Welcome to the
HIGH FIVE® learning lab

Looking to learn more about providing quality kids’ programs or resources to help you build staff expertise in working with children? Consider this your centre for all things “healthy child development”.

Check out some instructional videos, read some FAQ’s that address concerns specific to children’s sport and recreation and share with your colleagues. HIGH FIVE® is Canada’s only comprehensive quality standard for children’s sport and recreation, founded by Parks and Recreation Ontario. Thanks for taking the first step in choosing quality for kids!

Introduction to the HIGH FIVE Principles

This is the launching pad for providing the best possible experiences for kids in after school programs, on sports teams, in dance classes or any other type of program. The HIGH FIVE Principles are the five necessary factors shown by research to be integral to positive experiences for children.  If you want increased program retention and customer satisfaction, keep children coming back with quality physical activity! 

Learn how to use the HIGH FIVE Principles in this video, think about what they could bring to your programs and then continue to explore the other invaluable resources in the learning lab!

Kid's Quotes

Leader FAQ: Learning from some of HIGH FIVE's Organizations!
Read through questions written and answered by your peers on the front lines of children’s programs
How do we handle conflict between children in our programs?

When we witness a dispute between children, we feel it's important to intervene with effective strategies for resolving conflict. It’s common and completely normal for disagreements to occur in life, but it's important for children to see these differences worked out in a healthy manner so they learn how to resolve their own conflicts.

From our experience, the first step is knowing when to intervene. If the conflict can't be resolved between the children its important that we intervene before the conflict escalates. We try to engage the children in solving their own conflict and ensure both children are "cooled off" before having a discussion. Once both children are ready to discuss the conflict, we have the children agree on the problem. Once they come to their own solutions, we help them choose the best one. We find it important to Be A Caring Adult and listen to both sides, reacting with sensitivivty if one child expresses fear or is too nervous to have a discussion with the other. We guide them in making the fairest solution and help them implement it. At the end of the conflict, it is also our role to inform the parents about what happened and the resolution that has been agreed upon and implemented.

I am frustrated with my colleague as they aren't pulling their weight in the program. How can I handle this?

The first thing I would do in this situation is take the opportunity to speak with my co-worker and let them know how I am feeling using "I" statements. If that didn't work, I would ask my supervisor or manager to help me out. At this point my supervisor would help to create a meeting wherein all people affected discuss the problem and brainstorm solutions that we could all agree on. After the meeting , the supervisor would follow up with the affected staff members to ensure that the solution has been implemented and is working.

How do I encourage a child who does not want to participate in an activity?

I start by engaging in active play with the children as a best practice in role-modeling. I feel playing actively with the children helps them develop healthy habits, too. I make positive comments about physical activity, and tell them a story of a time I didn’t feel like participating and turned it around. I find relating to their experience encourages them, makes them feel that they are not alone and that feelings can change. I also try to ensure to constantly change things up! I pick a theme for my activity and ask the children to come up with their own ideas for crafts, then incorporate them into my plans. I try to incentivize the children to participate by offering rewards and stickers every time they actively participate in a game or physical activity. From my experience this intrigues them and encourages them to participate more frequently. I also send ideas home to families so they can continue to encourage active play at home with the child. I have read that habits are learned early in life so I feel that consistency is important.

I have children with Special Needs come to my programs with no supports (EA or Worker). I spend so much time providing one-on-one attention with that participant, it puts added stress on me as the leader and the other kids in the group.

The first step I would take in this situation is to review the program plans to ensure that the activities are designed to engage every participant in the program. If that was not effective, I would want to discuss the challenge with my supervisor and consider adding an extra staff person for additional support. If needed the supervisor could speak with the parents to see if they would be willing to have their child come with a specialized worker or care taker.

How can I ensure that a child with special needs is able to fully participate in our programs?

We have protocols to review attendance lists prior to the start of programs to see if there are participants who may have special needs. When there are, we review the program plans in detail to ensure that all children are able to be fully engaged in the program, without others knowing adaptations had been made to include anyone in particular.  We have also asked for support from parents, co-workers and supervisors when needed.

How can I ensure all children are fully engaged in the program?

Sometimes we have children who don't have a disability but still struggle to participate in our programs. We try to get to know each child and find out what interests them to help engage them in the program. This all starts with us acting as Caring Adults, introducing them to Friends to help them want to Participate, and helping them Master skills so they feel confident to Participate. We try to remember to ensure the task is in line with their skill level and not too easy or too challenging to avoid boredom or frustration with activities.

Are some children more likely to be bullied than others?

We find that bullying can happen to anyone, at any time, but that there are some characteristics and factors which might make it more likely. We have noticed that bullying is more likely to occur when a child attends a school or program where bullying is not tackled effectively. In our experience, being different in some obvious way (such as ethnicity, disability or religion) may make it more likely that a child will be bullied. However, research seems to be pointing towards social skills and character as being even more closely linked to involvement in bullying than these more obvious factors.

What is often not clear is whether a child is bullied because he/she is anxious and has low self- esteem, or is anxious and has low self-esteem because he/she has been bullied. In particular, we have found a strong link between being bullied and being quiet and shy (introverted), as these children might feel uncomfortable in a group, preferring to spend time alone.

We have also found that a child's friendships seem to affect the possibility of being bullied. If a child is already vulnerable (for example cries easily, is anxious, has low self-esteem, or is physically weak) or is both anxious and aggressive and annoys others, it seems likely that bullying will occur if she/he only has a few friends, or has friends who are unable to offer protection.

Bullying also seems to happen in our organization if the vulnerable or the anxious/aggressive child is not accepted by his/her peers. However, if the vulnerable child has more friends, has friends who could defend her/him or is better liked by peers, the chances of being bullied tends to be less.

In my recreational dance class there is a group of 3 students who like to take the class over and lead the other students to make poor choices. The group of 3 are very aggressive and intimidating. They also like to pick on one student and always leave her out when getting in groups and choosing activities. How can I stop this behaviour?

Our organization has dealt with this scenario using a couple of options, which can also be combined:

1 – talk to the three girls away from the group. Ask them about their behaviour and explain to them your point of view. Maybe something is going on that you don’t know about?
2 – talk to your supervisor to ask for some more techniques and tips on how to handle the situation.
3 – talk to the girl who is being bullied and get her feelings on the situation.
4 – have a group discussion to set up guidelines for class behaviour. Have the students come up with behaviours and consequences and make sure they are followed.
5 – include chats with students about bullying in general. Put up posters in class space. Promote a positive safe, learning environment.
6 – request staff training on bullying prevention, such as HIGH FIVE PHCD or Sport.
7 – depending on the situation a supervisor may need to have a conversation with the parents.

There is a group of 8 female campers aged 11 and 12 in my program, who have been coming to camp together for several summers. This particular summer the group dynamic has taken an undesirable turn. The girls have started turning on each other, excluding each other from activities, speaking about each other behind one other’s back and went so far as to all dress in red one day excluding two of the girls from their plan. They have essentially divided the group of 8 girls and their behaviors have started to impact the whole group of 24 campers in a very negative way. What can I do to navigate this situation?

I have found that it helps when program staff actively seek the campers input on the rules on the first day. We make sure the rules are simple yet agreeable to all campers and reinforce what is acceptable vs unacceptable behavior at camp. In a situation this complex, staff can inform their on-site supervisor, who should in turn communicate the situation up the chain of command to gain support, creative ideas and affirmation on the best solution.

If the behaviors continue/escalate, we have discussions with the entire group of campers reinforcing the agreed upon camp rules, and best options for support in a bullying situation, while ensuring no one gets singled out. Try including an empathy exercise designed to show everyone the negative impact of bullying. We sometimes offer rewards for good behaviour and encourage peer nominations for looking out for fellow campers.

Our next step can be making calls home to parents of the children who are persistent in their negative behaviors. I make the point of the call to; a) inform the parents of the situation at camp, b) solicit support at home on what is acceptable and not acceptable at camp and, c) inform all parties involved on what has already been done by camp staff to try and correct the situation. This can be followed up with in-person meetings, if needed.

After sorting through this complex situation, I request a thorough debrief from senior staff on the outcome.

How can I ensure fair play with really competitive kids who will do anything to win?

As a coach, I know that cherry picking and hogging the ball is not part of good sportsmanship – nor is it fun for others playing. I stress the importance of fair play and that everyone must play by the rules as essential, so everyone can enjoy the game. 

I have kids who are highly competitive in my program. How do I encourage those kids to excel while promoting healthy competition?

It can be a tough one for those that like competition. I try to stress that many kids drop out of sports due to excess competition. I emphasize that competition is not the reason why some of their teammates signed up for the activities – but to learn new skills, make friends and be healthy. Mastery can be an internal competition that the kids can focus on to achieve and improve themselves. Try to implement personal bests so that you are able to promote healthy competition within each child. I encourage them to play freely with friends and build relationships that can foster team spirit.

What are some of the signs I should be looking for in children regarding mental health conditions?

These are some of the things I look for to help me identify participants who may be experiencing mental health challenges:

1. Mood changes - Feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school, or in programs.
2. Intense feelings - Feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
3. Behaviour changes - This includes drastic changes in behaviour or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behaviour.
4. Fighting frequently - Using weapons or expressing a desire to badly hurt others.
5. Difficulty concentrating- Trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in programs.
6. Physical harm- Sometimes a mental health condition leads to suicidal thoughts or actual attempts at self-harm or suicide.

A parent dropped off a child at my summer camp program and informed me that their grandmother had recently passed away. The parent is concerned about the impact that this life event has had on the child. The parent wanted me and the other leaders to know so that we would understand the child's new behaviours. The child appears to be withdrawn and is upset when the parent leaves. What can I do to make this child feel more comfortable and happy at camp?

In the past, I have passed on my sympathies to the child so that the event is acknowledged. When appropriate, I ask the child some questions about the person they have lost so they have a chance to talk about their feelings. If they don’t want to talk, I don’t push the situation and give the child a bit of quiet time, if needed. I try to offer a few other options when the group is doing an activity or game. When possible, I ask them what they would like to do. I treat them as I normally would, but know that some extra time may be needed for them to feel comfortable in joining the group. At the end of the day, I let the parent know how the day went and, if there are concerns, ask the parent for any other strategies that they think may help.

It would be helpful to prompt management to offer training on this topic, like HIGH FIVE PHCD, Sport and QUEST 2, to help you and other leaders feel better equipped to have some of these conversations.

I find approaching parents about challenges with their child difficult and it makes me uncomfortable. How can you help me?

I discuss the challenge I am having with this particular child(ren)  with my supervisor. I ask for advice on how best to broach the subject with the parents and or ask the supervisor to address the parents. If I know the parent well enough to feel comfortable, I tell them I have noticed this recently and ask them if they have noticed this particular challenge at home with their child. Often, the parent already has a solution in place and can help shed light on the issue.

A parent refuses to show photo ID at pick up. How do I handle this?

I remain calm and remind the parent that their child's safety is my number one priority. You can point them to a policy that states children will not be released to anyone without photo identification. I try to find ways to work with the parent. For example, if they have left their ID in the car, I begin getting their child ready for pick up with their backpack and other belongings while they go back to obtain their ID. In the event that the parent still refuses to provide a form of ID, I contact my supervisor and do not release the child without their consent.

When parents complain, I feel like they are yelling at me! What do I say?

I try not to put up an immediate defense, but rather, listen to the complaint fully. I try to understand what their true concern is and tell them that I will bring their concern up for discussion with my supervisor. I then follow up with the supervisor for a frank discussion about the parent's complaint. Sometimes you just need to hear another perspective and bounce thoughts off someone else before responding to the parent's concerns.  If you're afraid you might say something you'll regret, try not to react immediately. I always give myself time to think it through.

What measures should an after school staff member or team take when they are considering including swimming in their programs?

When we started incorporating aquatics into my program, I assessed the skill levels of the participants relating to the water activity. I made sure a fully stocked first aid kit and a working communication device (e.g. cell phone) were readily accessible. I determined that all water equipment was safe for use and no electrical equipment was left out by children or leaders. I made sure that equipment was packed away from the water. I saw to it that suitable swim wear was worn by children and leaders, hair was pulled back and medical alert jewelry was the only jewelry that was worn. If bathing cap is mandatory, I ensure all participants are wearing one.

I follow leader-child ratios and there must be at least two certificated swim instructors on the deck of the pool.

In my program, we ensure that only school or community pools are used, not backyard pools. Pool decks are kept clear of obstacles and excess water. Participants with medical conditions and or physical limitations are identified with appropriate accommodations being implemented for their safe Participation. We have an emergency action plan ready for implementation in case of an accident or injury. Prior to running the activity or game, we discuss possible risks, and ways to manage them, with participants and staff. We establish rules and procedures for safety in and out of the water.

All participants in my program are initially screened/tested to determine their swimming ability in the shallow end. Non swimmers wear a properly fastened Personal Flotation Device. Participants must shower before entering the pool. If I am not in the water, I circulate throughout the activity site and make sure I am always in visual contact with participants. My colleagues and I accompany the children to the pool, the change rooms and on deck at all times- male leaders in the male change room and female leaders in the female change rooms.

During a regular group outing to a local waterpark, a large chlorine gas bubble escaped from a pipe and sent noxious fumes into the air around the busy water park. Several ambulances had to be called to treat minor lung irritation and the entire waterpark had to be evacuated. Briefly after the situation commenced, media was on site and reporting on the story as it unfolded. What are some best practices for reacting to a situation like this?

In my program, we have action plans in place for unforeseen events like this. First, we verify the nature of the emergency situation, round up all children, perform a thorough and accurate head count and meet back at a pre-determined meeting place. I involve the kids in games and activities to keep them safe and engaged.

My colleagues and I communicate key information clearly with our supervisor and facility staff, as well as each other, to ensure everyone has thorough and accurate information in order to make the best decisions for the safety of all involved. I coordinate transportation home (or back to our home facility) as quickly as possible. We take small groups to an alternate (safe) area to prepare for the trip home.

During the whole situation, I keep a class list and emergency paperwork (camper information, emergency contacts etc…) readily available and well organized. If applicable, I coordinate with my Communications Department to provide timely updates on social media (Twitter, webpage, Facebook, etc…) on the campers safety. I send a memo home at the end of the day outlining the situation, clarifying details to limit misinformation and offering parents a follow-up contact should they have any additional questions.

A parent of a child in my program dropped her daughter off and informed me that there is a court order stating that the father cannot have contact with her child. The father showed up at the program later wanting to see his daughter. How do I keep sensitive situations like this from escalating?

I had a similar situation. I asked the unwelcome visitor (or source of threat) to stay in a location that is away from the child in question. I got my supervisor, who informed the adult that they cannot see the child for legal reasons and asked them to leave. If they refuse, you can call the police. I called the child's parent(s) and informed them of the situation.

How can I tell if the activity I am running is at a high enough activity level?

When planning my program, I try to include activities that increase the participants' heart rates for a duration of at least 30 - 60 minutes a day. I can usually tell I have achieved this when I see the children visibly sweating, breathing heavily, with flushed cheeks, etc. I keep in mind most children are likely to participate when they have a choice in the activity, if it is fun for them, if they have Friends in the program and if A Caring Adult is participating with them.

How can I keep the kids moving? Some of them give up too quickly or easily.

I try and teach the children the importance of getting their heart rate up as a part of a healthy lifestyle. Teaching through understanding its called. I find this is one way to encourage prolonged participation. Once they understand why I am leading activities that may tire them, they are more likely to continue to Participate – rather than complain about it.

Other Valuable Resources

Pick up some HIGH FIVE promotional items and let your staff and participants know you are providing them The Best Way to Play™
Parents can use this tool to assess their child’s experience in their current program using proven quality indicators and questions. The opportunity to email the review to the organization running the program is included.
Use this kit to effectively communicate to your networks your commitment to children and The Best Way to Play™.