Environment and Programming
Creating the afterschool environment and providing unique programming is an important part of designing and implementing your afterschool program. By now, you developed a mission statement and specific goals, hired staff, and began recruiting students. You are now encouraged to use creativity in achieving the identified program goals.
Afterschool programs should not be considered “more school”. Rather, consider afterschool an opportunity to enhance learning through engaging experiences that are not typically offered during the school day. Programming should reflect the interests of the students. Consider community partner’s expertise, interests, and resources in the process. Overall, make sure your program meets the needs of the families and reflects the diversity of the population in your community.
The Nebraska State Board of Education approved a Policy for Expanded Learning Opportunities (learning opportunities that occur outside of the regular school day) on September 6, 2013. (Sherri, hotlink to the statement) This policy states that afterschool and summer programs are a critical component of Nebraska’s educational landscape and one that should be intentionally supported and developed in communities across our state. The State Board identified eight principles, based on the research of the Afterschool Alliance, Principles of Effective Expanded Learning Programs: A Vision Built on the Afterschool Approach)
that describe quality programs:
- School-community partnerships and resource sharing
- Engaged learning
- Family engagement
- Intentional programming aligned with the school day program
- Diverse, prepared staff including certificated educators
- Participation and access
- Safety, health, and wellness
- Ongoing assessment and improvement.
Consider these eight principles as you work with your management team to create a meaningful and engaging learning environment for students during the afterschool hours.
It is crucial for students to experience a consistently safe and positive learning environment, during both the school day and afterschool program. In order to achieve this goal, it is important that there are clear expectations regarding student behavior across all learning environments. It is recommended afterschool staff and volunteers participate in the schools’ ongoing professional development focused on supporting positive student behavior so they are aware of, and implement, policies and procedures utilized during the school day. For students to be safe and successful, it is recommended you follow the school’s procedures when using the playground, restroom, cafeteria, gymnasium, media center, and all other locations where the program is implemented. By teaching students positive behavior skills, you will not only increase learning, but also the development of important social skills that will be used in and outside of the school setting.
If one of your program goals is to support student academic achievement, consider providing time for students to work on, or complete, homework assignments. Your management team should make decisions regarding homework help based on the needs of the students and families who attend the school and live in the community. As a member of the management team, the building principal can advise the team regarding academic support needed including the amount of time, level of support, and students’ learning goals.
Staffing decisions will depend on your program needs, budget, resources and goals. Some programs utilize certified teachers for homework assistance. The benefit of using teachers is the experience they have in teaching students, along with their knowledge of grade-level learning objectives. Other programs utilize non-certified school-day staff such as paraeducators. These staff members will also be familiar with the homework assignments and the students in the program. Another option is to work with community partners, parents or volunteers for homework support. These adults offer unique perspectives and different teaching styles.
It is important to have adequate space and resources for students. Be sure to have a quiet area for students to read or work independently. Other students may be required to complete work in small groups. Your homework area should have proper lighting, desks, tables, and chairs. The media center is a great space for homework help activities. You can also consider using classrooms, the gymnasium or cafeteria. Students will also need easy access to items such as computers, paper and other writing supplies, and calculators.
When students are finished with homework assignments, have a variety of materials and activities available to support learning goals and objectives. Allow students the opportunity choose activities such as reading books or magazines, writing on topics of their choice, board games, computer games, art work, or puzzles.
Helpful resources for planning homework support include:
- homework conversation starter
- homework space
- homework activities guide
- homework agreement tool
- homework planning log
- homework logs,
tutoring receipts or
homework sharing tools
- homework staff self-assessment tool.
Developing the afterschool environment and providing unique programming is an 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. Programming should be flexible enough to take into consideration the interests of the students. Also, consider your community partners’ resources in the process. Overall, make sure that your program reflects the diversity of the population you serve.
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 activities based on their interests. For example, consider offering a music club, led by your school’s music teacher or a musician from the community. Students will be enthusiastic about the club and can participate in performances for parents and community members. Students could also participate in a dance club. A dance club is a great way to learn about other cultures and also promote physical activity. Other professionals could 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.
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.
Health and Physical Activity
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 family members. 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 Extension expert is also be a great resource for information and support.
The afterschool program provides additional time for students to engage in literacy activities (reading/writing/speaking/listening). This informal learning time is perfect for giving students of all ages time to read books of their choice, time to write on topics of their choice, time to talk about what they are reading and writing, and time to learn through speaking and listening. If your program has access to the school’s library, students will have access to a wide range of reading materials. You might also consider partnering with the library in your community to bring additional literacy activities to your students. Consider offering an afterschool writing club where students can write, and talk about their writing, including stories or poetry, alone or with others. You can also invite family members to write alongside their children. The afterschool environment is also an excellent time for students to conduct in-depth investigations on topics of their choice, and develop literacy skills as they share what they have learned with others (e.g., research, prepare presentations, present information to family or community members) through project-based learning or service learning opportunities.
The afterschool setting is the ideal place to help students develop math skills through everyday games and activities. For example, students of all ages can practice math as they play simple board games and card games. Students can practice math while participating in a cooking club through measurements in recipes. Students can plan and plant 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 the afterschool program. Visit with school-day teachers to learn about math learning objectives and the concepts students are working on at each grade level. Brainstorm how to practice these skills afterschool in real-world situations.
The afterschool program provides a great opportunity to explore science concepts. 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 students as they engage in science activities. Your local 4-H Extension group is a great resource for providing science expertise and needed materials. High schools and postsecondary institutions might also have individuals who would be interested in leading science clubs in your program.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is an interdisciplinary and applied approach to teaching and learning that utilizes hands-on, in-depth, problem-based learning. It is an excellent vehicle for engaging students attending afterschool programs because of the open-ended, flexible scheduling options afterschool allows. Examples of STEM content include robotics, wearable technology, green schools, gardening, and astronomy.
The use of technology will attract students to the program. Students will be enthusiastic about unique opportunities such as photography, music composition, movie making, robotics, and geocaching. Technology can also be used for interactive learning as students communicate with others throughout the world. For cross-curricular learning, allow students access to safe sites to explore content related to global learning, math, science, and other content areas.