WINTERPORT — Students at the Leroy H. Smith School are going for gold in the sixth annual WinterKids Winter Games with the theme, “My Wild Winter.”

The school, which took third place last year and fourth in an earlier competition, is one of 16 elementary schools vying statewide on the program’s competitive track for cash prizes. Smith students kicked off four weeks of WinterKids outdoor fun and activities Monday, Jan. 9, with teachers Hillary Hoyt and Hannah Hotham as their coaches.

Smith School is the only Waldo County school taking part in the annual competition this year.

Smith School kindergarteners Will and Cooper practice their snowball throws Jan. 9. Courtesy of Hillary Hoyt and Hannah Hotham

 

The WinterKids competitive track calls for outdoor physical activity this week, a focus on nutrition during Week 2 (Jan. 16-20), family engagement in Week 3 (Jan. 23-27), and concludes with a winter carnival in Week 4 (Jan. 30-Feb. 3).

“We’re very excited about getting the kids outside and learning,” Hoyt told The Republican Journal in a phone interview Jan. 9. “We had our opening ceremony this morning where the whole school participated in a snow dance to start off our WinterKids challenge. Hannah made a video of that and submitted it. (The judges) will pick one school to win an extra point for that.”

Activities in coming weeks will include guest speakers on a variety of relevant topics, including a nutritionist coming in to speak and make smoothies with the kids.

Gabrielle, a Smith School third grader, holds up one of a pair of books she donated to the school’s WinterKids community clothing drive. Courtesy of Hillary Hoyt and Hannah Hotham

 

Other events include a community clothing drive, a food drive, and a family night “where the community will come out and be a big part of it.” The school’s parent group, Partners in Education, is helping to organize that event. “We’re really happy to get the community involved and excited about it,” Hoyt said.

In the final week, guest speakers will talk about birds, ice fishing, skiing — “a bunch of outdoor activities,” Hoyt said, with activities culminating in a winter carnival to celebrate the end of the 2023 program.

“We’re really hoping for gold this year,” Hoyt said.

First graders get excited during the Smith School’s opening ceremony snow dance Jan. 9. Courtesy of Hillary Hoyt and Hannah Hotham

In the statewide competition, the winning school will receive $5,000, the second will receive $3,000 and third place will receive $1,500 in school-wide prize ceremonies. All competitive schools will receive a cash prize based on how they finish.

All told, 3,000 children and 527 teachers will participate in the competitive track of the Winter Games for a chance to win cash, while an additional 7,000 students and 900 teachers will participate in the Play Along Track and receive incentives and a chance to win weekly prizes.

“We are thrilled to offer a fun, active way to engage all kids in outdoor learning throughout the winter,” Julie Mulkern, WinterKids executive director said in a press release. The program celebrates nature-based learning in winter through outdoor physical activity, nutrition, family engagement and winter carnivals.

Embracing outdoor learning helps to counteract the negative effects of excessive screen time — particularly for those in elementary school. WinterKids provides resources for both teachers and parents to get their kids outside and active. There is also a WinterKids Winter Games Facebook group for resource sharing, and downloadable activities on the organization’s website at winterkids.org.

After learning about the parts of a snowman, Smith School kindergarteners practice throwing snowballs at it Jan. 9. Courtesy of Hillary Hoyt and Hannah Hotham