Interested in starting a Children’s Health Club? Clare Hanbury, Founder and CEO of Children for Health was asked these 24 questions and her answers can help you get started.
A Children’s Club is a group of children who meet regularly together in their community to mix with each other, talk about things that interest them, their lives, problems, to have fun and to make friends. It has a formal structure.
Most clubs are set up to achieve an educational, sports and social purposes. Children for Health often advises organisations who want to set up clubs for children aged 10-14 that focus on lifeskills, health and children’s rights. Clubs usually mix educational with sports and social activities.
Most children’s clubs are for both boys and girls aged 8-14. Clubs for children over the aged of 14 are usually called ‘Youth Clubs’ and the purpose is usually more focussed on lifeskills and social activities.
Some schools organise, ‘Health Clubs’. A School Health Club is usually a place and a time where a group of child volunteers learn more about health in order to become leaders and activists in their schools and their community. School Health Club members learn about health in their Club sessions and this helps them to influence and mobilise other children to help them with specific campaigns and projects.
Most clubs are set up from school or by local volunteers in the community. They can be set up in the smallest village or the biggest city.
In schools that have a formal clubs, the selection of members is often done using a voting system. Children put their names forward to be part of a Club and their colleagues vote for the person they wish to attend the Club as a representative. All children attending should do so only if they want to. Children with special needs and/or children from minority ethnic groups should also be included in the selection. The Club needs to reflect the school and/or community population as much as possible.
A Children’s Club should be facilitated by at least two adults. It also needs the support and encouragement of others in the community including the parents of the Club members. Children take on some leadership responsibilities and its best if these are shared. The type of adults who run Clubs usually love to be around children. They find it easy to talk and listen to children and have fun. Often they are the ones who lead singing and drama activities in the school or community. They are naturally fun-loving, active and playful.
Some children like setting up committees and sub-committees! Be careful not to let children make these too formal. It is always good if the responsible positions in the club can rotate. What you don’t want to happen is a strict hierarchy or a club where some children hold power over others. This can make your club a negative experience for some of its members. Avoid having a ‘President’. There may be children who are better at speaking than others but make sure everyone gets their turn.
Parents and community leaders should always be consulted before a club is set up. Hold a community meeting. Explain what the Club is about and tell them how the Club will benefit the children. Give elders and parents the chance to comment, give advice and ask questions. If it’s a School Club, all members of staff should be informed and ‘news from the Club’ becomes a part of ongoing regular staff meetings. Clubs are stronger when parents and community members help with the running of the Club or give talks or bring things to the Club to interest the children.
Adults who run Clubs should sign a formal ‘Code of Conduct’. Careful checks to ensure the suitability of the adult volunteers should be made. Most schools should have a formal document and process. This makes sure that no child comes to harm as a result of its participation in the club. It is useful to make some ‘Ground Rules’ with the children that are about positive things that children should be doing like ‘being ‘on time’ and ‘listening to each other’ and ‘working well in teams and groups’. Clubs should avoid negative rules e.g. ‘do not do x’ and ‘do not do y’.
It is very good to talk about the Club and it’s running with the members from time to time (at least once a term or three times a year). Things change and if you give children the chance to say how they feel it is going and what they would like to improve, they will always have good ideas.
Usually clubs have between 15 and 25 members. This is because it’s nice for children to have an easy friendly relationship with the adults helping. If a Club is bigger it starts feeling too much like a ‘class’.
If children are leaving the Club because children they do not like it, or have to travel too far, or are hungry and thirsty or say they cannot spare the time, then you need to thinking about solutions that work best for most children. Check it is meeting all the needs of the children. If children have fun and can meet friends in a safe and trusted space and there is something to eat and drink, most children like to attend. Think carefully about what might be wrong and discuss solutions with the children.
If more children want to join the Club then be happy – you are doing everything right! The word has got around that the Club is a fun place to be! If lots more children want to join you have to thinking about the space you have and if you can share the refreshments and/or stationary so that there is enough to go around. Again if this is a problem, ask the children. They usually have good ideas on how to manage the membership. Different Clubs will need different solutions.
This is really up to you, but 1-2 hours is typical for a Club that meets every week. If the Club meets once every 2 weeks or every month then the sessions can be longer provided the children are given refreshments and the children are happy and their parents know and allow this.
This one is easy! Find a time for your Club when the adult facilitators and most of the children who want to attend are free! Most children have activities and responsibilities and sometimes it is hard finding a time that suits everyone. Some Clubs find one good time for most people to meet and then discuss the best regular time for all members and facilitators. We know Clubs that run after a school and on a Saturday morning.
School Clubs usually take place during term time only and stop in holiday time. Some Clubs only take place during the holidays! Some are all year round.
It is best if the Club is located in a safe and trusted space – like the school or a religious centre or a village community centre. The most important thing is that is that children like to be there, that they feel safe there and that travelling to the place is easy. It is not a good idea to have it in someone’s home.
Clubs usually follow a similar structure at each session but have different activities each time there is a Club session. In some Clubs children like to work towards getting different badges. These are often made of cloth and then sewn onto a T-shirt that children wear during Club meetings. Your Club can design challenges and special badges to make it more unique. At the start and the end of each Club session there is usually a song, a prayer, a promise or a ‘Club Vision’ statement which all children recite in unison.
One of the best things about Children’s Clubs is that they help children express themselves. So make sure your club activities include a time for every child to share something like a joke or a story.
It’s very good if the children attending a club have some kid of ‘uniform’ that shows they are members. This could be a t-shirt or neck-tie, a cap or even a small badge. Anything that connects the children to the club will be motivating and will help the children feel that they belong and that they have of pride and responsibility.
A system of Badges to show that the members have learned new skills can also be motivating. At Children for Health we have invented the “Rainbow Stick’ a tool for Clubs or Club members to remember, record and demonstrate that they have learned and shared health messages! Learn more about the Rainbow Stick here!
Like with everything, a club can go wrong. Perhaps the adults feel they do not wish to continue, or the sessions have become boring and the children are leaving. Perhaps a child has been hurt or upset in a session. From the very beginning talk about what happens if a child gets hurt or upset and what to do if things go wrong. Make sure the parents know. It is useful for clubs to have a ‘constitution’ that are the rules that Clubs follow. When new members join, another member can explain this constitution to the new member and their family. If it’s a School Club and something goes wrong, the head teacher and governors of this school should be informed and act according to the formal policy.
A great way to keep children motivated is to organise meet-ups with other clubs. The children can share ideas and activities. Songs, stories, dialogues and dramas can be performed. There can also be competitions, but be careful how you do these as it’s the sharing that is more important. If everyone is give a vote then this helps keep things friendly and fun. Clubs who have swapped ideas can exchange t-shirts, badges or posters so there is a lasting memory of the new friends and ideas.
Most adult facilitators are volunteers and do not get paid, but your decision about this will depend on your context.
It is useful if schools or communities can make sure that these adults do not pay for stationary, transport or refreshments to run the club. It is also good if at least once a year the parents gather to acknowledge the great job done by the volunteers who facilitate the club. If the volunteers can be given training and certificate they can use to show they have attend training and managed a club for a year or more, this is motivating too. Adults who give their services to children often go on to be very successful in their main job too.
If people are paid to run clubs then it is more difficult to keep the clubs going if the funding stops!
Your club can cost very little, in between or quite a lot. This will depend on the choices you make about equipment, refreshments, training and payment for staff.
A basic start-up pack of stationery and sports equipment is useful. It needs to be right for the local context. It can include:
Here’s a suggested list of items for a Club to run for one year. You need to make your own list according to your budget and location. Some clubs might not want to have any paper or pens! In the first years of my career, I was a drama teacher and I did not use any paper or pens in my teaching! But stationary can be useful. Also think about how often you may need able to renew, refresh and replace items on the list.
Children for Health often gets asked for simple, fun activities for children to do during Club time. We think that a combination of active learning – using games, songs, dialogue and drama are all great activities. Children like learning new things too so its fine to teach children new things and get them to listen but make sure the club is fun and that the teacher talk is less than 10% of what you do!
For School Health Club sessions we like to suggest that you:
Every so often the Club have make a plan to hold a special event or run a campaign to raise awareness about their real issues and possible solutions. These are very exciting when they are based on reality and when there is support from authorities to support long term, permanent solutions they really help families.
You will find 100 messages for children to learn and share here on the Children for Health website, plus LOTS of activities to do with children linked to our 10 key topics. You can take all these ideas for free but let us know what worked and send us your ideas too!
There are lots of other activities you can do with children and here is a link to some of our favourite handbooks where you can find more ideas on:
BEWARE! – We strongly advise that Club members are not asked to do anything like cleaning the school or the toilets or work in a school garden. When children find out that they have to do this in their free time they will not be happy (would you be happy?). Children for Health believes that it is exploiting children to require Club members to do unpleasant tasks or tasks that are hard for them physically.
Choose the most appropriate way to launch the club. You may want to use the media or lunch it at a community meeting. Be sensitive if there are lots of children who wanted to join and were not able to do so.
Children for Health have two members of ‘staff’ called ZuZu & ZaZa. They are two scarlet macaw puppets and our ambassadors!
We imagine that ZuZu is an ‘older brother’ (of around 10-12) and ZaZa his ‘younger sister’. This means that they can be used to tell stories about the caring role in families between children but reversing the more common gender role of older girls looking after younger children. However the puppets can also take on other personalities as needed.
You can buy the puppets here now!
When children start influencing their friends and siblings, there are often some heart-warming stories on how this happened. When children start to tell these stories, write them down and/or get groups of children to turn them into a role play, a dialogue or an acted out story for others to hear and enjoy.
In some countries where Children for Health is working, results from the projects have been woven into story BOOKS for children like this on called, ‘Everyone Counts’ about the buying and using of plates to make sure that food is shared fairly and the amount that small children are eating can be carefully monitored.
Everyone Counts and other resources can been downloaded for free from our free resources page.
A good handbook on children’s clubs created by Save the Children in Sierra Leone.
Our Children’s Clubs pages.