Illustrated child jumps over a fence. The background has colorful surfaces.

I was born in the 1980s, which means that I started school in the 1990s, in the thick of the worst recession. When I’ve spoken with my friends who were born in the 1970s, we have realised that our experiences at school are significantly different. There were no after-school clubs for me and my classmates, no after-school activities led by familiar adults. I also can’t remember having met a school social worker, let alone a psychologist, at primary school.

Those who started school ten years before me remember all of these things. I’m baffled, and even a little jealous, when I hear their stories of the after-school sports, handicrafts and cooking clubs that the school’s adults ran for those who were interested. And they tell me that many were interested.

The recession came and went, but after-school clubs did not return

We got through the recession, and another period of economic prosperity started in Finland, but the after-school clubs never returned. That’s why I’m glad to see that the first implementation plan for the Child Strategy has a section on children’s hobbies and leisure activities. The aim of the Finnish model for leisure activities (harrastamisensuomenmalli.fi) is also to enable every child and young person to have a leisure activity in connection with the school day that they enjoy and one that is free of charge.

It should be noted that the implementation plan for the Child Strategy sees recreational activities and hobbies as important parts of children’s daily lives, and it also recognises the importance of stakeholders in recreational activities in promoting children’s rights and well-being.

Studies have shown the impact of exercise on well-being

It has long been recognised that participation in physical activities supports the overall well-being of children and young people. Sport is considered an effective mechanism in the positive development of young people. Sports-based programmes aimed at improving young people’s life skills have been found to be effective in a number of studies, especially in the context of vulnerable children and young people.

Recreational sports have great potential to provide young people with an environment in which they can participate in meaningful activities and gain positive experiences, support and respect. These experiences can counteract the negative experiences they may have in other social contexts, so sports can also be a great tool for working with vulnerable children (see e.g. icehearts.fi). Physical activities, per se, also bring well-being and health benefits. Physical activities can be used in accordance with the Current Care Guidelines (kaypahoito.fi, in Finnish) to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Good to see after-school clubs making a comeback

Children’s involvement in physical activities and hobbies have decreased during the Covid pandemic, which has resulted in both physical and mental problems. Now is the time for adults to spend time with children to encourage them to exercise, without any particular targets, amongst their friends in a carefree environment. Let’s invest in children’s well-being by introducing more exercise into their everyday lives.

After-school clubs, welcome back!

 

References

  • Appelqvist-Schmidlechner K, Haavanlammi M, Kekkonen M. (2021) Benefits and underlying mechanisms of organized sport participation on mental health among socially vulnerable boys. A qualitative study on parents’ perspective in the sport-based Icehearts programme, Sport in Society, DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2021.1996348
  • Appelqvist-Schmidlechner K, Kekkonen M, Wessman J, Sarparanta T. (2017). Jääsydämet. Icehearts-toiminnassa aloittavien lasten psykososiaalinen hyvinvointi ja arviot toiminnan vaikuttavuudesta yhden vuoden seurannassa. Report 6 / 2017. Helsinki: Juvenes Print. https://www.julkari.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/135153/URN_ISBN_978-952-302-892-0.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  • Fuller R et al. (2004). Positive youth development: Minority male participation in a sport-based afterschool program in an urban environment. Research Quarterly Exercise and Sport 84, 469-482.
  • Haudenhuyse, R.P. Theeboom, M., Nols, Z. (2013). Sport-based interventions for socially vulnerable youth: Toward well-defined interventions with easy-to-follow outcomes? International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48, 471-484.
  • Haudenhuyse, RP., Theeboom, M., Skille, EA. (2014). Toward understanding the potential of sports-based practices for socially vulnerable youth. Sport in Society 17, 139-156.
  • Hermens, N., Super, S., Verkooijen, K.T., Koelen, M.A. (2017). A systematic review of life skill development through sports programs serving socially vulnerable youth. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 88 (4), 408-424. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2017.1355527
  • Ho F et al. (2017). A sports-based youth development program, teen mental health and physical fitness: An RCT. Pediatrics 140 (4).
  • Holt, NL. (2008). Positive youth development through Sport. Routledge: London. Jones G et al. (2017). An integrative review of sport-based youth development literature, Sport Soc 1, 161-179.

 

 

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