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Yes, Virginia, There Is Recess

Susan Notes: Could there be sweeter words these days? "We never cancel recess."

A plethora of rainbow-hued boots lay askew along the hallways of Colchester's Union Memorial School on Friday, as the 220 pint-sized owners spent their much-cherished midday recess indoors.

Playgrounds were empty most of the week at Chittenden County elementary schools as temperatures hovered around zero and where principals moved recess indoors. Most elementary principals contacted by the Free Press said recess is moved indoors due to inclement weather or if high winds or ice cause the playgrounds to be unsafe about 15 days a year. The decision is made on a daily basis.

Soaring obesity rates among children and an increase in sedentary activities have led to an even greater need for elementary school age children to take active breaks, such as recess and physical education, during the six-hour school day, according to the National Association For Sport and Physical Education.

Recess, which in most of the county's schools lasts 20-30 minutes, is a time for play and a break from routine.

"We never cancel recess, we move it indoors," Principal Dan Ryan of Fleming School, Essex Junction, said last week. "We're indoors if it is too cold, rainy, icy or windy." Although area principal lamented the lack of indoor space for youngsters to burn energy, Union Memorial students indirectly praised the administration's ingenuity in bringing out games reserved just for those bitterly cold days.

"We get to win cool stuff in bingo, like purple glitter," Nicole DeOrsey, 7, said as she helped Ethan Thibault, 8, wedge a tiger-striped puzzle piece into place on a classroom floor. Thibault added, "We get to play all these fun games."

Union Memorial Principal Chris Antonicci would be smart to stock the school's bingo treasure bucket with more glitter, pens and other trinkets as the bitterly cold temperatures -- forecast through the end of the week -- may drive students indoors.

"It would be great if we had a place for the kids to run around," Antonicci said Friday, talking in the hallway above the din of students lunching in the combined cafeteria, gym and assembly hall. "But we don't."

Essex Elementary School assistant Principal George Clapp listens to weather on the radio and consults an outside thermometer on questionable days, and makes the much-anticipated announcement to the 420 students about 10:45 a.m. Recess starts at 11 a.m., and Clapp said he likes to give the teachers ample warning for children to bundle up.

"It's met with mixed reactions," said Clapp. "Some kids want to go outside in any kind of weather. But we have to consider safety."

At Essex Elementary and other schools, paraeducators, aides or teachers supervising recess have the option to bring the kids in after recess has started. "If we start seeing red noses and cheeks, we send them in," Clapp said.

In the Burlington School District, elementary students are kept indoors for recess if the temperature or wind chill is zero degrees or below, said Jean Collins, director of student services. Indoor recess is held in the cafeteria or classrooms, Collins said.

Howard Vorman, principal of Brewster Memorial School in Huntington, said the schools policy for indoor recess works well. "We pick two classrooms for the kids to play in, and use indoor recess as a time to play games," he said.
Keeping active inside

Indoor recess means games in the classrooms or common areas of the schools, as school gyms often double as cafeterias, or are in use with physical education classes during recess time and aren't available. This fact is lamented by Lynn Johnson, assistant professor in the Professional Physical Education Program at the University of Vermont.

"With the current obesity crisis in children, we know it is critical for them to be physically active during the day," said Johnson. "Recess is also a time for them to interact socially. The best scenario is when you can have kids jumping rope or shooting baskets in the gym," she said.

Few schools have the space for children to be active except during physical education class, so Johnson suggests as much physical activity as possible during indoor recess. Johnson cited batting balloons about in the air, hiding objects in designated areas and finding them and passing a ball without using hands as examples.

"Most principals I know get hives when you mention indoor recess," said Fred Brown, associate executive director of the National Association of School Principals. "Elementary school buildings aren't designed to have young children inside all day. Children need to play outside. We know they're much more productive if they do so."

— Emily Guziak
Recess must go on, despite cold
Burlington Free Press


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