It seems to be getting harder and harder to keep children active and healthy. Combine the demands of schoolwork with the endless array of digital entertainment available, and there seems to be very little reason for kids to leave the house! Thankfully, there are community-based organizations that still offer activities and programs interesting enough to draw kids out, and encourage them to get active, socialize, have fun, and even enjoy the outdoors. YMCAs lead the charge in this field. Everywhere in North America and elsewhere, YMCAs continue to offer successful programs with a wide variety of fun, educational experiences. Running the gamut from arts and crafts to sports, summer camps and family fitness classes, YMCA programs promote healthier, happier kids. The categories below represent the full array of children and youth-oriented options available at your nearest YMCA.
Arts and Humanities
YMCAs make an effort to celebrate diversity and all areas of the arts. Whether it is promoting cuisine, crafts, literature or theater, the YMCA’s arts and humanities programs foster cultural diversity and self-expression. Kids are encouraged to develop confidence and self-awareness while they learn about different kinds of creative expression and develop their talents.
In this category, although activities differ between various YMCAs, the general kinds of classes and activities include the following:
Arts and Crafts:
Children are taught to develop creative and social skills as they learn to express themselves through visual arts and handicrafts.
One way to help children get ahead in life is to provide them with opportunities to learn a second language (and even more). Most YMCAs offer foreign language classes, in a fun and age-appropriate learning environment.
Music, dance, and theater are magnificent outlets for creativity and expression. In addition, they also promote the development of secondary benefits such as increased discipline and mental acuity.
Science and Nature:
The principles of physical and natural sciences are taught through hands-on activities that encourage children to get to grips with the world around them and fully understand how the concepts and principles they learn are manifested around them.
Summer Youth Programs and Camps
YMCAs set up extensive summer programs to not only help kids to keep stimulated and busy, but also to realize their potential while developing skills that will continue to be beneficial to them throughout their lives. The programs on offer include both activities coordinated onsite at the YMCA, as well as camps that enable kids to enjoy the beauty of nature at nearby outdoor attractions.
Summer Classes and Activities:
Usually divided into age groups, summer activity programs such as ‘Summer Power’ and ‘Summer Uproar’ (comprehensive educational adventure programs run by several YMCAs) create opportunities for children to learn and discover through classes, fun activities, and field trips. These are described as experience-based enrichment programs designed to supplement and refresh the school curriculum during the summer break.
A variety of camps are offered, varying in number and focus depending on the location of the YMCA. Day camps, night camps, teen wilderness camps, family camps, holiday-themed camps, and more, all with the intent of helping kids to experience the joys of nature while picking up vital skills and forging friendships.
Many YMCAs also strive to nurture young leaders, offering the guidance and support they need to start developing their identities and talents. Mostly aimed at teens and college students, YMCA leadership programs are committed to helping young people to plant strong roots for their future success. The programs offered range from Youth in Government to opportunities for internships and job experience. One highlight is the Boys Outdoor Leadership Development and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development (BOLD/GOLD), which gives teenagers valuable development opportunities through participation in outdoor challenges and activities.
Adaptive Programs for the Differently Abled
YMCAs often offer health and exercise programs specifically for people with disabilities. The aim is to provide positive recreational experiences through which each participant’s abilities and individuality can be expressed, social skills can be developed and healthy minds, bodies, and spirits are promoted. These include events such as the Young Athletes Program, an innovative sports program that allows children aged two to seven years, with or without intellectual disabilities, to participate in the world of sports.
Family Fitness Programs
Aside from organizing health programs aimed specifically at kids, YMCAs also encourage families to train together. This is a great occasion for bonding, as family members encourage and support one another in living a healthy lifestyle. All exercise classes are open to families, including strength, cardio, yoga, and water exercise. Families can also participate in camps and various sporting competitions.
Sports and Exercise Programs
At the core of the YMCA’s health and wellness initiatives are its many sports and exercise programs. Kids can choose the sport that fits them best and then participate in classes that develop their skills, as well as leagues that enable them to compete with their peers. Depending on the facilities available at each club, sports offerings can include the following:
- Baseball, softball, and T-ball
- CycleHealth Adventure Racing
- Flag football
- Floor hockey
- Martial arts
- Special Olympics
- Track and field
The classes provide the fundamentals of each sporting code in a safe, supportive environment, gradually elevating the kids’ skills levels. The leagues allow the application of skills, develop teamwork, and strategic thinking, as well as healthy, sportsmanlike competition. Sports clinics allow newcomers to test out a new sport before committing to it.
Kids may not necessarily want to take part in a competitive sport but still want to exercise. In this case, they have a wealth of options available to them. They can either use the equipment available and work out on their own steam and according to their own schedules, or they can choose from the available classes. The benefits of exercise are not purely physical. Exercising regularly also improves mental focus, mood, and emotional regulation.
Focus on Swimming
One of the key activities that both kids and adults can enjoy at their local YMCA is swimming. Most YMCAs have swim teams, which enable children and teens to work with trained coaches to improve their swimming form, develop endurance and foster a healthy lifestyle, all as they work towards competitions with their fellow members and outside swim teams.
Children don’t need to take part in a competitive swimming program if they prefer not to; they can also simply enjoy swimming as an exercise that offers a world of benefits. Swimming is an unbelievably multi-beneficial activity, a complete workout in a single exercise. A focused, sustained swimming session undertaken regularly will improve cardiovascular health while supporting strong muscle tone, fat loss, and good emotional health. It is a relaxing and peaceful form of exercise that exerts no major pressure on bones and joints, alleviates stress, improves coordination, balance, and posture, enhances flexibility, provides low-impact therapy for some injuries, and exercises all major muscle groups simultaneously. Another beautiful thing about swimming is that you can start the activity at any age. It’s great for adults and children alike, but the younger you are when you start, the earlier you can start to enjoy its health benefits, which have been shown to have links with increased longevity.
Considering the benefits of swimming, it makes sense to take part in the activity as often and as much as possible. This means that YMCAs with indoor pools are the best option. Some older YMCAs still run outdoor pools, which means that aquatic activities are available for only half the year – even less than that in some cases. It is best to find a club where a transparent enclosure, complete with a retractable roof, has been built around the pool. This enables year-round swimming, with excellent climate control and ventilation, in an environment that can adapt to both an outdoor and indoor feel, as required.
Complete Developmental Program
Taken together, the children’s activities offered by the YMCA form a complete developmental program, offering the following:
- It promotes good physical and mental health,
- It supplements and clarifies school curricula, and
- It promotes cultural learning, leadership skills, and social abilities.
Enrolling children in one or more of these programs will certainly help in promoting not only health and happiness, but also in developing tomorrow’s leaders.
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OpenAire supports YMCAs through the construction of these maintenance-free retractable roof systems that keep pools and activities going all year round. Among the YMCAs that we have built state-of-the-art enclosures for are the following:
- Woodruff YMCA in Milford, Connecticut,
- McGrath YMCA in Spring Valley, California,
- Copley-Price YMCA, San Diego, California, and
- Clark County YMCA in Vancouver, Washington.