When parents work full-time and can’t pick up their children right after school, there are a variety of benefits to signing them up for an after-school program.
“After-school programs offer a different experience for a child’s social and academic aptitude development,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, adjunct professor of pediatrics at McGill University and associate faculty member at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
“This supervised milieu allows children to play safely in a less structured environment. In fact, the highest number of injuries occur immediately after school and before dinner – likely due to no supervision at home.”
After-school programs also reduce or eliminate time spent in front of a computer screen. “Screen time is directly correlated to childhood obesity rates,” says Roumeliotis.
And lack of outdoor activity, overprotective parents and excessive screen time are serious concerns for Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at CHEO.
“We see in our research that activity levels are down and fitness levels are down,” says Tremblay. “Sadly, what’s up are rates of obesity and childhood mental health issues.”
He says quality after-school programs can offer huge benefits. Parents should find out what is available and what is potentially interesting for their child. “Find one that has good activity levels and other opportunities to explore and learn,” says Tremblay.
“It’s also a way for children to learn how to socialize.”
He also spoke about the advantages of unstructured play time. “I know parents are concerned about the perceived dangers of going to the park with the neighbourhood kids to kick around a soccer ball. But more lurings and abductions happen over the Internet.”
Most parents report their neighbourhoods are safe, and if children can get out and explore nature, he says, so much the better.
Meanwhile, Allana LeBlanc, PhD and knowledge manager at ParticipACTION, spoke about the importance of “physical literacy.”
“If enrolling your child in an after-school program that has a good level of activity is an option, then do it.”
She says children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity a day. “Learning how to play volleyball, or soccer can help lead to even more involvement,” she says. “And learning something new, whether it’s kicking a ball or a new craft, is great for a child’s self-esteem.
“Anything that can keep your child away from a computer screen or the cookie jar is a good thing.”
For more information on children’s health, visit drpaul.com. Dr. Mark Tremblay’s research is available at www.haloresearch.ca, and find out more about how to get physically active at www.participation.com.