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Play, then eat

One reason to have recess unstructured is to let children have time for social interaction. From left are Kassandra Yang, Olivia Faller, Kayla Lanigan and Lia Snyder. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)1 / 3
"Strawberry shortcake, blueberry pie ... " a rhyming song is sung by children twirling the jump rope. They count how many times the jumper can go without missing. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)2 / 3
Sydney Gardner eats her school lunch of spaghetti. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)3 / 3

Unlike other School District 833 elementary schools, Cottage Grove sends kids out to recess for 20 minutes before lunch.

"They are so eager to get out and play," said Beth Sprouls, Cottage Grove Elementary School, playground monitor last Thursday on one of the only days to get above freezing so far this year. "But they do that even when it's really cold."

Sprouls, Amy Stanton and Tricia Back watch to see that all goes well on the playground.

Principal Carl Aegler said he monitors the weather to determine whether kids will go outside to play. The rule is that they go out if it's above zero degrees, he said, factoring in wind chill.

"They need to exercise and yell a little," he said. "It's noticeable if they've been inside for several days. There are no organized games and there shouldn't be.

If children are not outside, there are games to play in the pod areas outside their classrooms.

Teachers are at lunch when students are at recess. During the last 10 minutes of their students' 20-minute lunch period, teachers join the children. Students also volunteer to wash tables and help clean up.

Other schools have 15 minutes for lunch followed by 15 minutes of recess.

Aegler said it's healthier for the child to exercise before lunch. "They take more time to eat and aren't as concerned about hurrying to get outside," he said.

Teacher Cathy O'Brien, who has taught at other schools where recess comes after lunch, said the Cottage Grove lunchroom is actually quieter if kids come directly from recess rather than the other way around.

The women who work in the school kitchen said most children are very hungry when they come in.

"When they hear the whistle on the playground, they come running," said Back, who works on the playground and in the lunchroom.

One might think the children would be sleepy after lunch but teacher Tim Hall said that's not the case with his second-grade class. "They are ready to go after lunch," he said, "sometimes too much so."

Third-grader Tyler Katzenmaier likes recess before lunch. He's concerned he might get an upset stomach if he ate lunch first.

Students Jake Gjevre, Manley Merchlewicz and Alex Coutu agree but Ryan Davis said he'd like to eat lunch first.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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