During my second co-op term I was fortunate enough to be employed with the Washington Kids Foundation. The Washington Kids Foundation is a charitable organization focused on bringing physical literacy education to at-risk youth through partnerships with elementary and middle schools throughout the Lower Mainland.
Did you know that approximately 1 in 3 children in Canada between ages 5-17 are overweight (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2017)? As terrifying as this statistic was for me, it came as a great relief to find out that children who are aware of the connection between obesity and inactivity tend to increase their amount of physical activity without being prompted (Xu et al., 2017). Washington Kids Foundation aims to combat the challenges of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles by educating our youngest on the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
During after-school programs I was not only given the privilege of influencing the lifestyle decisions of the future generation, but being a role model for them. Managing groups of 20-30 children of the most energetic age (grades 1-3) was a step outside my comfort zone, but not a leap. As a lifeguard, I've had previous experience managing swimming lessons and having difficult conversations with the classroom rebels.
Working as a Physical Literacy Coach for the most part was by definition 'fun and games'. The experience did however involve certain difficult conversations with the children. Being classified as 'at risk' youth is in some sense arbitrary, but the behaviour that is passed off as acceptable in some of their minds needed to be addressed.
Overall this experience was extremely rewarding, as I could witness how much of a shift in perception on physical activity these programs caused. There were also numerous heartwarming moments that come naturally when working with the emotionally purest age groups whose intentions are always clear and concise. The signed drawings, hugs after not seeing me for a week, and words like 'I wish class wasn't over' made all the challenging aspects of working with kids worth it.