The thought of a child transforming and shedding their anxieties, attention deficits and unwanted social quirks brings tears to Maryanne Reda and Lauri Marks’ eyes. When the Westchester women talk about how their program has changed the lives and demeanor of children, their eyes sparkle with pride and gratitude.
Reda, who lives in Hartsdale and had taught nursery/elementary/special education school, noticed that more and more children needed extra help when it came to socialization. Especially in an age when kids are overscheduled and constantly on electronic devices.
“I saw a need,” said Reda. “Children were lacking in social skills and initiating and maintaining friends.”
Reda realized there weren’t any programs for helping children learn to socialize, focus and develop/maintain healthy relationships, so she started her own. She brought Marks, her friend of 18 years and a nursery school teacher with a background in therapeutic recreation, on as her partner to develop the program, write the curriculum and form their company Clubhouse Stars.
“Our children receive formal education for reading and math, yet they are expected to ‘just know’ how to interact with others,” their website reads. “The reality is that people need to learn how to interact with others. Although technology has made our lives easier, it has also hindered our ability to interact with each other on a personal level. However, with the proper training and tools, children can learn important life skills that are necessary throughout life.”
Their program offers different sessions for kids age 3 through 12 that take place at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Ardsley. The classes use play to teach children conversation, leadership and executive functioning skills like self-regulation, flexible thinking, initiating and maintaining social interactions, proper ways to deal with bullying, dealing with peer conflict, appropriate eye contact and how to read social cues.
Clubhouse Stars uses yoga, games, breathing techniques and role-playing to help kids overcome shyness, social anxiety and impulsiveness to gain confidence and self-esteem.
“When our kids are confident in who they are and can advocate for themselves, or make a nice comment to one another, it’s so nice for us,” said Marks, a White Plains resident who is also certified to teach yoga and Zumba.
Right now they have about 30 kids enrolled in their classes, which includes a group just for girls. Reda and Marks say they would like to expand their offerings in the future.
“Our hearts and souls are in this program,” said Reda. “We are a place that lets all of our children shine. When we see that they’re really getting it, we know we’re doing a good thing with our program. They leave feeling successful.”
Reda and Marks say the stress and overstimulation children face is overwhelming. Kids used to have play dates and more time for recreation, but now they are overbooked with sports, lessons and pressured to be college-ready and do well on tests. Clubhouse Stars’ instructors say the anxieties kids face can start as early as kindergarten.
One fourth grader told Marks his only wish that he and his friends would pass their standardized tests, while a parent asked Reda how to get her 18-month-old to eat without being in front of the iPad.
It’s that serious.
The lack of one-on-one time kids get to spend together playing being care-free and themselves is much more limited. But according to Marks, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by practicing mindfulness.
“There’s always a solution to a problem,” she told Westchester Woman. “Always a way to work it out.”
For more information on Reda, Marks and Clubhouse Stars visit: clubhousestars.com