Keeping children active after school can be a challenge. Signing them up for an after-school program can have both health and social benefits.
“After-school programs offer a different experience for a child’s social and academic aptitude development,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, MD and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics, McGill University and Associate Faculty Member, 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 the tendency to sit in front of a computer screen. As Roumeliotis points out, “screen time is directly correlated to childhood obesity rates.”
Lack of outdoor activity, the element of overprotective parents and computer screen-time are concerns for Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at CHEO. “Our research suggests that activity levels are down, and fitness levels are down,” says Tremblay. “What’s up are rates of obesity and childhood mental health issues.” He says that good after-school programs can be a big benefit. “There are plenty of options available,” says Tremblay. “Find one that has good activity levels and other opportunities to explore and learn. It’s also a way for children to learn how to socialize.” He also believes in unstructured playtime. “I know parents are concerned about the perceived dangers of going to the park to play, but more lurings and abductions happen over the Internet.” Most parents report their neighbourhoods as safe and if children can get out and explore nature, so much the better.
“We have math literacy and reading literacy,” says Allana LeBlanc PhD, knowledge manager at ParticipACTION, “so why not physical literacy?” She suggests that enrolling your child in an after-school program is a good way to achieve ‘physical literacy.’ LeBlanc says that children need at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity a day. “Learning a new activity leads to 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.” LeBlanc, who did her PhD at CHEO, agrees with Tremblay: “Anything that can keep your child away from a computer screen or the cookie jar is a good thing.”
For more information and research on children’s health visit http://drpaul.com/ . Dr. Mark Tremblay’s research can be accessed at www.haloresearch.ca. To find out how to get physically active, visit at www.participation.com.