Every year, around the same time that kids head back to school, organizers of clubs, teams and recreational activities promote their activities to children and their parents. In Ottawa, families are fortunate to be bombarded by choices, but all the possibilities make it easy to get overwhelmed.
Recent studies have highlighted the benefits of after-school activities, says Robin Cloutier, director of recreation programs at the Dovercourt Recreation Association.
“We know that the hours of 3 to 6 p.m. are critical for influencing a child’s long-term health habits and believe that during these hours, children should be engaged in programs that promote physical activity, creativity, and healthy social relationships.”
Benefits for children who participate in recreation-based programs include improved cognitive thinking, emotional well-being, social skills, and physical health, and further, there are links between physical health and academic performance, Cloutier adds.
Need help deciding what your child should be involved in? Parenting Times talked to Ottawa parents about how they chose activities for their kids.
Who: Alexa Price
Why they chose acting: Alexa has wanted to be an actor and model since she was six years old, says her mother Stacey Price. When she was eight, her parents took her to a casting call with a talent agency. “Since then, she has been to many auditions, booked a principal role in a short film (and) appeared as background cast in two feature films. Her upcoming appearance is in a short film called Snow.”
Pros: Besides building confidence and allowing her to walk into a room of adults with poise and presence, acting helps Alexa’s speech, pronunciation, with communicating her feelings, thinking on her feet, and strengthens her reading skills, Price says.
Cons: The industry operates on short notice. “We find out about a role and most of the time have to be in either Montreal or Toronto the next day to attend the audition,” she says.
Who: Scarlett Little
Why they chose soccer: “It was a sport both my fiancé, Shaun and I played growing up,” says Scarlett’s mother Mariah Ferguson. “It was a sport we loved and wanted our little girl to try out too. As long as she’s interested in playing soccer, I’ll happily keep her in it.”
Pros: “She’s gaining social experience, learning new skills everyday, making friends and having fun.” It’s also reasonably priced. “For $40, she has 10 weeks enrolled in soccer where she gets a uniform, makes friends, and has fun burning energy outside.”
Who: Holly Samimi and Lucy Martin
Why they chose gymnastics: “Holly likes to run and climb,” says Holly’s mother, Sara Samimi. “It has allowed her to interact with other children on a regular basis (outside of daycare). It has taught her that she has to listen and abide by rules by other people. A big one for me is to see her happy and participating with other children.”
It helps kids to develop their overall strength, stability, flexibility and self-confidence, says Lucy’s mother Jasmin Mallory. “It also encourages them to push themselves past their comfort zones and beat their own personal bests.”
Benefits of participating in gymnastics: Gymnastics engages the entire body and increases mobility, flexibility, strength and balance, says Shawn “Bubbles” Jimmo, vice-president of operations for Starr Gymnastics & Fitness.
“Parents should consider gymnastics at an early age because it promotes gross and fine motor development which will create a more well-rounded athlete later, regardless of the sport the child chooses.
“Little ones who are involved in gymnastics tend to show more confidence on the playground and are more comfortable with natural human movements like swinging, jumping, landing and climbing.”
Physically, gymnasts are all-around athletes, Jimmo says. The sport works everything, including the cardiovascular system and large power muscles. “This is why it is considered such an important building block in a young athlete’s development,” he says.
“Most people consider the sport to be an individual pursuit, but the reality is that most of a gymnast’s time is spent training with other athletes.”
Who: Alice Fader
Why they chose music: Alice’s mother, Lindsay Fader, noted that Alice often sang along with the music in the car, so she enrolled Alice in a “music together” class. Instructors provided them with CDs with children’s music and a booklet of activities they can do at home. Each class focuses on finding the beats in the music pieces and moving to them.
The instructors also give the children time to explore different instruments. “Alice sings all day long now,” Fader says. “I love that she uses song to amuse herself and I find music in general and singing is very spirit lifting. Like a remedy for the soul, it keeps her happy.”
Who: Noella, Alexa and Clara Price
Why they chose dance: For Noella,12, Alexa, 9 and Clara, 3, dance runs in the family. Their mother, Stacey Price, was a dancer and the girls were enrolled as soon as they could walk. They participate in ballet, jazz, lyrical and contemporary dance.
A family history: “The girls’ dance teacher used to teach me many years ago,” says Price. “It is a way of life for our family and the studio is their second home.”
Who: Alivia and Aiden Jean-Louis
Why they chose swimming: Sheryl Jean-Louis enrolled Alivia, 3, and Aidan, 5, in swimming because she felt it was a great life skill, as well as an efficient cardio activity. “I felt like my children being strong swimmers was not only beneficial to them but also to others as they would be able to recognize a crisis and know how to respond.”
A family activity: “It’s not only fun for the children but also for adults. It’s great as lessons and as a family activity,” says Jean-Louis.
Remember that the most important aspect of any children’s program – regardless of the activity or the location – is the leader, says Cloutier. “If the people looking after your children are caring, friendly, and fun, then typically that is a good indication of a safe and supportive environment,” she says.
“If children are making friends and building effective relationships, then they will be more inclined to try new activities, feel included, and stay active and engaged.”