Student-athletes bring fun and games to 5C after-school childcare program

Notebooks are open to childrens' drawings of Baby Yoda, R2D2, an Ewok, and a lightsaber.
Staff and faculty from the 5Cs can sign their children up for the 5C Kids Zone, where children meet over Zoom with volunteer student-athletes for activities like Super Hero Club and Arts and Crafts. (Courtesy: Kathleen Landerholm)

Each week, for 45 minutes Monday through Thursday, fourth-grader Ellie and first-grader Erik sing, dance and build paper lightsabers for their after-school activities. 

In a moment in which typical after-school activities like sports and clubs are halted, Ellie and Erik are in the Kids Zone — learning to have fun and create from home with help from volunteer student-athletes and some basic crafting supplies. 

The 5C Kids Zone was the brainchild of Mike Morgan, head coach of the Pomona-Pitzer women’s tennis team. He came up with the idea after remembering a superhero club his young son had once joined when moving to a new place.  

“Years ago, after moving to a new town, we had signed our son up for a superhero club that was run by students at the [local] college,” Morgan said. “It was amazing for our son, and it was inspiring to see the students coming up with creative ideas on their own.”

“I smiled a lot, because I could see that he was having fun.” — Pitzer history associate professor Harmony O’Rourke

When Morgan started hearing about the difficulties of childcare amid closed daycares and elementary schools, he thought the Claremont community’s children could use a club to adapt to the new scenario, much like his son had done years prior. 

“We thought it would be a great opportunity to get student-athletes involved,” he said, launching the Kids Zone in September.

The program is available for free to any 5C staff or faculty member’s child and is aimed at children aged 5 to 12 years old. The program holds two 45-minute Zoom meetings each day/afternoon Mondays through Thursdays, with volunteer student-athletes from both P-P and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at the helm of each pair of afternoon activities. 

The program boasts segments like Super Hero Club, Arts and Crafts, Kids Yoga, Sports Trivia and even Star Wars.

“It’s been a wonderful resource,” said Kathleen Landerholm, a staff member in the Office of College Advancement at Pitzer College. Both her fourth-grader Ellie and her first-grader Erik have been learning remotely and attending the Kids Zone.

When she first saw the email announcing the Kids Zone, Landerholm “knew it would be a hit” — and she was right. Landerholm said as soon as her children’s first afternoon at the Kids Zone had ended, “they both wanted to know when they were coming back.”

One afternoon segment they particularly like is Star Wars, which is led by lacrosse players. Both kids love the “Star Wars” films, and Landerholm said Erik has been making his own paper lightsabers thanks to the program.

Asa, the seven-year-old son of Pitzer history associate professor Harmony O’Rourke, also enjoys the lacrosse-led Star Wars program. 

Notebooks are open to childrens' drawings of Baby Yoda, R2D2, an Ewok, and a lightsaber.
The Kids Zone program boasts segments like Super Hero Club, Arts and Crafts, Kids Yoga, Sports Trivia and even Star Wars. (Courtesy: Kathleen Landerholm)

“It was nice for him to have more interaction and meet other kids [outside of school] and be able to talk about something that he knows that he doesn’t normally get to talk about too much … I smiled a lot, because I could see that he was having fun,” she said.

O’Rourke’s husband takes care of their kids in the morning, but when he leaves for work in the early afternoon, she takes over. 

“I’m basically trying to fit in different kinds of work in the afternoon while I’m also managing the kids’ … after-school activities,” she said. 

While “there’s only so much you can do in 45 minutes,” O’Rourke said, she uses the time her children are in the Kids Zone to meet with students, grade and make lesson plans.

Sarah Woo PZ ’21, a midfielder for the Sagehen women’s lacrosse team, said that she and her teammates lead Star Wars-themed charades, trivia, art challenges and games of Simon Says, though the group calls it Yoda Says.

Izzy Wiesenthal PO ’21 leads Kids Yoga on Wednesdays with her water polo teammate Haley Crabtree PZ ’21, and the pair try to keep stress levels low. They usually start by having the kids introduce themselves and talk about their day, then do some stretches and round it out with a show-and-tell dance party.

“We have a few [of the kids] pick their favorite songs and … everyone will pick a favorite dance move and show it off on camera,” Wiesenthal said. Sometimes, their coach — alongside his son, Austin — makes dance party cameos.

Wiesenthal said her favorite part of being a Kids Zone mentor has been being able to provide a space for children to open up, especially with typical after-school social activities squandered in the pandemic.

“You can sometimes see when they’re nervous through the camera,” she said. Over time, though, “you can tell that they enjoy doing the Kids Zone a lot.”

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