Is indoor recess really a recess?
Not after four days in a row, students and teachers agree.
Wichita school was in session Thursday, and with wind chill factors dipping to dangerous levels this week, students haven't had much of a break from the classroom since their return to school after the holidays.
"I feel like I've been in a cave a while," said Jama Bales, kindergarten teacher at College Hill Elementary School.
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One of Bales' students was literally bouncing off the tables, knocking over a container of crayons as she pretended she was a cat during her 20-minute indoor recess.
Meanwhile, Bales tried to comfort a sulking student.
"They have issues with getting along with each other," she said, adding that it's difficult not to get involved in their play when they're in the classroom during what is her planning period.
Six lunch aides supervise the after-lunch recess to give teachers their lunch and planning breaks, said Karla Stenzel, who is in charge of P.E. for the district as well as College Hill. Aides patrol the halls with walkie-talkies to monitor the staggered indoor recesses.
"This week wasn't as bad as the week before Christmas," Stenzel said.
Wind chills are a major part of a principal's decision to move recess indoors because of the cold — on Thursday morning the wind chill was minus 13 degrees. School leaders also look at how wet the playground is and whether most students are dressed for the weather.
Most schools use the same multi-purpose room as a gym and cafeteria, or the gym is being used by P.E. classes, Stenzel said. So, outdoors is the only place for recess out of the classroom.
College Hill students are fortunate there are enough lunch aides so that they can return to their classrooms after lunch, Stenzel said. Other elementary and middle schools play movies in a central location for indoor recess because there aren't enough supervisors.
Teachers pay for indoor-recess games out of their classroom budgets, Stenzel said, and some ask students' families to help out.
"One teacher I know hits a lot of garage sales," she said.
There were several stations in Liz Hohl's second-grade class at College Hill, where students chose to play anything from a board game to pretend-restaurant.
Hohl said she notices how the indoor recesses wear on her young students.
"They have a lot of energy that's built up," Hohl said, trying to speak above the steady buzz of her students. "Usually an indoor recess isn't this loud."
Student Havyn Jerrell, calmly played "Hi-Ho! Cherry-O."
"At every other center, someone's fighting," Havyn said.
She said she is ready to get outside and play tether ball as soon as possible.
"Sometimes I feel, 'I need to go outside,'" said Havyn, who added she often plays on her trampoline while at home, even on cold days.
Kids need to get out
Getting outside for at least a little bit every day, even in the bitter cold, is necessary for children, said Rebecca Cohen, a mother of two and author of the upcoming book, "365 Days Outside: A Mother's Journey to Improve the Well-Being of her Family."
She lives in Gainesville, Va., about an hour outside Washington, D.C., with her two boys, Harmond, 7, and Warner, 5.
A recent cold snap has meant indoor recess for her sons, Cohen said.
"And I saw the impact of that when the kids got home," she said. "As soon as they got home, they'd bundle up and say, 'I'm playing outside, Mom.' "
One day last winter, they took a tray of watercolor paint outside and painted ice on the sidewalk.
"We walk the dog. We run around, play football, play soccer, play tag," Cohen said.
The key to having fun outside in cold weather — and more than half the battle of getting outside — is dressing appropriately, Cohen said.
She and her sons wear several layers, including non-cotton long underwear, waterproof snow pants, ear warmers and gloves that cinch around their wrists.
"It's all about getting over that hump of actually bundling up," she said. "Once you do walk outside and get moving, you feel good and you want to stay out there awhile."