Play with a Purpose: Showcasing the Boys & Girls Clubs of Saskatoon

Written by Desirea Weninger - Youth Engagement Consultant, SPRA

Do you want to provide a play focused after-school time period, while still focusing on quality? 

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Saskatoon have found keys to successfully managing this, and we will speak to them below. 

The Neighbourhood Club Programs are an After-School Time Period program offered from 3:30-5:30 pm Monday to Friday.  These free Clubs are strategically located in neighbourhoods where children and youth are faced with cultural, socio-economical, and personal barriers to play. Therefore, providing active, fun and safe opportunities for the kids to be kids is essential to their development.

Heidi Carl, Director of Programs states, “We ensure that kids get to play without restraint or responsibilities.  We are purposeful about planning for play. It [play] is the occupation of children, and many of our participants do not get to play outside of the clubs operating hours.”

The programming is “participant lead, not program fed,” states Heidi.  At the heart of this philosophy is an emphasis on understanding the communities in which they operate.  For instance, at one of the clubs participants have 5 minutes of recess at school, and are not engaged in any other form of physical activity outside of school.  In consideration of this, the programming emphasizes physical literacy and fundamental movement skills.  Thus, offering the participants experiences they would not have otherwise gained. 

Adapting to the ever-changing needs of any community can be challenging.  Focusing on these three areas, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Saskatoon are able to create a strong foundation on which to provide emergent programming.

1. Strong Front-Line Staff

“If we did not have engaging front-line staff, our programs would not succeed, nor would they be considered quality programs.  Kids need a Caring Adult.  Our staff have the biggest impact on our programs.  We provide them with HIGH FIVE®  Principles of Healthy Child Development training, which helps them provide safe, positive and quality programs” – Heidi Carl

By engaging staff with learning opportunities like HIGH FIVE and Fundamental Movement Skills, the Clubs are improving their “Human Capital.”  This is one of the shared areas for action indicated in the Multi-Sectoral Framework for Action on the After-School Time Period.  These trainings ensure that “staff and volunteers have the skills and knowledge to deliver effective after-school programming.”

2. Engaged Partnerships

“Our partnerships with the Saskatoon Public School Division, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and White Buffalo Youth Lodge are non-negotiable when it comes to our success.” – Heidi Carl

This inter-agency approach is emphasized as integral to promoting the holistic health of students in the Comprehensive School Community Health approach.  Through engaged partnerships, organizations can support student success in a “planned, integrated and holistic way.”

3. Ongoing Evaluation

“We evaluate our success by using the HIGH FIVE QUEST 2 Tool to measure our program quality.  We also measure observable and tangible results; these are the foundation to achieving our short-term and mid-term outcomes.”– Heidi Carl

In line with the desired “Principles of Operation” stated in the National Framework for Recreation in Canada, the Clubs are outcome driven and evidence based.  Toting HIGH FIVE as their quality assurance tool, they are actualizing on best practices emphasized in the National Framework.

By building a strong foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Saskatoon see the benefits of their hard work daily.  This is showcased in feedback received from parents and participants.

“I don’t know what I would do without this place” - Parent 

“There is a drive here to make the kids happy.  They care and are concerned about the kids.” – Parent

“The staff are awesome!  All of our friends come here.” – Participant

Without the club “I would have to walk home and not get to see my role models” – Participant

At the Clubs, role models are not only found in the Caring Adult staff, but also fostered in a purposeful way through a cultural leadership program, titled Youth Leading Youth.  It is run at 3 sites, and designed in a collaborative way with participants, Elders and Boys & Girls Clubs of Saskatoon Club Directors working together.  The goal is to give participants an opportunity to practice leadership skills, learn Aboriginal culture, participate in community service and ultimately help children and youth discover their cultural identity and take pride in it.

“Youth Leading Youth increases their development and focuses on leadership, self-confidence, integrity, commitment, creativity and cooperation.  All skills that children and youth can gain by attending a quality program” – Heidi Carl

Once again, Heidi highlights the hard work and dedication that goes into creating a program of integrity; one that participants can benefit from.  These invested and passionate staff members, supervisors and managers are not reactive, but proactive in their design and evaluation of programs, they understand why and how quality programs NEED to be delivered.  This ensures that a safe, fun and playful environment is achieved successfully.