Roving recess: Community van helps kids with structured playtime in pandemic

  • Amherst schoolchildren, from left, Alexander Shepard, 8, and James Moore, 10, and James’ sisters Liv and Arya, both 7, play a game of bean bag toss led by Anna Steadman of the Amherst Recreation Department, right, during a lunchtime stop by the “Recess Van” at Butternut Farm apartments in Amherst on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • LEFT: Arya Moore, 7, of Amherst, plays a game of four square.


  • Lauren Hadorn, left, and Anna Steadman of the Amherst Recreation Department return play gear to the “Recess Van” after a stop Wednesday at Butternut Farm apartments. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • James Moore, 10, of Amherst, plays a game of bean bag toss during a lunchtime stop by the “Recess Van” at Butternut Farm apartments in Amherst on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alexander Shepard, left, 8, and Liv Moore, 7, of Amherst play a game of four square during a lunchtime stop by the “Recess Van” at Butternut Farm apartments in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING


  • Mary Klaes, president of the Amherst Hurricane Boosters, talks with sisters Liv and Arya Moore, both 7 and of Amherst, during a stop by the “Recess Van” at Butternut Farm apartments in Amherst on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2021

AMHERST — Bouncing a large rubber ball between markings on the pavement, twin 7-year-old sisters Arya and Liv Moore tried to get the best of each other and their competitors playing four square.

On an adjacent lawn at Butternut Farm Apartments, as other children made chalk art on the asphalt, their older brother, James, 10, tossed bean bags into cornhole boards.

The activities this week are part of a pilot program known as the Community Recess Van, which is helping children and families have a structured playtime outside their mostly virtual and remote classes. The program runs weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

“I thought it was good,” said James, as the recess began winding down. “There was a lot of equipment and a lot of it was fun.”

His younger siblings agreed. Both Liv and Arya said they enjoyed playing four square and tossing bean bags.

The three-week initiative is being supported by a $2,500 Meet the Moment grant from the VELA Education Fund awarded to the Amherst Hurricane Boosters by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. It is open to all students ages 6 to 12 in the community who are being home-schooled, as well as those learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary G. Klaes, president of the boosters, applied for the money, and then worked with Amherst Recreation Sports Director Nicholas Walas to have college interns driving the van and bringing hula hoops and balls, as well as plenty of hand sanitizer and prizes, to the five sites where the schools are already delivering meals to students.

Klaes said the program can replicate recess that children have been missing for the past several months, and also address their social, emotional and economic well-being in a positive way.

“I figured this would be good to get to develop relationships with kids while they are young and hope to develop community spirit,” Klaes said.

The van stops by Amherst Regional Middle School Mondays, Mill River Recreation Area Tuesdays, Butternut Farm Wednesdays, The Boulders Apartments Thursdays and Groff Park Fridays.

Some, like Butternut, have more limited space, while other locations have athletic fields children where can play kickball, sharks and minnows —   a game of tag — and spud, where the children catch the ball when their number is called.

There is also a virtual component to the Meet the Moment grant. This will be a YouTube video of exercise workouts, aimed at students in grades 4 to 8, being created by Cedric Gonnet, a local coach and motivational speaker.

Lisa Moore, whose children attend Crocker Farm School, said she appreciates the new program, and as a fitness teacher sees the benefits of having her children get moving and see their peers.

“Being around other people — it’s really hard to have that safely now,” Moore said.

Moore said she also hopes it will help with the remote learning. “Each day this continues it gets more difficult to have them engaged,” Moore said, noting that her daughters have just three half-hour sessions of live class daily.

Renata Shepard said she dropped by with her son Alexander, 8, a second grader at Crocker Farm. She has signed him up for whatever programs have been available in town, including soccer and basketball.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Shepard said of the program. “The more of these we can have the better.”

Amherst Recreation Director Barb Bilz was happy to help out. “It’s a great collaboration and we are excited to be a part of it,” Bilz said.

Anna Steadman, a UMass sophomore interning for Amherst Recreation, said the daily opportunity seems to be appealing. “Kids are just glad to be outside and to play with each other,” Steadman said.

“Hopefully the numbers grow as we continue this,” said Lauren Hadorn, a UMass junior. Hadorn said she hopes children enjoy the types of games and understand they will change daily depending on which site they are at.

Erin Klaes, a freshman at Springfield College and Mary Klaes’ daughter, is also assisting. “Kids don’t want to leave,” she said.

When they do depart, though, they often will get small prizes. Liv was handed a Rubik’s Cube that she could bring home and immediately began playing with it.

Mary Klaes, observing the goings-on, said it is inspiring to see children have some normalcy.

“It’s amazing to see the difference in kids and how much it means to them,” she said.