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Yorkville parents push for district-wide kindergarten recess

Children play on one of the playgrounds late afternoon Wednesday, May 15 at Circle Center Grade School in Yorkville.
Children play on one of the playgrounds late afternoon Wednesday, May 15 at Circle Center Grade School in Yorkville.

YORKVILLE – Heather Willman of Yorkville began to realize early in the school year that kindergarteners in Yorkville School District 115 did not have recess during their school day.

Willman said she and three other parents of students within Circle Center Elementary school – Jennie Collins, Stephanie Modaff and Andrea Otto-Classon – all volunteer in the classroom and started to notice their children losing their fervor for learning as the academic year wore on. She said she and the parents have had several meetings with school and district administration throughout the year which resulted in some compromises, including recess once per week at just Circle Center.

“But, in our opinion as parents, it was a very slow change,” Willman said.

Willman's comments come after all four parents voiced their concerns about the district's lack of kindergarten recess during the April 29 Yorkville School District 115 Board of Education meeting. The parents also talked about how unstructured play affects child development, like improving independent problem-solving skills and fostering creativity.

After school board members showed support for kindergarten recess conceptually during the April 29 meeting, Superintendent Tim Shimp said school officials are supportive of kindergarten recess. He said unstructured play time is great for kids to socialize in a controlled environment during the school day and it's a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.

“It’s just a matter of where we put it during the day,” Shimp said.

Shimp said the district is looking at the current kindergarten curriculum and considering what can be done down the road. For example, he said, school officials are looking to see if it would be possible for the district to provide either an extended day or full day experience and evaluate options of how kindergarten recess could be worked in.

Shimp said the challenge also lies in how school officials bring that kind of consistency across the district so kids at all grade schools have an equitable experience.

“It’s not something we can do overnight,” Shimp said.

Willman said bringing up this issue isn't meant to be a dig at district administration and, despite her concerns, she thinks the teachers at Circle Center are doing a phenomenal job at educating kids. She said she and the other parents understand everybody’s hands are tied at the district level and daily recess for kindergarteners is not that simple to reinstate, especially for half-day programs like Yorkville's, but she said it’s simple to understand how the lack of recess could affect young children.

Willman said the development of the brain hasn't changed but the workload has, and the parents involved in the talks with administration are concerned about how more workload affects students mentally with anxiety and depression becoming more apparent in younger children.

“The academic push is too hard,” Willman said.

Gina Isabelli, principal for Circle Center Grade School, said the school started implementing a 15 minute weekly recess on alternating days of the week right after spring break. She said she has been in the district for 10 years and there hasn't been kindergarten recess during that time, which is pretty typical for half-day kindergarten programs.

Isabelli said she and the school's kindergarten teachers haven't really heard any direct reaction from parents regarding the weekly recess after notices were sent home. However, she said, it's been well-received by the kids and they're even aware of which days the weekly recess fall on.

"They seem excited about it and they look forward to it," Isabelli said.

Isabelli said another thing a few kindergarten teachers at the school implemented as a compromise starting after winter break is "Morning Bins," where children have 15 minutes at the beginning of each school day to play, create and socialize with their classmates instead of doing independent worksheets right off the bat. From what she's observed, she said, it's been a really seamless way for the kindergartners to ease into the day.

“That’s gone really well," Isabelli said. "The kids have fun with each other.”

Willman said she was disappointed to learn that the weekly recess was only at Circle Center and not district-wide, but she said she ultimately believes the district's been moving in the right direction. She said she and the other concerned parents believe there needs to be more movement to have daily kindergarten recess be implemented sooner.

It’s too late for her and the other parents' kids, Willman said, but she'd like to see more momentum before the Class of 2032 comes in.

“We’d hate to see those children lose their passion for learning,” Willman said.

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