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Heat Wave Prompts Call For Caution in Allowing Children Outdoor Play

Hot days and high temperatures prompt warning to early childhood teachers to keep children under age 5 indoors and find alternatives for gross-motor paly.  Summertime can pose extra safety risks to young children.  

Cape Girardeau, July 2012 - With a few happy screams, children took back outdoor play last week after a seemingly endless heat wave left Southeast Missouri.

During the past month, several area childcare providers say they've had to use extra caution when allowing children to spend time outside. Summertime can pose extra safety risks to children -- and especially susceptible to heat illnesses are those under age 5, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

"For us, it's almost like it's winter," said Julie Albertson, director of Community Day School and a consultant for its sister school, Christian School for the Young Years, both in Cape Girardeau. "We have been spending a lot more time inside when it's been dangerously hot."

In recent weeks, students at both schools spent a short time outside in the early mornings on the hottest days, and were allowed out in 10-minute increments with water given before and after, she said. Gross motor skill development of students was still a focus for teachers, although it's been done in classrooms through games and other activities instead.

Albertson said the centres, as state-licensed facilities, follow all regulations pertaining to safety during hot weather and staff additionally use a heat index chart, known as Child Care Weather Watch, when making decisions about how long children can spend outside in extreme temperatures.

Also keeping the kids inside recently was the University School for Young Children, assistant director Kacie Brumbaugh said. The centre frequently used its "gross motor room" for exercise during the heat wave and had a few extra "water days" in which children play in water tables, hoses and sprinklers at earlier times of day.

Jessica Belanger, director of preschool programmes at Centenary United Methodist Church, which has a fall-to-spring schedule, said even though the school is not open in summer that preparing staff for dealing with hot weather appropriately is still of importance because the temperature often goes above the 90-degree mark when sessions resume in August.

"I definitely have parents asking how long we are outside. They don't want their child out morning, noon and night. I wouldn't either," she said.

The school also uses its gym frequently during hot weather and has water play days, provides constant access to water and normally won't even take children outside if the heat index reaches the high 90s.

Licensed day care centres in Missouri are required to follow several regulations that apply to health and safety issues that can arise during summer care. The state does not, however, regulate the same safety in small-setting childcare offered in homes.

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