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Another Frozen Winter on the Way — Let’s Make Sure the Kids get to Move

Cartoon by Marcia Liss

Published in ChicagoNow, November 3, 2014

If you think 2014 was the “winter of our discontent,” just wait to see what’s coming this year. After a cold, rainy, and even snowy Halloween (of course), most of the leaves have fallen and November has arrived. Is it possible we will soon be facing another winter of bitter cold and school closings? Will our kids once again have to endure what is euphemistically known as “indoor recess” for days on end?

Do you believe the Farmer’s Almanac? If you do, sadly the answer is yes. Here’s the almanac’s preview of coming attractions:

  • Below-normal temperatures for about three-quarters of the nation.

  • The most frigid temperatures will be found from the Northern Plains into the Great Lakes.

  • The coldest outbreak of the season will come during the final week of January into the beginning of February, when frigid arctic air drops temperatures across the Northern Plains to perhaps 40 below zero.

  • As the frigid air blows across the Great Lakes, snow showers and squalls will drop heavy amounts of snow.

  • No region will see prolonged spells of above-normal temperatures; only near the West and East Coasts will temperatures average close to normal.

Last January and into February, I wrote five posts about how our school kids seemed to be living in Arendelle under Elsa’s spell. I started in a relatively good mood, writing Frozen – The Real Deal on January 6 when Winter Vacation grew even longer with a closing instead of a return to school. By January 7, in Still Frozen – Another No School Day, I began to grumble about losing a second day of school when the number of school attendance days was already too few in my opinion. By the end of January, I was begging Send This Boy to School – Final Polar Vortex Post and singing the praises of the Brownsburg, Indiana superintendent who braved the cold weather at the bus stop with his students rather than close schools yet another day.

But when schools were open, a larger issue emerged. Kids were confined to indoor activities day after day after day. By January 24, Meltdown over Frozen Recess addressed an upsetting consequence of the unrelenting bad winter. Even on decent days, the kids at my neighborhood school were confined to a tiny outdoor space, the only area that was free of snow and ice. No lawsuits wanted, I guess.

I saw the situation as a recipe for disaster:

  1. Take 100 second graders who have been cooped up day after day by temperatures too cold to have outdoor recess.

  2. Add a full morning of seat-work.

  3. Mix in a dash of standardized testing.

  4. Stir up children by not permitting talking at lunch.

  5. Blend in taking 5 minutes from the 20 allotted for play putting on full winter gear.

  6. Now, send these 100 kids out to “play” in the small area designated as “safe” due to too much ice and snow.

By February 19, Worse Than Frozen Recess shared parents’ ongoing frustration with the bitter cold and “indoor recess” restrictions. Their kids were cooped up, kept quiet, and punished when they inevitably were not focused on their work or acting silly. Well, who can blame them? If you won’t let them out, at least let them move and play.

Occasionally, I supervise one of my granddaughters with her homework after school. Sometimes she plows through it cheerfully, but more often she’s silly, inattentive, and downright resistant to getting anything done. I pondered what made the difference for this third grader. Was it the snack? Was it the nature of the assignment? Was it a distraction in her workspace at the kitchen table?

Nope. It all boiled down to exercise. On days when the weather was decent, she had outdoor recess and walked home. She arrived in a fine mood and had no problem polishing off her assignment. On rainy days with indoor recess and car rides home, she was unable to concentrate for very long. These were the days of doodles, deliberate wrong answers, and devious plans to escape. It took three times as long and many erasures to do the assignment.

This must be what happens in school on those “indoor recess” days. Squirmy, silly kids who can’t bear to sit a minute longer. Noisy, naughty kids who talk too loudly in the hallways and lunchroom. Well, what do you expect? Sometimes, kids just have to “let it go.”

Teachers and administrators, you may only have a few decent weather weeks until you face the frozen tundra and arctic winds. Maybe it’s time to rethink “indoor recess.” Instead of watching movies or playing board games, how about coming up with ways for kids to move? Make sure PE time is totally active. Give kids frequent classroom breaks to do silly dances, aerobic exercises, and blow off steam. Let them play and be noisy once in a while.

Bet those test scores will improve.


by Laurie Levy
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