MISSOULA - Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, adult volunteers from around Missoula join public school children at recess.
The volunteers are part of a program called Midday Move, which is in partnership with Missoula Parks and Recreation, Missoula City-County Public Health Department and the Missoula YMCA.
The program is funded and supported by the United Way of Missoula County.
“If we can start that, that love of recess, that love of exercise, it will follow through that child’s life as they grow older and become much more healthy adults," said United Way of Missoula County Director of Impact Eric Legvold.
Midday Move is part of an initiative called 5-1-2-0 Lets Move Missoula which aims to inspire healthier living in Missoula by reminding people to eat five fruits and vegetables, limit screen time to two hours, engage in one hour of physical activity and consume zero sweetened beverages every day.
Having volunteers at recess ensures that kids are exercising during their outdoor time. This way, their goal for 60 minutes of physical activity a day can be completed before the kids get home from school.
“An active, healthy child is a mentally active child as well," Legvold says.
Volunteers bring toys and games provided by Parks and Recreation and the YMCA.
Most volunteers are University of Montana students, but can be anyone from Missoula who completes the background check and training. The background check costs about $8, and the training involves a short video and two in-person trainings.
The volunteers have just as much fun as the kids.
“I really love spending time with the kids and helping them get active," Joshua Croyle, volunteer supervisor for Midday Move, says. "I feel like I need this just as much as the kids do, like I sit at my desk all day, and I’ve got all this pent-up energy."
Midday Move is currently happening at Hawthorne, Russell and Lowell Elementary Schools, but they hope to include all Missoula Public Elementary Schools in the future, according to Peggy Schmidt, coordinator of 5-1-2-0 Let's Move Missoula.
Russell Elementary School Principal Peter Halloran says he has noticed a positive change in his students since the beginning of Midday Move.
“Number one we see fewer disciplinary issues, which is huge for us, because the worst thing you want is kids coming off the playground, you know, arguing about something that happened and a rule of a game and then it cuts into instructional time, and it spills over into the classroom environment," he says.
Midday Move started originally as Morning Move prior to the pandemic. It worked much the same, but volunteers came to engage with kids in the morning, rather than at recess time.
The volunteers are able to engage with kids that may have otherwise been left out.
“So what we try to do is basically get the wallflowers, so to speak," said Missoula Parks and Recreation Midday Move volunteer coordinator Joseph O'Brien. "So if you have kids that are kind of hanging out by the fences, doing some more chatting, we try to engage them, making sure that they know that the recess time is an inclusive environment, that everyone is able to engage in."
Overall, a great recess equates to great learning.
“Getting kids active for an hour a day, it makes them more attentive, it lowers behavior issues, when they come back to class they’re a little bit more engaged a little more ready to learn, having gotten the wiggles out a little bit," O'Brien says.
Midday Move is looking for more volunteers to be able to reach more kids. If you are interested in volunteering, email email@example.com for more information.
You can also help Midday Move by donating monetarily through United Way of Missoula County. Use their portal to health campaigns here, then add a flag for 5-1-2-0 Let's Move Missoula and leaving a comment for Midday Move.