If you’re a parent, you’re probably used to checking the weather forecast each night to see if your child needs to wear a jacket to school the next day. It’s a habit—something you do to help make sure your child is protected if it’s cold out or raining.

Do you check the air quality forecast, too? That’s another habit that can help protect your children. So if you don’t check it daily, now is a great time to start.

Higher risk for kids

Children, even healthy children, are at increased risk from air pollution. They’re smaller than adults, so they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults do. Their lungs are still developing. And they play outside more often (and usually more intensely) than their parents and teachers. 

All of these characteristics make children more susceptible to the effects of air pollution. But a simple step—checking the air quality forecast—can help you know what to do to help protect their health.

“When the forecast is Code Orange, air quality may be good for parts of the day: a great time to play outdoors.”

Understanding the forecast

Available in many weathercasts, on the AirNow.gov website and on brightly colored flags in front of hundreds of schools across the country, the air quality forecast tells you what the day’s air quality is expected to be for ozone and particle pollution. You’ll usually see the forecast described with a color that corresponds to the Air Quality Index (AQI), the tool the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses to communicate air quality.

The AQI uses a scale from Green (good) to Maroon (hazardous) to indicate pollution levels and tells you when it’s a good idea to switch up your outdoor activities to reduce the amount of pollution you breathe in.

Healthy practices

For parents, this means coordinating with teachers to make changes for your kids when air quality reaches Code Orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) or above. When the forecast is Code Orange, air quality may be good for parts of the day: a great time to play outdoors. When it reaches Code Orange, it’s still okay for children to be active outside, especially for short activities like recess and P.E.

But for longer activities, like athletic practice, take more breaks, make drills less intense, or rotate players more frequently—all changes that reduce the amount of air pollution children breathe in. And if your child has asthma, Code Orange is a reminder to follow the asthma action plan and keep quick-relief medicine handy.

These simple steps can go a long way toward protecting your children from air pollution. So start checking your air quality forecast daily. It’s a healthy habit.