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Helping Children Soar

07/12/2016 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: LASOAR [7 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Amanda Jean Harris

There was a time you came home when the streetlights flickered on each evening. When a whistle, not a ding on a cell phone was the signal for dinnertime. Play was unorganized, maybe messy. There were teams made of kids throughout the neighborhood and no tryouts. There was dodge ball and trekking through the brush behind the houses picking up treasures and working together toward some common goal. That was then. This is now.

Children are in no shortage for activities. There is a team for nearly every sport in the Acadiana area and it’s not uncommon for parents to spend most of their evenings as a taxi service to make all these activities happen. Enter LASOAR. The Louisiana Association of Sports, Outdoor Adventure and Recreation.

They are promoting children’s sports, family activities and the great outdoors in a new way. In some ways, it’s pretty retro. It sounds a lot like getting back to basics. It’s making possible activities for children and parents, for entire families and whole neighborhoods in a way that’s both safe and just organized enough while still harboring the free spirit of play in a healthy way.

It’s all the brain child of local women — chief among them Laura C. Palmer, a former health educator who says Physical Education is a fast decreasing course for many local children. “Recess is shorter, classes are bigger. Health and wellness is hard to deliver,” Palmer says. “We’re teaching a lifestyle. Grab life and make it yours. Many kids aren’t getting this in school and this could supplement subpar PE. Some programs may have four basketballs for 50 children.”

She says while some parents may assume kids are getting time outside and participation during PE, that’s not always the case. LASOAR offers get-out-and-get-it physical activity in a variety of ways throughout the year for families and children of many ages. 

From paddling down a river to running along a trail. From hiking the woods to exploring with a group. From ultimate Frisbee to kickball and even soccer and flag football, LASOAR truly offers a variety of activities for ages as young as 3.

There are several sections of LASOAR:

1. Neighborhood Sports Leagues. These are in local neighborhood locations in Lafayette and surrounding areas and offer a safe place for children to build their loco motor skills as well as acquire core values to help improve confidence and attitude. Leagues are year around and some include a wide age range.

2. Recreational Classes. These classes throughout the year cover a wide array of subjects like photography and beginners archery.

3. Outdoors Adventure Kids. OAKS for ages 3 to 18 helps kids and family reconnect with the natural world. 

“Learning the names of trees, flowers and animals is a way of knowing them. Spending time in the woods, digging in the dirt, turning over rocks to see what lies underneath, and setting out downriver in a canoe can significantly improve the health and well being of our children,” according to LASOAR organizers. 

A paddling schedule covers locations from Lake Martin and Lake Fause Pointe to Bayou Teche and Hodges Gardens as well as Chicot State Park and the Atchafalaya Basin. Hiking is located throughout the area in places like Tunica Hills, Cypress Island, Aanaia Park Nature Station, Disoll Mount and Kisatchie National Forest, among others. Trail running is another choice and there is an option to become a member of LASOAR, giving a hefty discount for registration fees. Or, participants can just choose individual activities. 

While it sounds like an extraordinarily varied selection, it all makes sense when it comes to benefits of these kinds of activities as well as Palmer’s background and passion. 

Palmer says the mission of LASOAR is aimed at both body and mind. The tag line used — Play Learn Thrive — best sums up the purpose behind the nonprofit whose mission statement is “to reconnect children to the natural world and promote the power of play to improve child and family health and wellbeing.”

Palmer says LASOAR programs immerse children in the sort of activities that promote character development and self-awareness. There is an interactive element with others and with nature that comes with this programming. It’s something that once happened naturally. But, thanks to the way we live now has become far less natural — either because of time constraints, physical location or safety concerns. 

“It’s getting kids away from TV and all phones and unplugging and unwinding,” Palmer says. “It’s experiencing the sights and sounds of nature.”

Hannah Mason, a local mom, is also on board making it all happen and the duo is now working to bring more and more families into the fold. “We want to develop a sense of community, have family play activities and green space and bring activities to neighborhoods,” she says. “It’s teamwork and social. There’s not a score. It’s just get out and play.”

Parents must be present for many of the activities for children 12 and under. And that’s not by accident. It’s one more way for the entire family to get involved. “We focus on the whole family,” Palmer says. 

Palmer grew up in Erath and learned much from her time outdoors over the year and she hopes children involved in LASOAR will learn some of those same lessons. “My mom was OK with us playing in the dirt and we would play outside and then come home when the lights come on. Pickup football and baseball, horses and four wheelers in the cane fields. It made me a good problem solver,” she says. “It made me independent. I learned about the environment and it’s important that kids don’t lose that.”

When Palmer was younger (and it seems the attribute stuck) she was set on making something happen and the kind to see it through until the end. “I set my mind to do something — like build a teepee — when I was younger I would do it.”

LASOAR Upcoming Activities

Kickball ages 5 – 14

Fall Soccer ages 3 – 14 

Ultimate Frisbee ages 7 – 14

Hiking Trips 

Join the OAK club or go to these individual events.

July 16 Tunica Hills

Aug. 20 Clark’s Creek

Sept. 17 Driscoll Mountain

Oct. 15 Arboretum at Chicot

Nov. 19 Kisatchie National Forest

Paddle Trips

July 9 Bayou Teche

Aug. 13 Hodges Gardens

Sept. 10 Bayou Vermillion

Oct. 8 Chicot State Park

Nov. 12 Atchafalaya Basin

Dec. 10 Tickfaw State Park

Trail Runs

Children are divided by age. Trail Running Experts join the group and the activities include not only the trail run, but also other nature activities. Check out the website for specific times for different ages and levels for the following trips.

July 2 Chicot State Park

Aug. 6 Lake Fausse Point State Park

TV Time Versus The Great Outdoors

It’s estimated that children between 2 and 5 years of age spend more than 32 hours a week in front of a screen. And the older they get, the worse those stats become. Some estimates show school-age children spend nearly 8 hours a day on electronic media. 

The percentage of overweight preschool children has more than tripled between 1971 and 2009 with six out of ten of those children continuing to be overweight into adolescence. Nearly three-quarters of American children don’t get enough Vitamin D (the sun vitamin), which can lead to a host of health issues. 

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