Free Play for All: Universal access to sports, recreation & arts for all Edmonton youth after school.

As mayor, Michael Oshry would build a universal, city-wide Free Play and After-School program, in partnership with nonprofits and charities, local school boards, and other orders of government. This would benefit Edmonton families in many ways:

  • Ensures access to sports, recreation and arts programming for all Edmonton youth (crucial for physical and mental health)
  • Free after-school care/programming takes strain off of families with limited income and allows parents to work full-time
  • Allows older siblings to play, grow and be kids, rather than playing a caregiving role to younger siblings
  • Helps break the intergenerational cycle of poverty by freeing parents to pursue more job opportunities and helping kids grow up happier and healthier, while developing their social skills

This is an ambitious plan, but it’s highly achievable. Here’s how we’ll do it:

  • Build on the successful model used by Free Play for Kids, a local nonprofit organization
  • Make City-funded recreation facilities free for everyone 18 and under from 3:30-5:30 every school day, with supervised programming run by qualified/certified staff
  • Provide free transportation by bus from Edmonton’s 100 highest-need schools to the nearest recreation facility (50 buses picking up from two schools each)
  • Collaborate with a coalition of local helping organizations, school boards and other orders of government to add after-school and weekend programming at schools themselves and at community leagues, over time
  • Provide initial funding by reallocating part of Edmonton’s existing Citizen Services budget (no increase in tax levels is necessary)
  • Obtain funding to continue and expand the program by working with other government bodies and organizations (e.g. the federal government’s upcoming National Child-Care Program)

Michael Oshry quotes:

“I believe that universal access to sports, recreation and arts programming for young people is the most important investment in the mental and physical well-being of our next generation. This is a tangible way to combat poverty with existing resources and a mandate the City of Edmonton already has. We can start making a difference with some immediate action.”

“Homelessness, poverty, substance abuse and many crimes are rooted in social issues that can be prevented with significant investments in the physical and mental health of our children and youth. I am talking about a fundamental change in how we view access to recreation that will have a generational impact on our city.”

“Every person in our city experiencing homelessness or living in poverty is there because the system let them down. For every person who gets help, another person continues to struggle. We have a choice to make. We can keep doing the same things over and over and watch the cycle repeat itself, or we can try to turn off the tap. We do this by investing in kids, all kids.”

“We can make life better immediately for kids and families living in poverty by reallocating and redirecting City resources to this program. Doing so will provide the proof of concept, and a made-in-Edmonton solution that will be ready-made for the Province and Ottawa to step up and support. We’ll be ready for them to bring partners and resources to the table through the national child care program as it comes on stream.”  

Tim Adams quote (Executive Director, Free Play for Kids):

“This strategy will be a game changer for many thousands of Edmonton kids. Kids need to be safe after school. They need love. They need places that are inclusive and inviting. They need places where they can make a best friend, meet a role model and talk about the hard stuff. Sadly, there’s a lot of hard stuff. The great part is that there are very easy ways to help! By getting all kids access to high quality programs and great staff we can see huge change, not just with our kids, but to whole families, schools, communities and the city. “

For further reading on the benefits of recreation access for children:

 

  1. Benefits of recreation on focus, school performance, and overall health, among others: https://www.apa.org/monitor/mar01/afterschool
  2. Benefits of recreation on youth social and mental health: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281925673_Variations_in_adolescent_engagement_in_sports_and_its_influence_on_positive_youth_development 
  3. Benefits of more regular recreation for children’s school performance and health: https://sedl.org/pubs/sedl-letter/v20n02/afterschool_findings.html 
  4. Benefits of child-care access for children: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/news/2021/04/budget-2021-a-canada-wide-early-learning-and-child-care-plan.html
  5. Interesting information from RBC program: https://www.rbc.com/community-social-impact/youth/index.html 
  6. American study on the benefits of after-school programs: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED499113.pdf