Jamie Santano demonstrates one of the exercises that makes up part of the Active Start program for children with intellectual disabilities. The program is held Tuesdays at the Sunningdale Children’s Centre.

Jamie Santano demonstrates one of the exercises that makes up part of the Active Start program for children with intellectual disabilities. The program is held Tuesdays at the Sunningdale Children’s Centre.

Active Start promotes physical activities for youngsters

Special Olympics initiative for children two to six-years old

Jamie Santano knows first hand how children with unique challenges can grow into accomplished athletes, especially when you start them young.

Her daughter Sophia became involved with Special Olympics BC (SOBC) Trail five years ago. During that time she’s developed ski, swim and soccer skills – but she’s always been the youngest member of the team.

“I wanted to change that,” said Santano. “I wanted more children and their families to get involved in this wonderful organization. I know how much joy it has added to our lives.”

Santano, is taking the lead on Active Start, which is a new sports initiative for children with intellectual disabilities between the ages of two and  six.

The 12-week program was developed by Special Olympics BC, and involves family-centred activities that help the child learn basic motor skills such as walking, running, jumping and throwing, in a fun and safe environment.

“The rationale behind Active Start is that when children with an intellectual disability receive early instruction in basic motor skills and have the opportunity to experience play,” she explained. “There is improvement in physical, social and cognitive abilities.”

Active Start provides lessons for young athletes to learn and refine gross movements from large muscle groups and whole body movement, then build on those experiences outside of the gym.

“The program provides caregivers educational information and resources that allows them to offer similar opportunities in the home environment,” Santano noted, mentioning that parents or caregivers can attend the Active Start program with the child.

Active Start is scheduled in the gym of the Sunningdale Children’s Centre on Tuesdays from 9-10 a.m.

For information visit the Special Olympics BC Trail website at sobctrail.com or email Santano at thesantanos@shaw.ca.

“As an early childhood educator, I understand that children learn through play,” said Santano. “By providing a fun and playful environment, games and activities that focus on developing the motor skills necessary to participate in many sports,” she noted. “Our goal is that the children involved will develop a love of sport and they will enjoy living active, healthy lifestyles.”

Santano’s daughter became involved in SOBC’s Fundamentals program at the age of eight, though the program is available for children ages seven through 12.

The greatest benefit, she says, is how her daughter has developed of a love for sport.

“She’s watched her very athletic brother go off and be part of team sports,” said Santano. “She’s a good little skier and has been expanding with the team. Now swimming is her favourite and now she’s developing how to do strokes and laps, as opposed to just swimming or the dog paddle.”

Now 13, her daughter has been part of soccer for a few years, and is beginning to participate and understand that sport as well.

“We are a very active family from skiing to golfing, those types of things and we wanted her to be a part of it.”