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Indoor recess? W.D.M., Waukee kids prefer to let it slide

Susan Notes:

Jay Mathews, read this story about recess instead of listening to the KIPP line.

by Dave Dolmage

Kids in West Des Moines schools get to go outdoors for recess unless the temperature falls below 15 degrees.

During the winter months at Hillside Elementary School in West Des Moines kids peek out in the hallways to check the flag. If the flag is up, recess will be indoors that day; if the flag is down, kids will have a chance to get outside and play in the snow.

As third-grader Donny Freeman struggled into his snow pants after lunch last week, he admitted that even though it "gets really cold sometimes" he still prefers outdoor recess to indoor recess. "In the winter we get to go sledding, and we have a sledding party at the end of the semester," Donny said.

He was glad that when he forgot his gloves last week he was able to borrow a pair. "I went down to the office and borrowed a pair out of the lost and found so that I didn't miss recess."

The West Des Moines school district's policy regarding outdoor recess during winter allows children to go outside if the temperature is above 15 degrees before noon. The only other times children stay inside for recess are when conditions are exceptionally slick, or during thunderstorms.

Robert Davis, the principal at Hillside, makes sure every student is properly attired before heading outside during winter.

"We try to get kids out as much as we can because physical activity is conducive to learning," Davis said.

Donny isn't the only student who likes outdoor recess. His classmate, Isabelle Lass, said she loves being outside because "when you're outside you get the chance to run, and inside we have to walk everywhere."

When students are kept indoors they usually play board games, sketch in their sketchbooks, or find quiet corners to read books.

At Hillside, where half of the student population lives under the poverty line, making sure kids have adequate winter clothes can be tough. Working together with Kim Darr, the school's guidance counselor, Davis works to collect donated coats, hats, gloves, boots, snow pants and other items for children. With assistance from the Kiwanis Club and the Jordan Grove office of Iowa Realty, the school is able to help outfit 70 children a year.

"You can tell economics are deteriorating in our community," Davis said. "We see more and more kids with needs every year."

While Hillside is able to meet the needs of some students, they are unable to help all of them. "We still have about 40 students this year that need winter coats, snow pants, and hats and gloves," Darr said.

Darr is grateful for the support the school receives from the community, saying that "people come out of the woodwork to help these kids," but the demand for winter weather gear is still overwhelming. "We have trouble meeting demand, not identifying kids," Darr said as she helped a 6-year-old borrow a coat. As the girl ran outside to find her friends, Darr straightened up some coats inside the closet where the winter clothes are stored. "We see more and more kids with needs every year," she said.

In Waukee, kids can go out unless it hits zero

No matter how cold it gets, Rowan Forsythe from Clive would rather be outside during recess at Eason Elementary School in Waukee.

While waiting in line to slide down the slide into a pile of snow last week, Rowan explained what made outside recess better. "We get to run around and do more action stuff, and we can't do that during indoor recess."

Eason Principal Peg Erke understands how important it is for kids to get outside and have a chance to run around. "It's a vital part of their day, and it's healthy for them to be outside," Erke said. "We try not to take recess away from the kids."

Waukee school district policy permits children to have outside recess as long as the temperature, with the wind chill factored in, is above zero.

All children need to have a hat, coat and gloves to be able to go outside during winter temperatures, and children who want to play in the snow will need snow pants and boots, as well. Otherwise, Waukee's recess associates will ask student to stay on the paved section of the playground.

Jenny Watters, a recess associate for Eason, is charged with upholding those rules. She and the rest of the recess associates try to make judgment calls based on weather conditions, but their focus is giving kids a chance to have fun. "If kids don't have appropriate attire we send them in to their counselor, but they just love being outside," Watters said.

It also helps that the recess periods are short, usually lasting only 15-20 minutes once kids are dressed and ready to go outside.

At Eason, guidance counselor Kinzee Bryte has a closet in her office full of surplus items for students. She loans items to children who forget, and also tries to help families in need by donating items parents may not be able to afford. "I think that when kids can borrow something they get a chance to play with their friends, and it really gets them re-energized for class time," Bryte said.

When they do have indoor recess, kids play board games or read. Younger children often watch movies or spend their free time drawing and coloring.

Brett Hazen, a kindergartner at Eason, said he doesn't want to miss outdoor recess. "It's way better because we get to run around and do stuff," said the 5-year-old. As he made his way out to play with his friends last week he talked about what happened when he forgot his gloves. "I forgot my gloves once, but it was OK since I borrowed some and still got to go outside."

— Dave Dolmage
Des Moines Register



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