Home • Gloucester County News Library hosts free Special Olympics program

Library hosts free Special Olympics program

Young athletes with intellectual disabilities learn skills to compete

Gloucester County Library System. The Special Olympics Young Athletes Program at the township library is designed not only to help those with or without intellectual disabilities prepare for the games but also benefits their families.

To help kids with intellectual disabilities stay in shape and come out of their shells, the township   branch of the county library system hosts the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program once or twice a month, with the next session set to begin Saturday at 10 a.m.

“The Special Olympics Young Athletes Program is a free inclusive program designed for ages 2 to 7 years old, with and without intellectual disabilities,” said the library system’s Head of Youth Services Stephanie Smith, who added that the focus is on teaching children skills they need to compete in the Special Olympics, as well as learning and improving social skills.

The library system has hosted the free program at the Mullica Hill branch since 2016, according to Smith, an idea fostered by a presentation at that year’s New Jersey Library Association Conference. It has continued since, aside from a brief COVID hiatus.

“To prepare children for the Special Olympics, there are certain skills they need to compete,” Smith explained. “We focus on developing and improving seven skills: foundation skills (strength, flexibility and body awareness), walking and running, jumping and kicking, trapping and catching, throwing, striking and kicking. 

“Our program is 45 minutes long and we always warm up with circle time,” she added. “We all introduce each other – coaches, parents, children, volunteers – then we sing a few songs. 

Also included in the program is structured and unstructured play, with a focus on the aforementioned skills. Each week brings with it different play equipment and stations, including one with soccer balls and nets and another with a walk on a foam balance beam. 

“It’s funny,” Smith noted. “We knew when we started this, we would be teaching children to throw and catch and skills like that, but we didn’t anticipate the importance of connections the families built with each other. I think we were so focused on coaching the children that we didn’t realize the benefits this program has on family members as well. 

“We watched families bond with each other and be a support system in times of need,” she added. “The families understand each other – the struggles, the triumphs, the stress – and support one another. We’ve seen children come out of their shells, try new skills, master old skills, make friends and gain confidence. 

“….We’re in awe of their determination, their energy, and their spirit. I think about that when I have my own struggles. It’s truly inspiring.” 

Special Olympics Young Athletes requires registration on the Special Olympics New Jersey website.

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