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Environment and Programming

Developing the afterschool environment and providing unique programming is the most exciting part of building your afterschool program. By now, you have developed a mission and specific goals for the afterschool program. Remember to use creativity in achieving those goals.

Afterschool programs should not be considered "more school". Rather, consider afterschool an opportunity to enhance learning in fun and engaging ways that are not typically offered during the school day. Your programming should be flexible enough to take into consideration the interests of the students. Also, consider the community partner's resources in the process. Overall, make sure that your program reflects the diversity of the population you serve.

This section will provide you with websites and resources to assist you in creating a fun learning environment for your students during the afterschool hours.

Environment and Positive Behavior
It is crucial for students to have a safe and welcoming environment both during the school day and in the afterschool hours. The best resource for your afterschool staff is the school staff. Talk to your school's administrators and teachers for guidance in developing behavior expectations.

There should be consistent expectations regarding behavior during school and afterschool. For example, for students to be safe and successful, follow the school's procedures when using the playground, restroom, cafeteria, gymnasium and media center. Be sure non-school staff are aware of policies and procedures. Provide training for all staff to support positive behavior. For additional information, review Behavior in After School and visit By teaching students positive behavior, you will be supporting the development of important social skills that will be used both in and outside of the school setting.

The flexible nature of afterschool makes it an ideal place to incorporate the arts. Your program can provide clubs that engage students in a variety of interests. For example, consider offering a music club, led by your school's certified music teacher or other professional from the community. Students will be enthusiastic about the club and can provide performances for parents and community members. Also, students can participate in a dance club. A dance club is a great way to learn about other cultures and also promote physical activity. Other professionals can provide lessons on traditional art, painting, drawing, jewelry making and pottery. Students can go on field trips to local museums and theaters to continue learning outside of the school.

Art resources:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides information on art standards and essential learnings.

ARTnetNebraska is an online resource for educators focusing on the exploration, integration and application of the visual arts in the educational setting.

The U.S. Department of Education and National Endowment for the Arts developed a joint publication on how the arts can enhance afterschool programs, what works, exemplary programs and resources.

SEDL provides information and tools to help you provide arts in your afterschool setting. This toolkit includes building skills in the arts, expressing yourself through the arts, making connections to history and culture, thinking and talking about works of art, integrating the arts with other subjects and involving families and communities. It also includes a refresher on art standards.

The YouthArts site is designed to give downloadable information about how to plan, run, provide training for and evaluate arts programs for at-risk youth.

Global learning is a great area to explore in the afterschool program. Students can gain valuable knowledge of other countries and cultures. They can also grow in their communication skills and respect for others. Global learning can be incorporated through literacy activities, technology activities, project based learning, guest speakers, field trips as well as planning your own special events.

Global Learning Resources:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides access to websites and resources on international education and upcoming events.

Project citizen provides curriculum and resources for middle, secondary, and post-secondary students, youth organizations, and adult groups that promote competent and responsible participation in local and state government.

Asia Society provides resources for planning summer programs to promote global learning.

National Summer Learning Institute provides project ideas, sample lessons and planning tips. Visit the site for more information on All Over The World curriculum, for students in elementary through high school.

The International Children's Digital Library provides children's literature online.

Afterschool is an ideal time to explore health and wellness topics. Put health and wellness knowledge into practice through healthy nutrition choices and physical activities. Afterschool is a great place to host walking clubs and yoga classes, for both students and parents. Another idea is to invite local health and wellness experts from your community for presentations. For example, invite doctors, dentists, nutritionists, counselors, coaches to teach students about healthy lifestyles. Your local 4-H group may also be a great resource for this topic. For Health Lessons for your afterschool program, download this article from the Keren Emrich Foundation.

Health and Physical Activity Web Resource:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides information on health standards, essential learnings and resources.

CDC Healthy Youth promotes the health and well-being of children to help them become health adults. This site addresses the school's role in promoting health education.

Kids Games provides ideas and rules for many playground games that can be used to promote fun physical activity.

P.E.links4u provides articles on exercise, physical activity, sports, games and activities.

KidsHealth is a web resource that provides parenting information and health news and also homework help and advice for students.

Action for Healthy Kids addresses the epidemic of overweight, undernourished and sedentary youth by focusing on change in schools.

If one of your program goals is to support academic achievement, you may consider providing homework help afterschool. The National Partnership for Quality After School Learning provides a review of literature regarding homework help in afterschool programs. Below you will find information to consider when designing your homework program. Your management team can use the homework conversation starter and homework activities guide to plan intentional homework activities that fit the needs of the students.

There are many variations in providing homework help. Some programs have homework help as an option for students while others make it a requirement. Discuss these options with school staff, afterschool staff as well as parents. You can use a homework agreement tool to put the information in writing. Your homework policies should be designed with the best interests of the students in mind. Some students may greatly benefit from this time as their families may not be able to assist at home. They may also not have the necessary space and materials to complete assignments. Other families, however, may prefer that students complete assignments at home. This way, parents have another way to stay involved in their child's education. Also, consider the needs of the students- whether they need time to relax, have a snack or exercise before getting their homework completed.

The length of time of the homework help sessions also varies and should reflect the students' grade in school. Consult with classroom teachers for their guidelines on the amount of time spent on assignments. As a general recommendation, students may spend 10 minutes per grade level on homework. A homework planning log may be a useful tool for students who need to budget their homework time and priorities.

Your staffing decisions will depend on your program needs, budget, resources and goals. All staff members working with students should be patient and respectful. Some programs may employ certified teachers for homework assistance. The benefit of employing teachers is the experience they have in teaching students and their knowledge of academic standards. They may also be skilled in walking students through the problems and guiding students to understanding the material.

Other programs may employ non-certified school staff. These staff members may also be familiar with the homework assignments and the students in the program.

Another option is to work with community partners, parents or volunteers. This option to work with adults outside of the school day may be appealing to students. These adults may offer unique perspectives and different teaching styles.

It is important that all staff members receive proper training on working with students. The homework staff self-assessment tool can be used to discuss important qualities to demonstrate during homework help.

It is important to have adequate homework space for students. Be sure to have a quiet area for students to read or work independently. Other students may wish to work in small groups. Your homework area should have proper lighting, tables and chairs. As an extra bonus, have small carpet squares or bean bags for students to relax or work on the floor.

The media center is a great space for homework help activities. Talk to your media specialist about what students can have access to during this time. For example, can the students use computers? Can the students check out books? Can the students look at magazines? If the media center is not available, consider using classrooms, the gymnasium or cafeteria. In all cases, a shared facility agreement can assist in communication. In these situations, be sure to set the tone for homework time by providing the necessary materials and expectations. Students may need items such as: paper, pencils, rulers, index cards, highlighters, markers and calculators. Younger students may also need wide-ruled paper, crayons, glue, and construction paper.

Keep discussions open with parents and school staff regarding homework help. Find out which students should work independently and which students should receive assistance. Find out about student learning styles and strengths. Ask teachers about grade level learning goals and what activities may complement lessons. Talk to parents about what kind of assistance the student needs. Find out if assignments should be sent home to be reviewed by parents or if they would like an update on what was completed. To keep all parties informed, consider using homework logs, tutoring receipts or homework sharing tools.

When students are finished with assignments, provide them with additional materials for independent activities. Students can read magazines or play education card games or board games. Some students may enjoy sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles. Other students may like to draw, journal or visit with friends. Your media center may have computers for students to use educational games. You may consider providing structured activities for these students or letting them choose what projects they would like to participate in. Don't be surprised if some students choose to come to homework help even if assignments are finished. They often enjoy creating their own activities using their imaginations!

Homework help resources:
SEDL provides the above tools and more to help afterschool programs provide homework help sessions. Topics include involving day schools, families and communities; managing and organizing the homework environment; monitoring and communication student progress; tutoring, mentoring and building study skills. Visit

There are several different approaches to promoting literacy in the afterschool setting. Your approach will vary depending on the goals of your program and afterschool setting. Some programs may elect to provide more rigorous tutoring while others may imbed literacy into real life activities.

If your program serves a wide range of ages, consider facilitating buddy reading. Older students will enjoy reading and interacting with younger students. If your program has volunteers, you can also pair up an adult and student for paired reading. Volunteers can also provide read aloud time for younger students.

A reading circle is a fun activity for older students. Allow the students the choice of reading material. Students may also use newspapers and magazines for reading afterschool. After they read, consider giving students time to share aloud with other students what they have learned. Also, readers theater is an interactive way to incorporate reading into the afterschool program.

For service learning, provide lessons on a topic such as elders. Teach students about the older population. Then, collaborate with a senior center for visits to interview older adults. For a project based literacy activity, students can work on writing newsletters for the afterschool bulletin. They can also design and write invitations for events and thank you cards for community partners.

Consult with school staff for information on reading standards and activities. For more information, see the website below.

Literacy resources:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides information on standards, reading and writing activities and resources.

SEDL provides information and tools to help you provide literacy enrichment programs in your afterschool setting. This site includes a review of literature and tools for the areas of literature circles, read alouds, dramatizations, writing, family literacy events and tutoring.

NWREL provides information on the 6+1 Trait Writing analytical model. This resource includes tips and lesson plans for teachers.

EdbyDesign offers interactive educational games for students and information on a variety of subjects for parents.

The American Initiative on Reading and Writing provides guidelines and activities for parents and teachers to share with students to foster good literacy habits.

The Writing Project provides links to research, articles and resources on writing practices.

The afterschool setting is the ideal place to help students develop math skills through every day games and activities. For example, students of all ages can practice math using simple board games and card games. Students can practice math in a cooking club through measurements in recipes. Students can build a garden, measuring spaces and mapping out the placement of plants and flowers. Sports games and physical activities also offer a unique way to incorporate math into fun games. Visit with school teachers to learn about the math standards and the concepts students are working with at each grade level. Brainstorm how to practice these skills in real-world situations.

Math Resources:
Nebraska Department of Education provides information on math standards and activities.

SEDL provides information and tools to help you provide math enrichment programs in your afterschool setting. This site includes a review of literature, math centers, math games, math projects, and math tools. This resource also provides ideas for using math in family connections and with ELL students. (

Math is My Bag by J. Thomas Sparough is a resource available for purchase. It is for parents, teachers and afterschool staff. All activities in this resource utilize an everyday plastic shopping bag, which is thrown, spun, kicked, and caught illustrating math concepts such as addition, subtraction, division, and especially multiplication. (

Family Math by Jean Stenmark, Virginia Thompson and Ruth Cossey is a resource that is available for purchase. It provides activities to bridge home and school through activities using inexpensive materials (toothpicks, beans, coins). These activities can be used to help children and parents practice problem solving math skills. ( Click here for an Example of Family Math (Balloon Ride).

The afterschool program provides a great opportunity to explore science. Students can be engaged in exciting, hands-on activities that will build their understanding of scientific concepts. Consider using project based learning to apply scientific principles to real life situations. By offering a science club, students can explore numerous types of science projects. Also, students can organize a science fair to display finished projects and invite parents and community members to attend. Consider community partners to work with your science activities. Your local 4-H group is a great resource for science materials. Also, universities or high schools may have science clubs that can partner with your program.

Science Resources:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides information on science standards.

Family Science is an informal science education program that gives parents and children an opportunity to work and learn together. Hands-on activities that use easy-to-find, inexpensive materials let families explore the ways in which science plays a role in daily life. For more information on activities and resources visit their website.

SEDL provides information and tools to help you provide science enrichment programs in your afterschool setting. This site includes a review of literature and information on investigating through scientific inquiry, exploring science through projects and problems, integrating science across the curriculum, and engaging families and students together. (

The Lunar and Planetary Institute offers space science resources for families and educators.

Buck Institute for Education provides information on the history and benefits for project based learning.

The use of technology in your program will draw students in. Students will be enthusiastic about opportunities such as photography, music composition, movie making, robotics, and geocaching. Technology can also be used for interactive learning labs to communicate with others throughout the world. For cross-curricular learning, allow students access to safe sites to explore other subjects related to global learning, math, science, etc.

Technology resources:
The Nebraska Department of Education provides information on technology standards, essential learnings and resources.

SEDL provides information and tools on technology including developing self-expression and creativity, gathering and sharing information, finding and solving problems, living and working in technology, learning in virtual spaces and building skills and understanding. There is also a standards refresher. Visit

Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network provides practical research based information for parents and teachers. Find lesson plans and resources at Also, there is a section of activities just for kids at

Each day can be an opportunity to get parents involved in their student's education. Keep your program welcoming to parents and guardians to visit and interact with program staff. Communicate with parents regularly about how his/her student is doing and what they are learning afterschool. Provide opportunities for parents and students to read together, play cards and board games and participate in physical activities. You can also provide special events to highlight student accomplishments. Invite parents to stay for a meal. Provide resources for parents to support their child's learning at home. For example, your program may be able to check out resources such as books, educational videos and games. For more information on parent involvement, visit the sites below.

Parent involvement resources:
The Harvard Family Research Project provides an article on multiple aspects of building parent and community relationships with the school in The Evaluation Exchange. Also, for more information on family involvement, visit their website.

Focus on Families is a joint publication of The United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Harvard Family Research Project and Build the Out of School Time Network. It addresses how to build family centered practices in afterschool. 

PTA office provides resources for parents to help their children be safe, healthy and successful in school.

Children, Youth and Families Education and Research Network provides resources on what parents can do to raise healthy children; how families can cope, adapt and become strong; how couples can build healthy relationships; how adults can cope with life span issues; and what educators can do to support parents and families.