April starts the beginning of spring and with this beautiful season comes the warm weather and a chance to enjoy being outdoors with your family. Playing with your children outside and enjoying the sunshine is important in order to create a healthy relationship between you and your child. With so many activities being offered in Florida, especially here in Jacksonville, there seems to be no end to the fun ways you can spend time together.
Staying active is an important part of a child’s wellbeing, and finding time to play and laugh throughout the week is an essential part of their upbringing. Building a strong connection with your children will give you both a lasting relationship that will only get stronger as the years pass. Giving your child the utmost care and nurturing is a vital part of their lives, and has the greatest impact when started early in life.
When most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym on a treadmill, or lifting weights. But for kids, exercise means playing and being physically active. Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at dance class or soccer practice, while riding bikes, or when playing tag. Endurance, flexibility, and strength are three of the main areas of fitness that children should take part in daily. Endurance is developed when kids regularly engage in aerobic activity. During aerobic exercise, the heart beats faster and a person breathes harder. When done regularly and for extended periods of time, aerobic activity strengthens the heart and improves the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the cells throughout the body.
Aerobic exercise can be fun for both adults and kids. Examples of aerobic activities include: basketball, bicycling, ice-skating, inline skating, soccer, swimming, tennis, walking, jogging and running. Of course these activities may not be appropriate for all children because they may have special needs that keep them from being able to participate in certain activities. However, many counties have sports teams that are dedicated to supporting children with disabilities, which are located at the bottom of this article.
Finding the Right Activity for Your Child
Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist, founded Dancing Dreams, a ballet program for kids with physical and medical challenges in 2002. “Our program has some therapeutic benefit, but the bottom line is it’s fun,” she says.
The first step is asking around your neighborhood. Talk with other parents of kids with special needs, and check with your child’s doctors, teachers, and therapists. They’re often aware of available programs. See the list of resources below, too. Then do a little investigating to determine if the program is right for your child.
“Check out who’s teaching the program (not just the director, but instructors or coaches too) and find out their qualifications specific to working with a child with a disability,” says Joann Ferrara. “If your child has seizures or a trach, for example, make sure the teacher has some kind of medical training.”
The program should also be individualized, says Ferrara. “Every child has different needs. In my program, every move is adapted individually for each particular child. Everybody dances; they just dance in their own way.”
Once you’ve found a program, try it out. It may or may not work for your child and they may need to watch from the sidelines for a while before they’re comfortable joining in, and that’s fine. Many programs pair up child participants with a teen helper, which can be very motivating.
Leagues, Sports Programs, and Other Resources for Children with Physical Disabilities
DLC Nurse and Learn offers its students and residents in the area the ability to play on their adaptive playground. Unlike other playgrounds, this has special swings and equipment that can be used for children in wheelchairs. This makes playing more interactive for children of all abilities, regardless of their condition.
Regarding sports teams, please refer to this list of popular kids’ sports; click on any to read more about the sport, including suggestions for players with special needs. Or follow the links below to adaptive sports programs and leagues designed especially for children with special needs.
• Baseball: Miracle League, Little League Challenger Division
• Basketball: Upward Sports (not just for kids with special needs, but very welcoming)
• Cheerleading: The Sparkle Effect, Upward
• Flag football: Pop Warner Challenger Division, Upward
• Hockey: American Special Hockey
• Horseback riding: American Hippotherapy Association, Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International
• Multiple sports: Special Olympics, BlazeSports, KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now)
• Soccer: AYSO VIP Program, Upward, US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer
• The National Center for Physical Activity and Disability, which has a searchable listing of hundreds of adaptive sports programs and camps (tennis, fishing, SCUBA).
• PE Central, a resource for physical education teachers, which has a very handy collection of suggested adaptations for sports and activities.
About DLC Nurse and Learn
DLC Nurse & Learn is a nonprofit childcare center for children of all abilities. Children with Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Microcephaly, seizure disorders, g-tubes, apnea monitors and other special needs are welcome at DLC Nurse & Learn.
We have classrooms for infants – 5 year olds, including VP-K for 4 year olds. We also have after school programs for children up to 22 years of age. Scholarships are available for families that qualify. Our services include child care, preschool, extended day programs, registered nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, early intervention, developmental screening and low adult to child ratios for more one-on-one attention to individual goals for each child.
DLC provides an inclusion preschool environment for children with and without developmental delays where each child is taught at their own pace. DLC uses the Links to Literacy and Foundations for Success Curriculum’s. We are located on the Westside, but serve children all over Jacksonville and North East Florida. DLC Nurse & Learn offers a summer camp for school aged children. Contact us for more details and enrollment. DLC Nurse & Learn is also a “5 Star” Child Care Center, rated by Early Learning Coalition of Duval.