After school children’s programming in Toronto is a scarcity

20070900 149 Orr in after school activity

Image by Eilam Gil via Flickr

When Toronto’s Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services organized summer programming in the northwest end of the city a few years ago, they took the kids on a trip to the Toronto islands. Many of them had never been there, and some didn’t know our city sat on the edge of a large lake. Doorsteps also arranged for bike donations so that the children could explore their own neighbourhood more widely.

“Children and adolescents may be especially influenced by their immediate surroundings, as they are more likely than adults to spend the majority of their time in their local surroundings,” writes Margo Jackson and Amy Hsin, then doctoral students in UCLA’s sociology department in a 2006 study.

“Neighbourhoods affect children’s opportunities, activities and achievement.” Jackson and Hsin also described how, if mothers described their neighbourhoods as safe, children were more likely to be healthy and active in their leisure time. This perception had a stronger association with children’s level of activity than the simple availability of programs, even.

Social Planning Toronto researchers worked with a coalition called Middle Years Matters a few years ago to map out the after-school opportunities grade-school aged children have in Toronto. The study found a wide gap between what’s available and what’s needed. Less than ten per cent of kids in the city are served through a formal children’s programme.

Many were appalled by these findings. According to the Coalition,

The middle childhood years are a critical period in the lives of

children.  This is the time when children develop the important skills

which help them make the transition from the early years into

adolescence.  It is a time when they begin to develop more resilience

and self-confidence and begin to move from the close supervision of

parents, teachers and other care givers towards the greater

independence that comes in their teenage years.

After school programs play a key role in helping children make these

transitions.  High quality programs give children a range of new

opportunities for play and learning that they may not have at home or

in the classroom.  Most important, quality out-of-school-time programs

provide supervised care that ensures that children are safe while out

of the home and school.

While the Social Planning study could not track what other children, outside formal programming, were doing after school, some American studies have found, in descending order, a range of other activities from informal care and social visiting; shopping and other commercial activities; government programs; and religious education.

So this summer, the Middle Years Matters Coalition is working with the Children’s Services Division of the City of Toronto to do a similar assessment of local children. To do this, they are

  • Implementing an electronic survey to parents across Toronto to find out what their needs are in this area.
  • Holding focus groups with parents to examine their needs in this area more deeply.
  • Supporting the City of Toronto to develop a database that can be used by parents and service providers to access information about such programs in Toronto.

To complete the Middle Years survey, parents may access it here.

The findings will be used to develop a Middle Childhood Strategy for the City.

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