Before- and Afterschool Programming

July 1, 2012, Department, by Kellie May

 Before- and afterschool programs allow a unique opportunity for educators to encourage recreation and healthy, fun activities for their paticipants.Recently, stakeholders from several disciplines came together at the Weight of the Nation Conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to discuss the rising obesity epidemic. Several ideas were presented to reduce rising obesity rates. Many of these ideas can be found in the recent report “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention,” published by the Institute of Medicine. Park and recreation agencies were identified at the conference as leaders in fighting the obesity epidemic due to their ability to help increase physical activity levels of children by delivering programs which improve their overall health.

Specifically, park and recreation agencies have a unique opportunity to provide programs that help children increase their physical activity levels and improve nutrition in before/afterschool programs. Quality before/afterschool programs are critical because they provide much needed opportunities for growth, learning, and fun. Children who participate are in a safe environment where they can do a variety of activities, including study, exercise, and learn. Below are five innovative programs that highlight unique partnerships and activities in before/afterschool programs at park and recreation agencies across the country.

Henderson, Nevada
Henderson, Nevada (a growing community of 270,000 located in the Las Vegas area), began addressing obesity and improving physical activity of residents with the development of the “Healthy Henderson” program in 2003.  Specifically, they have implemented a program known as “Safekey,” which is part of CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health). This is a partnership between the city and the Southern Nevada Health District.

The program features a combination of holding educational sessions on nutrition, serving healthy snacks, and providing 30 minutes of physical activity. Children increase their physical activity through play, burn calories, increase their metabolism, and are encouraged to make good nutritional choices. Since the program was incorporated in August 2011, over four million minutes of physical activity have been completed, eliminating over 1,515 pounds of fat. One child lost over 13 pounds.    

San Clemente, California
The City of San Clemente, California, has a unique afterschool program, “Fun on the Run,” which is a free mobile recreation program that travels to neighborhood parks in the city, providing an unlimited amount of activities and sports to children ages 4 to 11. The truck is equipped with sports equipment, board games, jump ropes, hula-hoops, arts and crafts, and much more. Every month there are visits from various community partners including the Orange County Sheriff Department, firemen, lifeguards, and the Orange County Health Department. These organizations visit the sites to empower kids with the knowledge to make healthy choices. Program staff lead and conduct games, crafts, and various sports. Aiming to teach the community’s children about living healthy lives and making good decisions, staff teach the participants about the importance of eating healthy, staying active, and the benefits of following the USDA dietary guidelines.

Along with mobile recreation, Fun on the Run supports an elementary school sports program, Goal Zone Sports. Goal Zone Sports is a low-cost sports program that allows kids in grades 1 through 5 to learn a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer, and flag football. The program emphasizes skill development, proper nutrition and health, and fun. Children are taught the value of exercise, good sportsmanship, and how to “eat like an athlete” while measuring their fitness level. Their progress is measured through the collection of daily food logs and the assessment of their body mass index (BMI). The information is shared with parents and schools in hopes that the knowledge will equip them to better serve the needs of their children.                    

Madison, Wisconsin
In Madison, Wisconsin, Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) has an afterschool program called The Healthy Self program which began in 2003 in collaboration with the Group Health Cooperative, which funds the program, and Madison Metropolitan School District school nurses.  The program teaches elementary school children the benefits of good nutrition and physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.  The Healthy Self Program is incorporated into MSCR’s Safe Haven afterschool program at Emerson, Glendale, and Falk Elementary schools and at the Allied Learning Center.

Healthy Self participants participate weekly during their afterschool program in nutrition education activities, cooking, and fun fitness activities.  Each year, MSCR staff organize Healthy Self family nights to share this critical information with parents and other family members.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Last year, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation piloted “Youth Councils" at four afterschool programs.  A mentor met with the youth councils every other week to discuss nutrition, physical activity, and healthy lifestyles with the children.  Once the children on the council learned the lesson/activity, they then taught it to the other children in the program.

As an example, one of the lessons revolved around screen time.  The children on the youth council were asked to estimate how much screen time they had in a day.  As they were sharing their answers, even they were surprised by the amount of screen time indicated.  They discussed the consequences of too much screen time and healthy alternatives. The Youth Council kids then conducted the same survey and discussion with the other children in the program.   

The children have learned how to make healthy snacks, read nutrition labels, and play new games to stay active. For the 2012-13 afterschool program, Philadelphia will expand the youth councils to 25 sites who will meet with a leader on a weekly basis.

Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln, Nebraska, developed Fitness Totes for their afterschool programs.  Each tote focuses on a different fitness component.  The three fitness components focused on are muscular flexibility, muscular strength and endurance, and cardiovascular endurance.  The Fitness Totes were designed to be easy for staff to pull out and have all the materials and equipment for fitness circuits.  The fitness circuits were intended to be a fast, easy, and a healthy alternative to TV and gaming in the early mornings and late afternoon times in before/afterschool and summer programs.  

Parks and recreation agencies are playing an essential role in providing before/afterschool programs for children to engage in healthy physical activity and improve their overall health. With the growing obesity epidemic, this essential service cannot be overlooked and agencies must continue to improve and enhance their before/afterschool programs with innovative programming ideas.

Learn more about NRPA’s health and wellness programs.