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Keep winter's frigid chill off children

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By the time parents in Greater Grand Forks dropped off their children at day care Thursday, the temperature was minus 11 with 20 mph gusts creating a wind chill of minus 38 below, according to the National Weather Service.

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The bitter cold takes away a lot of outdoor play for children and toddlers.

Most local day cares follow a "Child Care Weather Watch," a chart developed with a federal grant by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The chart lists conditions to guide decisions to whether children should play outdoors:

- Condition Green: comfortable.

- Condition Yellow: providers should observe children for signs of being too hot or too cold.

- Condition Red: children should not play outdoors because of health risks.

"Children really are more susceptible to hypothermia," said Dr. Joe Shelton, a pediatrician at Altru Health System. "Their imbalance of body mass and surface area increases heat loss and their bodies don't regenerate heat as quickly as adults."

The Child Care Weather Watch chart indicates 30 degrees as chilly, 15 to 30 degrees as cold and 0 to 15 degrees as very cold. When wind chill is factored in, temperatures need to be in the teens to be above Condition Red.

Lena Underhill, director of Great Expectations Child Care in East Grand Forks, has a simpler rule for her staff and the 40 children they care for daily, some as young as 16 months.

"If it's too cold and windy for us, it's too cold and windy for them," Underhill said. "We have an alphabet exercise workout video they all get into."

"We're real fortunate to have a lot of space," said Kathy Aase, administrative assistant at United Day Care in Grand Forks, which cares for 77 children daily. "We have a gym, climbing structures and a room for them to ride Big Wheels."

Nick Olek, preschool supervisor at All About Kids in Grand Forks, said if the temperature gets above zero, some children, depending on their age group, will get some fresh air for about five minutes.

"We have games where the kids keep the ball up in the air and relay races down the halls," Olek said.

While day care keeps them warm and indoors, Dr. Shelton has some tips for keeping them warm before they go out the door.

nAdequately feed them.

- Make sure toddlers are dry, whether in diapers or pull-ups.

- If children walk to school, consider a cream on their face to reduce chapping. Dress them in loose, well-fitting multiple layers of clothing including snow pants, mittens and boots.

- Warm the vehicle interior or bring the car seat or booster indoors before putting the children in. Layers of clothing can impede the security of safety straps and seat belts.

- Keep children hydrated.

James R. Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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