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SHELBYVILLE — When building a sand castle, it's important you have enough water.

“We thought wet sand would work better, but it doesn't,” said Kara Chambers, a first-grader at Main Street School in Shelbyville. “We're making a really big sand castle with a village (around it) and when we get back to school, we get ice cream.”

For the past few weeks, the children in the school have been learning about water safety and about the resources available nearby for family fun, like Lake Shelbyville and the beach that's only a few blocks from their school. Several of the children had never visited that beach, said Kendra Brewer, one of the teachers.

“During the past three weeks, the kids have been learning about beach and water safety through different activities,” Brewer said. “We started having lessons in PE class and today we got to come out and visit the beach.”

The students all had little buckets and made several trips into the lake to refill them.

“They've been really good about not going out too far,” Brewer said.

One activity was a relay race, in which the kids had to put on a life jacket properly, then race to the water and come back.

The key part of this race was getting the life jacket on properly, and the Army Corps of Engineers gave a presentation about the importance of choosing the right size life jacket and securing it. Life jacket stations are available around the beach area for visitors who need to borrow one, with several sizes to ensure a proper fit. There were also sunscreen stations that taught students the importance of proper protection from the sun.

Second-graders got a taste of geocaching, in which you use GPS to search for hidden items; and third grade learned about camping and hiking which, naturally, included roasting marshmallows.

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The hope is that taking the kids to the recreation area that's only minutes from many of their homes would encourage them and their families to visit the lake as a family, Brewer said. Outdoor time and family activities are not only healthy physically, but a great way to grow closer to loved ones, she said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been helping the school with the lessons, and rangers were on hand to give water safety demonstrations and oversee activities Friday. They also served as the judges for the sand castle competition, said Erica Nabers, park ranger.

Main Street Principal Ryan Scott said the idea came from a training session for school staff with Ed Lacheta of the Shelby County Mental Health Center.

“We've noticed a lot more mental health things in kids,” Scott said. “Suicide to depression to emotional breakdowns. He talked to us and gave us information about what he's seeing in Shelby County in adults and kids and shared some brain research with us.”

As recently as 20 years ago, the average family spent about four hours a day together, Scott said. Today, it's closer to 90 minutes, and much of that time is spent on chores or in front of screens, instead of talking to each other, he said.

Main Street's physical education teacher, Greg Harkin, approached Scott with the idea to use the nearby lake and beach as a way to encourage families to seek that interaction again.

“You don't know what you don't know,” Scott said. “You would assume most of our kids would have been to the lake, but only a third had ever been there. We have a lot of grandparents raising kids and single moms.”

The hope was, Scott said, that by getting kids excited about the lake and outdoor activities, they would inspire their families.

“Those times outdoors make great memories and when you sit around a campfire with your family, that creates that family unit bond,” Scott said. “That connectedness is really important in kids developing a sense of who they are.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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