Virtual After School Programs: Keeping Kids Active, Even Online

“I wish things could just go back to normal.”

There’s no doubt that you’ve heard this phrase often muttered in the last few months; perhaps even from your own mouth, your partner’s, or your child’s.

It’s true that Americans have had to adapt to a “new normal” during the Coronavirus pandemic. Businesses, workplaces, and schools are implementing stringent safety protocols and virtual tools so people can continue to work and learn during this challenging time.

Just like other entities, after school programs are innovating creative alternatives for after school enrichment. Kids are likely to be negatively affected by the loss of in-person interaction with peers and teachers or after school program leaders. Now, more than ever, educators have to plan ahead to seamlessly integrate virtual resources into afterschool programming to keep kids active and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Why Are After School Programs So Important?

Families in communities across the country rely on the afterschool industry as an essential resource for childcare and education. After school programs help keep kids safe, active, and involved with both physical and mental benefits.

Benefits of After School Programs

Children who participate in After School programs receive innumerable benefits, both physically and mentally. After school activities are an excellent way for kids to learn about teamwork, friendship, and the importance of physical fitness.

Physical Health

Many Out-of-School programs incorporate physical fitness into their daily curriculum. Whether it’s free time outdoors or a specially designed activity or game for kids, there is a vast array of improvements made on enhancing children’s health and wellness through daily physical exercise. This includes:

  • Improved endurance and flexibility
  • Improved motor skills
  • Improved hand-eye coordination and reaction time
  • Improved dexterity
  • Reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, childhood obesity, and other life-threatening illnesses

Mental Health

On top of the improvements to their physical well-being, children also gain an impressive amount of mental health benefits from exercise in after school programs. Exercise-oriented After School programs improve children’s mental health by:

  • Promoting healthy habits
  • Increasing communication and teamwork skills
  • Creating a consistent routine
  • Building confidence
  • Improving social and emotional skills

These days, especially being stuck at home for extended periods of time, children and teens are at incredibly high risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. After School programs that emphasize physical activity help reduce the prevalence of physical and mental illnesses in kids.

Incorporating Virtual Learning Into Your After School Program

With the pandemic impacting how schools and programs operate, a lot of curriculum is moving online. While the quick adoption of new technology is impressive, there’s a greater risk for kids to lose out on the benefits of physical activity during virtual learning.

It can be challenging to envision how kids can actually incorporate exercise into virtual learning environments, but there are many ways to encourage at-home physical fitness for children in After School programs.

1. Take Regular Movement Breaks

One of the most significant losses for After School Instructors is the absence of wide open spaces for children to move in. Unfortunately, kids probably have limited mobility within the confines of their home, so it’s essential to incorporate regular movement breaks into programs.

Jumping jacks, running in place, push ups, or other exercises that only involve a limited amount of space are easy to implement between other online games and activities. Plus, having kids get up and away from the computer for a little bit can reduce the negative health impacts of too much screen time.

2. Implement New Activities

It’s troubling to think about all of the things kids are losing out on without in-person programs. Children and teens rely on these programs to see friends, receive mentorship, and have structured time for exercise.

With many programs quickly going virtual, After School Programmers might think they have to cut out regular After School activities. However, there are many engaging After School programs and lessons available to incorporate into the online classroom.

Virtual physical activity programs are an easy way for After School Instructors to implement fitness into an online setting. The virtual activity should seamlessly translate between instructor and student and provide a variety of fun, holistic physical activity lessons. When looking for a new activity or game for your program, look for an online program that is:

  • Easy to install (“Click N’ Play” model)
  • Easy to understand and explain
  • Instructor-led with opportunities for student-centered learning
  • Easily incorporated into every day curriculum
  • Allows for continuous learning even after the online session has ended

3. Encourage Individual Outdoor Play

The CDC’s guidelines recommend that children ages 6 to 17 incorporate at least one hour of physical activity into their daily schedule, but that’s difficult to achieve when kids are stuck in quarantine.

It’s vital that instructors and parents work together to encourage individual outdoor activities for students, while still following social distancing recommendations. When kids lose out on opportunities for physical fitness, they are at a higher risk for serious and debilitating diseases later on in life like diabetes and heart issues.

Students might be tempted to stay inside and play video games or go on social media all day. These behaviors lead to childhood obesity, depression, and other health issues. Parents have a responsibility to ensure that children receive adequate daily exercise when after school programs are virtual.

Challenges of Virtual After School Programs

Teachers can attest, it is not easy to keep a large group of children under control. Now, more parents are experiencing the difficulties of childhood education within their own homes. Implementings virtual learning into an after school program is not going to go without its own set of challenges for educators and parents.

Coordinating any number of young kids is difficult. Add a little technology into the mix and there is sure to be an adjustment period for instructors and students. Some challenges instructors might experience include:

  • Technical difficulties
  • Slow loading times or connectivity
  • Students lacking adequate technology
  • Unruly students
  • Interruptions in their house or a students
  • A lack of engagement or attention from students

Before starting a new virtual after school program, familiarize yourself with the technology and brainstorm activities to keep kids engaged and moving. Children will be much more likely to participate in a program that runs smoothly because that’s way more fun than watching a teacher struggle for ten minutes before even starting an activity.Encouraging children to get out and exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic can be a challenge. Instructors of after school programs are implementing online activities into their virtual learning curriculum. There are tons of opportunities to get creative with your online offerings for after school activity participants. Use virtual learning tools to keep kids engaged and active until we can eventually go back to “normal.”

About the Author

Sandy Slade is the CEO & Founder of Skillastics®, the #1 large group physical activity resource. Skillastics® makes it easy to organize, motivate, and engage students to move, learn, and love it. Skillastics® is an innovative technique of play designed around an oversize mat where up to 100 children can play at one time. There are 13 different Skillastics® Activity Kit themes, ranging from general fitness, sport skill development, character enhancement, and academic integration, including STEM and nutrition. The newest layer of Skillastics® resources includes 30-Day Virtual Physical Activity programs, including Fitness, Martial Arts, and Yoga.

Skillastics® is enjoyed by over 10 million students in more than 25,000 Physical Education and After School settings nationwide.

For more information, email info@skillastics.com or check out www.skillastics.com.

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