider the information below. 


  • Heat Alerts 
    Within our region, a heat warning will be issued by ECCC. 


 Heat Warning Criteria
Heat & Health
Extreme heat events can put everyone’s s health at risk but children are among those at greatest risk. Children are at increased risk to heat-health impacts due to their physiology and limited ability to respond to heat stress and dehydration (e.g., children rely on others to provide liquids for hydration). Children with existing health conditions (e.g., respiratory diseases like asthma, heart disease, kidney problems, developmental delays, mental illness) are at greatest risk and should be frequently monitored
Exposure to extreme heat can result in heat related illnesses such as heat stroke (a medical emergency), exhaustion, rash, cramps and fainting.  If left untreated heat-related illnesses can lead to long-term health problems or death. Extreme heat can exacerbate existing health conditions (e.g., asthma, diabetes, mental illness) and has a range of other psychosocial impacts like changes in mood and behaviour and increased aggression, affected sleep and learning capacity. Heat may also affect school infrastructure leading to play equipment becoming dangerously hot or lead to power outages. Heat health impacts are preventable! 



To help prevent negative health impacts during extreme heat, 

  • know and stay alert for symptoms of heat illness 
  • Heat Stroke: High body temperature, confusion, dizziness/fainting and flush skin 
    • Heat Stroke is a medical emergency; call 911
  • Heat Exhaustion: Heavy sweating, headache, muscle cramps, extreme thirst, dark yellow pee. 
  • drink plenty of water (even when you don’t feel thirsty) avoid caffeine or beverages with large amounts of sugar  
  • wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing
  • take it easy, avoid intense activities, especially during the hottest times of the day
  • Take a break from the heat, spend time in a cool space (e.g., air-conditioned spots, tree-shaded areas outdoors)
    • Indoor temperatures above 31C can are dangerous. If it gets to hot inside, go somewhere cooler (e.g., outside in the shade, a library etc). 
  • In classrooms close blinds/curtains during the day to prevent radiant heat from entering the room and fans to increase evaporation (when conditions are extreme, fans will not prevent heat related illness)
  • wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen when outdoors
  • seek medical care if someone is experiencing symptoms of a heat related illness.

More information about health and heat can be found at and on our Municipal resource page. 

Cold Alerts

SMDHU follows two cold notification processes.

  • -15ºC Enhanced Cold Monitoring and Notifications: when temperatures are forecasted to reach -15ºC (or -20ºC wind chill) for a minimum of 2 hours within a 24-hour period in Simcoe or Muskoka SMDHU will increase communication and monitoring.
  • Extreme Cold Warning Notification Response: A Cold Warning will be issued by ECCC when temperatures or wind chill are expected to reach:
    • In Simcoe County, the Cites of Barrie and Orillia: -30ºC for at least 2 hours within a 24-hour period
    • In District of Muskoka: -35ºC for at least 2 hours within a 24-hour period.

Cold & Health
Cold temperatures are common in Simcoe Muskoka. While our winters are getting warmer due to climate change, we will still experience extreme cold events and we may be more sensitive to extreme cold weather when it does happen because we are less used to it.

When winter temperatures drop to very low temperatures, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. Exposure to cold temperatures can lead to cold-related conditions and injuries (e.g., hypothermia, frostnip, frostbite). Cold related illnesses occur when the body loses heat faster than it can maintain it.  Cold temperature can also aggravate respiratory illnesses (e.g., asthma) and worsen cardiovascular illnesses. Children are at greater risk for cold related illnesses because they are not able to regulate their internal body temperatures as well as adults. Adverse cold related health outcomes are preventable. It is important for school communities to understand how cold affects health and take appropriate actions to reduce risks.

To avoid cold related illness: 

  • Ensure staff and guardians know and are on alert for signs of hypothermia, frostbite and frostnip. 
  • Consider shortening outdoor play for children when temperatures are between -20ºC to -25ºC (with or without wind chill) and keep children indoors if temperatures reach or drop below -27ºC (with or without wind chill). More advice about winter safety for your children can be found at Caring for Kids, developed by the Canada Pediatric Society.
  • Frequently check in with children and ensure they remain properly dressed
  • Ensure children cover up: 
    • Dress in layers and cover exposed skin with winter hats, mittens and scarves 
    • stay dry, wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess sweating will also increase heat loss, so extra layers of clothing should be removed when children are too warm
  • Warm up by: 
    • drinking warm fluids
    • keep moving, limit time sitting or standing 
    • take shelter from the wind to reduce wind chill exposure 
    • take breaks in a heated building  

More information about cold weather and health can be found at

Air quality has a significant impact on our health in the long and short term. Children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution because their immune systems are less developed, they breathe in more air, have faster breathing rates than adults and they tend to breathe through their mouths which by-passes the natural filtering system of their nose. Children with existing health conditions (e.g., lung or heart conditions, diabetes) can be at greater risk. Poor air quality can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can also cause breathing difficulties. In Simcoe Muskoka, air quality has improved; however it remains a concern and more can be done to reduce air pollution to make the air healthier for everyone. Wildfire smoke is a significant contributor to poor air quality. Wildfire smoke events are happening more frequently and for longer periods of time due to climate change.  

For more information about wildfire smoke and health, visit

Environment and Climate Change Canada and The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change can jointly issue two air quality alerts: Special Air Quality Statements (SAQS) or Smog and Air Health Advisories (SAHA) when air quality is poor. More information about Air Quality Alerts can be found here.

School communities can take actions to protect children and staff by understanding how air pollution affects health and by taking action to reduce exposure to air pollution and improving air quality in our communities. 

Schools can take action to promote clean air by taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants and improve air quality (also known as climate change mitigation strategies). Examples include:

  • Promoting active school travel. See Simcoe Muskoka On the Move for more resources 
  • Planting trees and other vegetation on school property
  • Designating Idle-Free school zones   

Maintaining awareness of health risks of air pollution and local air quality is important to take steps to protect health. 

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a tool to help understand local air quality and what it means for your health. It is designed to help make informed decisions to protect health and the environment. More information about the AQHI can be found here. For educators: Let Indi the Caterpillar teach your students about the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in this 3-minute video geared towards younger children. Air Quality Alerts

Idling cars release exhaust that is harmful to the environment and the health of students, school staff, and our local communities. Unnecessary idling of vehicles contributes to poor air quality, climate change and can be a risk to health. A vehicle’s exhaust contains particulate matter, VOCs, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. These are all considered pollutants and affect the air we breathe. Children are susceptible to the negative effects of idling cars because their lungs are still developing and they breathe in air at a faster rate than adults. The pollutants created from unnecessary idling can lead to:

  • lung infections and irritation, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema
  • some forms of heart disease
  • increased risk of cancers, and
  • reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen in the body.

Reducing unnecessary idling of cars will reduce pollutants, improve air quality and our health. Some ways you can reduce or eliminate idling and its effects include:

  • During drop off and pick up times, close windows that may be near these areas.
  • Create an idle control program or policy. This will help educate parents, caregivers, and staff about the importance of reducing idling and need to change behaviours.
  • Encourage parents, caregivers, school visitors and staff to turn off their vehicle during pick up and drop off times.
  • Support active school travel (such as walking or cycling) as it helps to protect student safety by decreasing vehicle traffic, while promoting the many benefits of healthy active living.

Some municipalities within Simcoe-Muskoka have idling by-laws in place. Please check with your local municipality to see if they have an idling by-law. For more information on Idle-Free zones refer to National Resources Canada.

When spending time outdoors particularly between spring and fall, students can come into contact with mosquitoes and ticks. Some insects like certain species of mosquitoes and ticks can carry diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation associated with climate change is changing the risk of diseases transmitted through insects in Simcoe Muskoka. The good news is there are easy steps you can take to prevent illness.

If children are playing or visiting (e.g., school trip) places where mosquitoes or ticks may be active, staff, students and guardians should take steps to avoid being bitten (e.g., cover up, wear bug spray), do a full body tick-check afterwards and know what to do if someone is bitten by a tick. SMDHU has more information about mosquito born illnesses like West Nile virus and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease available on our webpages.  Schools can also take steps to reduce habitats for ticks and mosquitoes

For educators: 

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