Traditional Play in a Fresh New Way
After school, the happy sound of children laughing and playing fills the air at parks throughout Miami. In dozens of parks that otherwise might be deserted, about 1,400 kids spend hours playing games like golf, tennis, softball, track, and soccer—and even trying sports like fishing. Most importantly, the kids playing are those who otherwise might be transfixed by a screen during those after-school hours. It’s all thanks to a Miami-Dade Parks' and Recreation program called Fit-to-Play: Health, Wellness, and Obesity Prevention Out-of-School Programs. Fit-to-Play is an evidence-based fitness and wellness program for children ages 6-14, combining physical activity with interactive learning to help children develop healthy lifestyles.
Each day's session begins with 30-45 minutes of homework help followed by SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids). An outcome-oriented active recreation component of the Out-of School program, SPARK is dedicated to improving the quantity and quality of physical activity for children, focusing on activities that develop and improve motor skills, movement knowledge, and social and personal skills.
With parental permission, Miami-Dade Parks will track key health indicators in children, such as blood pressure and body mass index (BMI), to assist parents and children in making good choices when it comes to fitness and nutrition. Upon completion of the programs, participants can review their fitness improvements from the year. The Fit-to-Play program also includes lifelong sports, team sports, wellness activities, enrichment activities, cultural arts, nature, and science programming. Kids in the program also take part in EmpowerMe 4 Life, a 12-session nutrition course that promotes healthy attitudes towards food and nutrition.
“It’s an outcome-oriented, performance-measured program and we can say with confidence and evidence that our program makes a difference; that our program helps to improve the health, wellness and fitness of children,” says Eric Hansen, Strategic Recreation Planner with Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department. “The program provides fun and active recreation activities, teaches good nutrition and introduces children to sports like golf, tennis and fishing that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.”
The program operates Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. Most of the parks are in close proximity to nearby schools, and for those parks that are not, transportation is available to pick up the children at certain nearby schools.
Fit-to-Play was established five years ago as a summer camp program. Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s national “Let’s Move” campaign, along with a partnership with the University of Miami UHealth System, the program was expanded to feature the Out-of-School Program, providing children with the opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle all year round.
Many of the children are able to attend Fit-to-Play for free because of The Children’s Trust. Partially funding the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department, the Children's Trust is a dedicated source of revenue established by voter referendum to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County.
By Tiffany Panza