Calgary pilot project provides physical literacy opportunities for newcomers

A pilot project designed to provide newcomer youth with opportunities to develop their physical literacy has launched in Calgary, and researchers are keen to see what impact the two eight-week programs have on young newcomers. Called Immigrant-Focused Physical Literacy for Youth (iPLAY), this unique initiative brings youth together for 90-100 minute weekly sessions to explore activities they may have never tried before. 

“This has been a great opportunity for newcomers to participate in different ice- and land-based activities, most of which are entirely new to them. These youths get to participate in activities such as ice luge and human curling in the arena or wheelchair basketball and Kinball in the gym space, and the broader aim is to help them to gain confidence and understand how to move in different ways. Movement on ice in particular tends to be very novel for many of these youths,” said Matt Kwan, the pilot’s research lead. 

“We tried to get away from traditional sports and create more novel games and opportunities. The WinSport facilities we’ve been using are great as far as giving participants the opportunity to participate in a range of activities such as outdoor archery, as well as exposing them to a high-performance training centre.”

Kwan is an associate professor in Child and Youth Studies at Brock University, and a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health and Performance. Co-led by WinSport, this pilot is currently funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additionally, Kwan and his team received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to hold a two-day meeting called the iPLAY Summit, with 40 delegates from across Canada coming together to mobilize and discuss future opportunities to co-develop and deliver a variety of physical literacy-based programming for newcomers. 

According to Kwan, Calgary is uniquely positioned for this work because of established collaborations and partnerships already in place that target children and youth with disabilities. 

“The unique thing about Calgary is that a lot of these facilities and organizations are already talking to one another and working together. They’ve created this nice collaborative ecosystem that gives kids of diverse abilities the opportunity to participate and be included into a variety of programs, and we’re looking to use this as an initial blueprint to try and create something similar for newcomers. Importantly we want to be flexible in how we deliver across various contexts and have quality programs accessible to them.” 

The ultimate goal will be to apply evidence-based programs and practices across the country to enable greater opportunities for all newcomers to Canada. Judging by the success of the first eight weeks of the pilot, he feels the future is looking bright.

“This has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve been involved with for a long time. At the first session, seeing the smiles on their faces was truly rewarding and nice to see. What we’re trying to get at with this project is trying to figure out the feasibility of it as a program, and we’ve had pretty good compliance with people returning every week pretty consistently,” he said. 

Every week the leaders complete a checklist to provide feedback on how they observed kids’ physical literacy and what they could’ve done better. So far the feedback has been generally positive, with solid engagement from the group – which led them to rethink how to serve their participants who identify as female, who have cultural sensitivities surrounding participating within the view of participants who identify as male. Improvements are currently being made to address this. 

Evaluations are embedded throughout the program. Participants complete questionnaires, which are coupled with assessments of their motor competencies prior to and after the program. Some youth will also participate in interviews to detail their thoughts and experiences.

In addition to the WinSport program leaders, the program also included two facilitators from the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS), who Kwan felt were crucial to the success of the pilot. 

“They’ve been very helpful with their familiarity and existing connections with the refugee youths that were recruited for the study. Importantly, they’ve also been able to help translate, as some of these youths have only been in Canada for several months” Kwan said.

“Long-term, we want to change the ecosystem in terms of the way programs are developed and implemented for newcomer children and youth. There is so much opportunity to conduct more research in figuring out the priorities, wants, and needs of these various newcomer groups, whether it’s refugee groups or recent immigrants or established immigrants. I think to co-create and co-develop opportunities like this, a multitude of programs available and accessible for these groups will be required.”

Kwan believes that this work will ultimately be a framework for other jurisdictions pursuing the same goals. At the iPLAY Summit, he was able to see the fledgling relationships being created to make that possible – including with Sport for Life. 

Kabir Hosein, Director of Strategic Initiatives, applauds the work Kwan and his team are doing. He believes the newcomers coming through the program will be better prepared for success in Canada. 

“Newcomers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that can add value to your organization and this great country. Organizations that support those who are new to Canada often focus on employment, housing, healthcare, education, food and nutrition but what about connections to the community they have arrived to?” he said.

“Sport and physical activity provide the opportunity for newcomers to connect with the community and understand the culture of these lands. iPLAY and the future efforts from Dr. Kwan and his team will provide evidence-informed approaches which I am sure will be very helpful in the near future.”