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A new plan for Hamilton school kids to play, not sit at recess

A $9,000 grant from a kids-focused charitable foundation from the Goodlife Fitness chain of fitness gyms will fund new equipment for kids to use during recess at four Hamilton schools.

An 'active recess' program launches in four elementary schools in Hamilton today

Organizers of an "active recess" program in Hamilton hope to teach new games and break down social barriers for kids during their recess time. Monday, a Goodlife gym instructor taught a demonstration Zumba class at Pauline Johnson Elementary School. (Courtesy of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Foundation)

Elementary kids will dance in a Zumba class around lunchtime Monday at Pauline Johnson Elementary School on the Mountain.

And organizers of a new "active recess" initiative hope they won't stop.

A $9,000 grant from a kids-focused charitable foundation from the Goodlife Fitness chain of fitness gyms will fund new equipment for kids to use during recess at four Hamilton schools. The others are Roxborough Park, Chedoke and Hess Street Junior Public School.

The program is rooted in all the same statistics parents are hearing about their kids: They're more sedentary, they're becoming obese and their health is impacted. 

So the program hopes to not-so-subtly suggest more active options for kids during their free time at recess. 

"We want to bring back fun and games," said Julie Densham, the foundation development officer at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Foundation, the district's non-profit charity that fundraises in the private sector and business community to bring new opportunities to schools. 

Organizers also hope to break down social barriers. The foundation chose schools for this program using a couple of factors, including proximity to a Goodlife branch.

Some schools need a financial boost to provide more equipment outside for kids to play with at recess -- soccer kits, hula hoops, rubber chickens and parachutes for relay games. Other schools are noticing problems with kids bonding with their peers, or groups of kids not getting along. 

Through a similar program in Niagara, "conflicts were decreased, behaviours were decreased," said Densham, who joined the HWDSB Foundation last year after working at the Niaraga district's foundation. 

That experience echoes the findings in a Brock University study of an active recess program. Child and Youth Studies professor Lauren McNamara noticed news articles about schools keeping their physical education equipment locked up during recess for fears of liability. McNamara launched a program to not just provide balls and games, but also to train older kids, parent volunteers and staff to guide kids to the new options at recess.

That involvement with intermediate students, parents and staff is expected to be a part of the Hamilton program, too. Beyond the Zumba demonstration today, there aren't plans yet for Goodlife instructors to come back to the schools to teach, but Densham said that kind of partnership may grow between the gyms and the schools.

The active recess program goes hand-in-hand with nutrition efforts in schools. Schools that confront the whole picture of a child's health will notice the impact in the classroom, too, Densham said. 

Ask any teacher who's had to supervise kids during a rained-out or snowed-out indoor recess: Kids having fun and blowing off some steam at recess are less squirrelly when the bell rings to go back inside. "We know they're going to learn better," Densham said.

Densham said another four schools are expected to launch an "active recess" program soon, funded by a grant from Meridian Credit Union.

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