Children are always learning and developing through the environment around them. In my experience, a student’s development and behaviour is supported and affected by 80% of the environment. When we provide opportunities for play and exploration, children of all ages can develop their learning and cognitive or ‘thought processing’ skills. Holiday programmes facilitate this kind of development through the structured and non-structured activities or games that are played.
Here are a few examples of how activities that might be utilised at a holiday programme can support child development. The skills below are especially important to strengthen through the primary and intermediate school years. Creating opportunities for students to enhance their skills can play an essential role in consolidating skills and knowledge.
Non-structured activities (free time) can be used to extend a child’s problem-solving and lateral thinking skills, such as when they are building structures out of Lego or K’nex, jigsaw puzzles and board games. Set up workstations with art and craft materials (paint, pompoms, sticks, sand for example), it encourages creativity, fine motor skills and sensory input.
Structured activities are those you have scheduled into the programme and also benefit students to develop their ‘executive functioning’ which is one’s ability to plan, sequence and problem-solve to complete tasks.
Group activities are also fantastic for holiday programmes as they provide opportunities for social and creative development where children are able to strengthen their skills to work together and co-operate or share ideas.
Outdoor play and sports are great for students to run around after school and get moving. As we know, movement is essential for developing body strength, brain integration and coordination.
It’s always good to be aware of those students who may shy away from sports or physical activities at school. After working with a range of students in the past 10 years, I've found that children around 6 / 7 years of age all the way up until intermediate school can be very aware and self-conscious of whether they are ‘good at sports’ or not.
I’ve worked with many students who are more comfortable playing with tablets and electronics, or watching TV after school rather than to get outdoors or ‘play’ in an age-appropriate way. Holiday or after school programmes can be instrumental in providing opportunities to engage with outdoor activities and sports equipment. A student can strengthen their ball skills (catching / throwing / dribbling a basketball for example) and develop endurance and stamina or learn to play in a team.
As you can see, there are many opportunities to have an impact on students’ learning and development within holiday and after-school programmes. The above are only a few examples of how these programmes can provide more than just entertainment or childcare. As a parent and an occupational therapist, I know that I would be willing to send my children to holiday programmes/after-school programmes that have an impact on my child’s development and that encourage students to strengthen their weaknesses, and consolidate their strengths through play and fun!
Christina Patching Occupational Therapist, BSc (OT), NZROT Child Assessment & Therapy / Focus on Potential Ltd