Getting Children & Youth Off the Sidelines and Into the Game

Finding Accessible Sports, Activities and Recreation in Your Community

February 2021
By: Emily Shaw  

February is National Therapeutic Recreation Awareness Month first beginning in 1996, by the Canadian Recreation Association (CTRA). 

KidsAbility’s Recreation Therapists work with children to focus on helping children develop skills to participate in community recreation. Megan Shirley, a Recreation Therapist at KidsAbility, says, “We work with families to help them access all the great programs and supports available in our community so that all of our clients have the opportunity to participate in the sports and activities that they are interested in trying. We also work with community recreation providers to provide training and support so that when our clients are ready for the community, the community is also ready for our clients. And we gather and share information to help our families find the right programs and support for their child.”

Children often have memories of going for a bike ride with their family, playing at the beach, camping, playing in the snow, and summer camp. Shirley says, “I love that I get to help out clients access opportunities to make memories like these.”

Therapeutic recreation symbols: a weight, collection of hands, KidsAbility butterfly, artist's brush and a heart

7 Ways in which Recreational Therapy Benefits Children, Youth and Families:

  1. Learning new skills
  2. Making friends
  3. Increasing self-confidence and self-esteem
  4. Increased independence
  5. Reducing stress
  6. Experiencing feelings of competence
  7. Overall improved quality of life
Shirley adds, “Therapeutic Recreation focuses both on removing barriers so that individuals with disabilities can experience these benefits, and also on using recreation as a tool to work on therapy goals.  Stretching is more fun in a karate class.  Range of motion exercises are more fun when you are practicing your swim strokes.  Kids often don’t know that they’re practicing their fine motor skills when they’re at art camp.” 

The role of Recreational Therapists in the community is important to breaking down barriers. So much so, that Shirley considers the community to be a client of KidsAbility’s services as well.

“We are not recreation providers, so it is imperative that we work closely with our community recreation providers to ensure that they have the skills, knowledge, and resources to provide quality, inclusive programs for our families,” she says.

KidsAbility also offers Find Your Passion events that can include the whole family.

“Introducing caregivers and siblings to adapted sports is a great way for the family to participate together.  Able-bodied kids can play wheelchair basketball with their siblings.  The whole family can get out on the ice in sledges to try sledge hockey.  In tennis, a wheelchair user can play against a standing player,” Shirley says.

Children and youth of all abilities are pictured participating in a gym playing wheelchair basketball

Children and youth of all abilities participate in a Sports Experience Day event hosted by KidsAbility's Recreation Therapists to introduce different types of accessible recreation activities. 


Shirley is focused on helping children find their passion, helping them discover a team that gives them a sense of belonging, the sport that helps them feel fit and capable, and the activity that brings them joy.

She tells a story of when KidsAbility was hosting a Find Your Passion PD Day for their clients and their siblings. She remembers a brother and sister were playing with the sport wheelchairs, racing up and down the gym.

“For the first time, our client, who has cerebral palsy, beat her little brother in a race. It was such a little moment, but such a big deal for her.”

Shirley mentions another time when a camper was attending their Arts Express partnership camp, who experienced anxiety, and other challenges. They brought in additional supports through their Autism program and worked hard to help him succeed.

“We not only managed to keep him at camp and with his group for the whole week, but we got him onto the stage for the final performance in front of family and friends, including his very proud and surprised mother.  He found his way to the front of the stage, and his smile just beamed through the entire performance.  His mom, in tears, told us afterward that he hadn’t smiled much in the last few years.”

Some activities that work best to help children meet their goals are swimming and biking. With the pandemic, it can be harder to find activities that will work at home, KidsAbility is here to help.

“Right now everyone’s leisure lifestyle looks a lot different than it did a year ago, but there are always options and creative solutions for children and youth to access the activities they love.  We have some great equipment available for loan to help kids get outside and enjoy activities like skating or winter trail walks.”


KidsAbility is here to help.

We have many resources, supports, information and equipment to help get your child or youth off the sidelines and into the game!

Photo of Emily Shaw a journalism student at Conestoga College who is completing her co-op placement at KidsAbility 

Emily Shaw is a journalism student at Conestoga College.

As a volunteer with KidsAbility, choosing an organization that she was passionate about to complete her co-op placement made it a natural fit.