Why Swiss kids still have to go to school during heatwaves

Despite forecast maximums of up to 39C in Switzerland this week, school children in the country won’t be allowed to stay home. Here’s why.

Why Swiss kids still have to go to school during heatwaves
The old tradition of sending kids because of the heat is now nothing more than a myth than in Switzerland. Photo: AFP

As soon as temperatures start to climb above 30C in Switzerland, school kids begin to talk about the possibility of being sent home.

However, these days, the old tradition of sending kids home is definitely more myth than reality.

According to Swiss daily NZZ, the tradition of cancelling school classes during heatwaves ended as early as the 1980s in Zurich. 

Read also: Working in a heatwave – the Swiss employment laws you need to know about

Meanwhile, the last time children were sent home in Basel was in 2003, during the extremely hot summer of that year.

“There used to be the option of deciding at 9am if classes would go ahead or not,” Simon Thiriet of the Basel-Stadt education department told the Blick newspaper. But he said this was no longer the case.

The story is similar in Lucerne with Regula Huber of the cantonal education and culture department saying sending children home because of a heatwave would not be feasible these days.

'We cannot simply send kids home'

“Schools have a duty to supervise [children]. We cannot simply send the kids home while the parents are working,” she said.

And this is the crux of the issue. While many Swiss women once stayed home after they had children, this is no longer the case. Many women now go back to work, even if it is only part time.

Read also: Switzerland ranked 'worst in Europe' for being family-friendly

Just over three in four women (75.7 percent) with children aged under four were active in the Swiss labour force last year. That's compared to 67.4 percent in 2010. For mothers of children aged 4 to 12, this rate was 83.2 percent in 2018, while it was 85.5 percent for mothers of children aged 13–17.

Teachers must get creative

The upshot is that teachers must find creative ways to dealing with the heat – and that may have nothing to do with ensuring the curriculum is followed to the letter.

At the kindergarten level, this include substituting gym classes for outdoor water fights, while for school-aged children it might mean rescheduling tests and exams in the morning when concentration levels are higher.

Meanwhile, Stefan Roth with the Swiss Society of Paediatrics told NZZ that children were “basically healthy and strong and the healthiest population there is” in Switzerland.

But he said that during periods of hot weather the same rules applied for children as for adults. They need to drink plenty of water and avoid physical exertion in the hottest part of the day.

And for children who are still hoping to be sent home, there is one small glimmer of hope – at least in the eastern canton of St Gallen. Here, classes must go ahead from 8am to 12pm, but the theoretical option remains to postpone afternoon classes if weather conditions are extreme.

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‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

As temperatures climb again, many people may struggle to get a good night's sleep in Switzerland. Here are some expert tips to help you even when it's sweltering hot.

‘Don’t sleep naked’: How to get a good night’s sleep in a Swiss heatwave

Switzerland’s summers tend to get hotter and this season has seen its share of heatwaves, bringing temperatures closer to 40C and making it almost impossible to sleep.

This could mean trouble for residents of a country better prepared to bear the cold weather than the extreme heat.

The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has three ‘golden rules’ for how to make it through heatwaves; avoid exercise during the hottest part of the day, keep the heat out of your house however you can, drink and eat smart (fresh foods and lots of water).

With night temperatures in some regions above 20C, Swiss residents will also need some help getting through the night.

Here are a few tips to keep cool overnight and enjoy better sleep despite the heat of the night.

Don’t sleep naked

It’s tempting to ditch the PJs when it’s this warm overnight. But sleep experts say this is a mistake, as any moisture from sweat accumulates on your body.

Cotton pyjamas and cotton sheets are very effective in absorbing and removing sweat from your body.

Give a little help to your internal clock

Many people think that it is only the extreme heat in summer making your sleep seem a bit worse than in the colder months. But the fact that days are brighter for longer makes a huge difference.

READ ALSO: How Switzerland’s largest cities are combating the heat

As light suppresses our body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that signals that it is time to sleep, the longer days irritate our internal clock, according to sleep experts.

The old tip of turning off your devices to avoid the blue light is also extra crucial. So around one hour before going to bed, you can start your “darkening” ritual throughout your home.

In that sense, it’s also better to avoid naps during the day to keep a better sleep routine.

Try to cool your room and yourself

Of course, the cooler temperatures are in your bedroom when you go to sleep, the better. You can help get temperatures a few degrees down by following these tips: keep the blinds and windows shut during the worst of the day and ventilate the cooler night breeze during the night.

Sleeping during a heatwave can be difficult. Photo: Yuris Alhumaydy / Unsplash

You can also moisten your curtains just before bedtime and leave the window open; the water evaporation will make it a bit cooler. If you can, another tip is to put your mattress on the floor as hot air rises – excellent advice for those sleeping on a bunk bed.

Don’t forget to turn off (and unplug!) electrical appliances, as those are heat sources.

READ ALSO: Eight great swimming spots to escape the Swiss summer heat

To cool yourself, you could take a lukewarm evening shower (not a hot one, those will make your body react by generating heat).

Fans and humidity help

As long as you’ve kept your room relatively cool, fans work. They help evaporate sweat which, in turn, helps your body regulate its temperature.

Putting a bowl of ice in front of the fan can also help cool the room.

Some people swear by dampening their sheets before going to bed. But if you’re not used to it, the feeling can be a little disconcerting. You can also place multiple ice containers in the corners of your room, which will melt slowly overnight and cool the air.

Why is it essential to have a good night’s sleep?

Several days of scorching temperatures can cause heat stress, according to the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

If the nights are not cool enough, the body can’t recover from the heat of the day, creating a dangerous condition called “thermal stress”, which can be fatal for the elderly and other vulnerable people.

While there are no statistics showing how many people have fallen victim to heat stress during the most recent heatwave, several cantons have implemented a system of home visits and frequent phone contact with this at-risk group.

READ MORE: How to keep your cool during Switzerland’s heatwave