“There aren’t very many activities for children with disabilities, and the result of the pilot surfing program we did last year showed so many positives,” said Assistant Kinesiology Professor Emily Clapham, who created the surfing program. “There was increased core and upper body strength, enhanced balance and just a better overall sense of wellbeing.”
The children, ages 5-19, meet at the beach twice a week for eight weeks, wearing wet suits with hoods, gloves, and booties to keep warm. Their final class was this week. Some of the children have Down Syndrome while others are on the autism spectrum, have Attention Deficit Disorder, learning disabilities, or cognitive delays.
The surfers work one-on-one with kinesiology students while in the water and extra lifeguards were hired for the sessions. Seven additional children who have more physically limiting conditions meet twice a week at the URI pool, also with an extra lifeguard. In addition to the children the program was designed for, Clapham said their siblings have been included and are participating.
“We are looking at the bigger picture and finding another type of therapy for children,” she said. “We want them to feel that this is a program for me.”
The Kinesiology Department offers the community a range of adapted physical education programs throughout the year. At URI, Clapham is teaching future physical education teachers and her goal is to transform physical education, now called fitness or wellness, in public schools.
“We want to present physical education in the most fun and engaging way possible,” Clapham said. “Children need to find a physical activity they love and want to do outside of school. We need students to say that they love their physical education class.”
Clapham works closely with Special Olympics Rhode Island and other groups to add more substance to her adapted physical education courses, instructing URI students how to work hands-on with students who have various disabilities.
Local children of varying abilities are learning to surf at Narragansett Town Beach thanks to a community adapted physical education program called Surf Ocean Therapy Intervention offered by the University of Rhode Island Kinesiology Department.
University of Rhode Island Assistant Kinesiology Professor Emily Clapham, who created the Surf Ocean Therapy Program, enjoys one of many fun moments with a young student.
Communications & Marketing photos by Michael Salerno Photography.