Kids helping kids
Aboriginal youth mentors
help children to be active
BY LIZ KATYNSKI
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012
How do you encourage children to
become more physically active? Dr. Joannie
Halas believes part of the answer involves
creating culturally relevant programs that
promote a holistic approach to overall health.
The Rec and Read program is a case in point.
Halas, Associate Dean of the Faculty of
Kinesiology and Recreation Management
at the University of Manitoba, started the
program 10 years ago as part of her research
into how to engage Aboriginal youth in
physical education and physical activity.
As a former school teacher, Halas knows
that a meaningful physical activity program
can be used to "connect" young people to
their school environments. But through
her research, she also knows that young
people aren't always as physically active as
they would like to be. In some cases, this is
because they have a tough time fitting into
the local community club or school sports
scene. In other cases, it's because they can't
afford the right equipment or clothing, or
because they just don't feel welcome.
"What we found out is that some
Aboriginal students weren't feeling connected
in their physical education programs. They
wanted to be more involved."
That's where Rec and Read comes into
play. As Halas explains, the after-school
physical activity, nutrition and education
program for students Grades 4 to 6 is based
on a circle of relationships. Students from
the U of M's Faculty of Kinesiology and
Recreation Management work with high
school students to create a program for the
younger children at a nearby early-years
school. "We call it a relationship-based
communal approach to youth mentoring
through physical activity. The university
students are working with the high school
students to run the after-school program,
and they are all learning from each other in
Together, they develop a program that
features games and healthy snacks, and
ensures all kids are able to participate.
This approach has two main benefits. First,
the program is better suited to the needs and
desires of the kids. Second, the structure of
the program means the university students,
many of whom will go on to become phys-ed
teachers, are learning how to work interculturally
with Aboriginal students.
The Aboriginal students, in turn, are
learning leadership skills that may lead to a
job or further education. That's important
because education and employment are two
key determinants of health.
In addition to encouraging kids to be
physically active, the program also promotes
cultural activities, such as sharing circles, as
well as opportunities for the older mentors
to read and play educational games that
promote literacy with the younger kids.
"Because they have been in the gym,
they build nice relationships through
play and laughter, then they sit down and
they do some reading one-on-one, and it
just reinforces a very holistic approach to
healthy development," she says. Since it was
launched, Rec and Read has been adopted by
20 schools and continues to engage hundreds
of children and youth each year.
Back to "Research for better health"
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the November / December 2012 issue of Wave