WinterKids is gearing up for its fourth annual Winter Games event in January 2021, where students across the state compete by participating in outdoor activities, winning prizes and earning bragging rights.

The nonprofit group with a mission to develop healthy, lifelong habits through fun outdoor winter activity provides resources for teachers and parents to get their kids outside and active.

Several Waldo County schools have registered to participate in the 2021 games, including Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, which will have three teachers and 56 students competing. Ames came in second in the 2019 games, narrowly defeated by Searsport Elementary School, which won the gold. Searsport Elementary will also be competing again in 2021, with three teachers and 73 students taking part.

Other county schools participating include Leroy H. Smith in Winterport, with two teachers and 40 students competing; Islesboro Central School, with one teacher and 30 students competing; Walker Elementary School in Liberty, with one teacher and 12 students participating; and Gladys Weymouth School in Morrill, with two homeschooled students participating.

Executive Director Julie Mulkern told The Republican Journal Dec. 16 that Waldo County has definitely made an impression in the competition. With its first- and second-place winners in the 2019 games, the county is considered a “superstar” in WinterKids circles, she said.

Because of the pandemic, this year's model is less of a competition and more of an effort to include everyone and make sure they are getting outside. "We weren't sure how it would go," Mulkern said, adding that there are approximately 6,000 kids participating in the event this year. That total is down from last January, when 7,332 students participated in the 2020 games.

"We have adapted the program to be inclusive of kids pre-K through eighth grade, both hybrid and remote, for this year. We have a few after-school programs participating, including a 4-H club, as well," she said.

In a typical year, Mulkern said, schools compete in four weeks of activity, and are judged on the level of participation by students. This year, the games are based on a playbook filled with activities designed to be administered by either teachers or families. The program is still academically aligned, but the activities just happen to be outside, she said.

Activities include a dance party or using your five senses outdoors, she said, with other activities having a "go further" option, with added participation points.

Each classroom and the students' families will participate in a four-week outdoor physical activity and nutrition challenge with a theme focused on resilience, community and inclusion from Jan. 11 to Feb. 5, 2021.

Families will receive the playbook to use at home and weekly incentives and prizes.  There is also a “Move, Learn, Explore” Facebook group for resource-sharing, and downloadable activities on the organization’s website.

“WinterKids has always thought ‘outside of the building,’ and this year is no different. With teachers, parents and superintendents taking steps to allow kids to learn in safe, fresh air settings in the midst of the pandemic, WinterKids is timelier than ever,” Mulkern said.

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