Children’s Movement Program celebrates 25 years of impact

When six-year-old Aidan Prentice swung from the ropes like a young Tarzan in pajamas, he likely wasn’t thinking about the useful life skills he was learning.

Overcome with a fierce determination to discover how long he could swing for on a single push, Prentice’s smile grew with pride and self-confidence each time he challenged himself and achieved a new personal best.

Coordinated by the Departments of Kinesiology and Brock Recreation and Youth, the Children’s Movement Program (CMP) has been inspiring hundreds of children like Prentice to learn through movement education from the moment they can walk. Last weekend, the program celebrated the end of its 25-year anniversary.

Among those in attendance was Celina Whittal (BPhEd ’11, BEd ’11), Prentice’s aunt. Whittal volunteered as a movement partner in her first year at Brock University and held various roles within CMP throughout her undergraduate career. Now she looks forward to attending CMP with her nephew, who has been enrolled since he was a year old.

“Aidan hasn’t developed an interest in a specific sport and loves the time he spends at CMP,” says Whittal. “One of the benefits of the program is that his learning is not compartmentalized like it might be if he was enrolled in a sport.”

Based on Brock’s movement education program, CMP incorporates problem-solving, social and decision-making skills into educational gymnastics, creative dance and developmental games that challenge children to be active and try new skills.

In addition, Whittal notes that her young nephew is “gaining an understanding of his body in a way that will help him one day transition into other sports, activities and life situations.”

At the time of the program’s inception, Brock was the only post-secondary institution in Canada that offered a degree with a comprehensive and explicit focus on movement education.

Inspired to make drastic changes to the existing physical education system, Andrea Wilson (BPhEd ’94, BEd ’96) partnered with Maureen Connolly, Professor of Kinesiology, to create the CMP pilot as part of her fourth year honours project in the Physical Education program. During the program’s development, current Director of Brock Recreation, Karen McAllister-Kenny (MEd ’97), assisted Wilson with the program’s design and continues to be one of its biggest champions today. CMP has remained almost completely unchanged since it was piloted in 1993.

The scene that unfolds during CMP is akin to a playground filled with cheers of joy, songs and the pitter-patter of tiny feet running about the gymnasium. To an unwitting bystander, it may appear like unstructured chaos amongst an eclectic array of gym equipment, but in reality, it is a thoughtfully constructed learning environment that prioritizes safety and individualized development.

“The organized activities they have help kids discover their physical abilities,” says Christina Zahaj (BPhEd ’11, BEd ’11), Assistant to the Registrar and CMP veteran. “It gives them a great foundation to learn their movement vocabulary.”

As a mother of two children enrolled in CMP, Zahaj notes how something as simple as watching her two-year-old daughter test her limitations and develop an unexpected fascination with the trampoline is a rewarding experience.

CMP provides a safe learning environment for children to develop fundamental movement skills through guided instruction. Each week, CMP student staff develop lesson plans with the mentorship and support of CMP Program Advisor, Ashley Johnson (BPhEd ’07, BEd ’08, MA ’10), and gain invaluable hands-on experience and research opportunities.

“I loved how CMP gave me a sense of belonging with likeminded people,” says Johnson of her time as a student involved in the program. “Now I have the opportunity to mentor students as a facilitator and get to watch their sense of self confidence grow.”

For Johnson, CMP changed the trajectory of her career in ways she never imagined and allowed her to find her place at the University. Her undergraduate involvement with CMP also influenced her master’s research, which explored the impact of a community-based program on children’s social development.

“As an undergraduate student I was planning on going into the profession of teaching in a traditional classroom setting within the education sector, ” says Johnson. “My involvement in CMP showed me that I could use my teaching skills and knowledge of quality lesson planning in community-based programs. Seeing the application of my degree in another sector and setting opened my eyes to other career options.”

Today, the program’s success and longevity can be traced to the deep bonds of its community, with Brock at its centre. CMP has come full circle after 25 years, with many of the program’s former student volunteers and staff returning to CMP as parents or relatives of child participants.

“I still recognize children I once instructed in CMP navigating their lives as young adults,” says Whittal.

Coincidentally, the DJ of her school’s dances was once a child in the CMP that she instructed.

During the fall program of 2019, CMP saw its highest enrolment of 189 children. The program will resume this September.

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