Back to Basics with Kids Now Canada

“Our philosophy is simple,” says Janet King, President and Founder of Kids Now Canada, “You have to let a child know that someone believes in them.”

This is the foundation for what is now a successful nation-wide youth mentorship program. Kids Now Canada is a free 12-week afterschool program for children in grades 7 and 8. Since 1999 it has served over 12,000 youth across Canada.

When King started Kids Now 13 years ago, her wish was to create a program that would provide a proactive approach to empowering children at a very crucial age. She wanted to set them up with the life skills and tools they could use to make positive choices and reach their full potential.

“Grades 7 and 8 are some of the toughest years,” explains King. “The peer pressure is overwhelming and the ‘umbilical cord’ gets cut so kids start to ask – Where am I going? What am I doing? So we work with children in this age group to help them really believe in who they are.”

Kids Now extends over a twelve-week period and provides a 1:10 mentor child ratio. Each week’s 1.5 hour session includes dynamic discussions, self-reflection, brainstorming exercises, interactive games and physical activities revolving around one of five key themes.

Previously, King had worked as an educator with many youth dealing with substance abuse issues, incarceration or family traumas and found that the core issue was the children had lost hope in themselves.

“This program is about pulling out the strengths of each child. I believe everybody comes from a good place, no child is born 'bad'. The kids are our future so we need to get to the kids when their wiring is good.”

The Kids Now program supports and complements the school curriculum by enriching the student experience and equipping students with life success-skills. The five core areas they explore are: self-esteem and confidence, vision and goal setting, relationship and communication skills, conflict resolution, and stress management. Through these five modules, kids learn valuable skills like greater self-awareness, empathy, non-verbal communication, how to effectively give feedback and how to set goals. With modules like stress management, they are shown very simple techniques and alternatives, such as sitting under a tree to regulate frustration rather than pulling out a fist.

“We first get kids to understand where they are, what they are good at and what they like. We want them to question things, question themselves and to ask things that bring them to a place of empowerment” says King. From there, it’s about providing simple tools to apply what they’ve learned.

King started Kids Now after doing extensive research in the fields of youth psychology, childhood development and organizational training programs. “Even adults can use this training!” King says as she explains how large corporations have now approached her, fascinated by what she has developed.

“So many times we try to overcomplicate things and make models or theories about childhood development and learning that lose sight of what’s really important,” says King. “At the base of it all, is the need to feel loved and to feel a sense of belonging. We just have to get back to relationships.”

The marker of success for Kids Now is in how many kids come back years later and say how their graduation from high school was largely because of the support they received from Kids Now or that the program made them feel good enough about themselves that they didn’t fall under pressure to do drugs.

Kids Now has recently partnered with the Rotman School of Business in Toronto to measure their impact. Past students report increases in confidence, feelings of worthiness, and the self-assuredness that they can achieve their dreams.

“We can’t assume every child has a good role model in their life,” says King. “So when someone believes that they are worthy and that they are worthy of love, they will believe that they should make and can make good choices in their life. It’s that simple.”

For more information on Kids Now visit www.kidsnowcanada.org

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Courtney Lawrence is a freelance writer, researcher, innovation consultant and yoga instructor. She has a passion for sharing human stories and building connections between groups of people. She has her own blog that explores spirituality and social relationships. www.courtneylawrence.ca

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