During the 2023 WinterKids Winter Games at Harrison Elementary School, snowpants, boots and coats did not stop Alyssa Stande, left, and Olivia Berry from showing off impressive front splits. “I just kept practicing them,” said Berry. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

HARRISON — If it’s January in Harrison, it’s WinterKids time. Harrison Elementary School’s 104 students are participating in the month-long outdoor education and activities program, presented by WinterKids of Westbrook.

HES students (grades three – six) are veterans of WinterKids Winter Games, having taken part for the last six years, however this winter’s “rookie class” includes 28 third graders.

The games started Jan. 8 with opening ceremonies and will conclude Feb. 8. Activities for the 16 participating schools are developed by the WinterKids Winter Games organization.

“Each week as a theme, and students participate in six activities,” said Rob Ripley, sixth-grade teacher and co-coordinator of WinterKids at the school. “Week 1 focuses on physical activity. The second week is spent learning nutrition: the categories of food based on their nutrition, the importance of Vitamin D from the sun and from food and how to make healthy trail mix snacks.

“Week 3 is about family engagement and includes an outdoor family night. And during Week 4 we have Winter Carnival. Among the activities are jump rope spelling, observing small patterns, breathing exercises, jumping grammar games, keeping track of how many times we greeted others during the week, obstacle/relay races, sledding, woods walking, fun treats, and scavenger hunt.”

Each student receives a toolkit to track their progress over the four-week period. The kits provide incentives to help kids earn points during the games, with a Learn Outside Guide that gives them ideas on how to move, learn and explore outdoors as part of their education.


“We kicked things off with a school wide assembly, where one of the [district’s] Outdoor Educators told students about all the awesome outdoor opportunities they have here in the Oxford Hills,” Ripley said in an email statement. “Like Robert’s Farm in Norway, where there is free snowshoeing and cross country skiing available.

“Students and staff then moved outside to make small things become big using our bodies. Each class worked to form the shape of a snowflake. Then, each snowflake came together to create a giant outline of a snowperson. Afterwards, students celebrated by enjoying extra recess-sledding and playing in the snow.”

Students at Harrison Elementary School during the 2024 WinterKids Winter Games opening ceremonies Jan. 8. Supplied photo

Statewide, $30,000 is distributed to all participating schools, with gold, silver and bronze medal prices of $5,000, $3,000 and $1,500 awarded to the school teams that accrue the most activity points.

“We use the prize money we earn to purchase outdoor winter equipment, such as sleds, and snow building materials,” Ripley said. “The funds are always spent on getting students outside, active, and having fun. Some of the funds also buy warmer weather items to use on the playground.”

According to HES staffers, third graders are usually the most eager to participate and help earn money for the school. For some, it’s their first introduction to different outdoor activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Older kids learn to build community as they work with the younger students to complete the different activities and relays.

Another benefit is that attendance during WinterKids spikes school wide during colder weather when winter doldrums can set in and set students back from participating in outdoor exercise.

“The purpose of WinterKids at Harrison is to bring students, families and our community together in order to embrace staying healthy and getting outside,” Ripley wrote. “Through fun, school wide activities we collaborate to enjoy the dreary winter months.

“It’s fun, promotes teamwork, and gives us all a reason to celebrate at the beginning of the new year every January.”

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