Free2BMe– Motor Skill Development for Children with Disabilities

The Cause

Founded by Dr. Robert Steadward in 1978, The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement (TSC) is an internationally acclaimed disability research Centre supporting the sport and fitness goals of people experiencing disability with effective, research-based sport, physical activity, and athlete development programs that promote health and well-being.

In 2005, with the generous support of community partners, TSC opened its doors to children and youth experiencing disability. The program, now known as Free2BMe Physical Activity for Kids and Teens with Disabilities, quickly filled a much needed gap in our community—providing quality physical activity and sport programming for children and youth living with physical, sensory and developmental impairments. The Free2BMe program aims to empower kids and teens experiencing disability to: be more physically active, fit and healthy; feel good about themselves; experience success; have fun doing ‘kid things’; enjoy more independence.

Through Free2BMe, we currently offer two types of one-on-one programming: half-hour play-based programs for our younger participants and one-hour fitness (strength and conditioning) sessions aimed at teens. However, we have recognized a gap in our own service—we have several participants that have expressed a desire to engage in a one hour session, but are more interested in play-based programming rather than engaging in a regimented fitness program.

Therefore, our project intends to build on the success of the Free2BMe program by bridging the gap between our two existing one-on-one programs. We are aiming to offer a newly formatted session that will better meet the needs of many of our participants: hour long play-based, motor skill development sessions for children and youth. The weekly sessions will be offered in fall of 2017 and winter of 2018, and will be designed to build the confidence and skills to master any movement goal through play-based games and activities. These 60 minute, individual sessions will target goals identified by the participants and can include anything from stair climbing, to skateboarding, to wheeling up a steep ramp. Often, children and youth with impairments do not follow a ‘typical’ trajectory around physical activity participation. We believe that all individuals should be provided with the opportunity to make choices regarding their physical activity engagement regardless of age, something which is often limited within the community.

Who Will it Benefit?

This idea will benefit children living with physical, sensory, developmental, and intellectual impairments across Edmonton, Alberta. Annually, Free2BMe serves approximately 460 children and youth living with impairment. Support from the Field Law Community Program Fund will provide our children and youth participants with an opportunity to choose from a variety of programming formats and continue on their physical literacy journey toward lifelong participation in physical activity, sport, and recreation in a safe and fun environment.

Community-based sport programs are often competitive in nature and less likely to support the individual needs of children experiencing disability. In addition, grassroots programs aimed specifically at children with disabilities are often multi-sport—therefore moving rapidly from one sport to the next, and do not allow enough time for children to hone their skills in a specific sport or activity. By offering weekly one-on-one, hour long programming, during 10 week sessions, our participants will be afforded the opportunity to work on individualized and meaningful physical activity goals. We anticipate that we will have 10 registrants in both the fall and winter sessions—for a total of 20 additional Free2BMe participants, engaged in a combined 200 hours of individualized programming.

This project will also benefit up to 10 practicum students by providing them with experiential learning opportunities. Through practicum placements within the Centre, students will have the opportunity to take on an instructor role in one-on-one sessions. Students will learn how to assess fundamental movement skills, design individualized programs to meet participant needs, and create positive environments in which children of all abilities can flourish and work toward their physical activity goals. Students may be working toward becoming Adapted Physical Activity Consultants, Recreation and Leisure Practitioners, Recreation Therapists, Exercise Specialists, or Teachers, and will be well prepared to engage with children of varying abilities, within their respective communities.