By Stephanie W.
Many would consider recreation and physical activity as being part of some of their fondest memories growing up and over the summer months. For me, having grown up in a very rural community, recreation and sport opportunities were almost non-existent outside of the school atmosphere. Going back to work in this same community during the summer as the coordinator for a summer camp has been both interesting and sad to see how this is the only recreation program in the community that is being offered. Having this program themed around fishing it makes it difficult for the children who do not enjoy fishing. They have to either decide to come to the program anyways or not be involved in a camp or recreation activity during the summer months. Within the community there are also not any after-school programs offered for children. Due to this while I was in high school myself and a friend were able to start an after school program for children in Grades Kindergarten to 5. During this time children were able to have an hour after school to play games in the gym and also play some organized sports such as soccer or basketball. The children all loved it and were both happy to have something to be active at after-school, but also burn off some energy. After we had moved on from high school though, the program also ended. This is why I chose to dig deeper into why recreation programs are so crucial to youth development, especially in rural communities where there is usually less opportunity.
Within an article by Shores, Moore, and Yin (2010) this topic of physical activity and participation in rural communities was researched and discussed. During this study they looked at this idea from many different perspectives and how the lack of opportunity or access to these services affected the children in many different ways. One of the conclusions that they found was that youth in rural areas on average were less likely to participate in physical activity. One of the reasons they found for this was that children living in rural areas had less access to physical activity areas due to it not being within walking distance or not having access to them at all. In saying this, youth with the lowest participation rates in these types of activities, also had low levels of self-efficacy, social support, and poor access to activity areas. Factors such as self-efficacy and social support are so important to youth development and this article proves how the access to physical activity needs to be there so children and youth can take advantage and benefit from these opportunities.
From my own experience growing up in a rural community, once I was old enough in middle school to start playing sports, I jumped at the opportunity. Throughout middle and high school, my own self-efficacy and feeling of social support did begin to increase as well. Being able to choice what I wanted to be part of outside of school and to have people willing to help me in this and also support me through my activity had a very positive impact on my life. If I had of had these opportunities at a younger age, this might have helped me develop these skills earlier on as well. In saying this, some children my age did not like the competitive side of these school sports as well and having a more recreation version of sports or physical activity within our community would have gotten more children and youth out and being active within a safe and positive environment.
My suggestion to parents and people within the community would be to push for these types of programs. If no one shows the interest or need for recreation programs then the community will not put them in place. As seen above there are not only benefits to these programs, but there can also be major consequences to their development if these are not available to children. Within small communities even if there are not the funds to build recreation centers or create programs, there are always simple options. Having supervision in a free gym time during summer months or after school is both cost efficient and easy for people to organize. This would give children time to have fun, play sports or games, and also interact with both other children and older adults in the community to form positive relationships. As we have found in our class and I am sure many can speak from personal experience that having these basic resources can be so beneficial to children later on in life and also in personal development.
Shores, K. A., Moore, J. B., & Yin, Z. (December 07, 2010). An Examination of Triple Jeopardy in Rural Youth Physical Activity Participation. The Journal of Rural Health, 26,4, 352-360.