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Enriching Children's Out-of-School Time

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Mar 8, 2010

School-age children between the ages of 5 and 14 spend up to 80% of their time out of school. These hours represent an opportunity to help children grow and acquire important social, emotional, cognitive, and physical skills and to help them develop lifelong interests. This time can also be used to provide support for the academic challenges faced by children each day in school.

What is an Enrichment Program?

The National School-Age Care Alliance (NSACA) Quality Standards (Roman, 1998) describe the best practices in out-of-school time programs. The NSACA standards specify that "children [should] have a chance to join enrichment activities that can promote basic skills and higher-level thinking." Examples of enrichment activities include group work on science projects, math games, and the study of plants and animals, and opportunities to create a newspaper, write a play, tackle homework, use computers, or participate in special interest groups or clubs. High-quality programs also provide time and space for children to become involved in long-term projects and productions (Roman, 1998).

This Digest examines two broad categories of enrichment programs--extracurricular and academic enrichment--and discusses program funding opportunities.

Extracurricular Activities

The theory of multiple intelligences developed by Gardner (1993) broadens our view of how humans learn and realize their potential. Classroom instruction focuses chiefly on logical/mathematical intelligences. By tapping into the underutilized intelligences, such as musical intelligence, extracurricular activities can encourage the development of skills and interests not fully nurtured during the school day. Extracurricular activities appear to provide leadership and social skills development. These skills have been shown to lead to greater self-esteem and higher aspirations in both current academic situations and in the pursuit of long-term careers (Carns et al., 1995).

While lessons and extracurricular classes have always been a part of the lives of affluent suburban children, more attention is now focused on the importance of "enrichment" programming in the lives of all children (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 1998).

Provision of extracurricular activities varies. After-school programs may offer "extra" one-day-a-week clubs that encourage children to pursue a special interest such as photography, chess, or hands-on math and science projects. These activities may be provided by regular program staff, volunteers, or invited "experts" from community museums, art centers, or music schools.

For example, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Art Moves Us program uses the talents of more than 750 local youth, ages 7-23, to research, design, plan, and render public murals. By contributing to a collaborative team of other youth and adult artists, young people learn about the techniques of working in a particular medium and transforming ideas about life in their community to images that are displayed on public transportation and city vehicles (Heath & Roach, 1998). The Virtual Y, a collaboration of the YMCA, schools, and the PTA, has brought the Y's traditional curriculum to New York City schools. Grounded in literacy-building activities, children also use the gym and other facilities within the school building (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 1998).

These creative partnerships between after-school programs, schools, and community organizations are increasing the availability of extracurricular activities for all school-age children.

Another way to challenge children and youth after school is to deepen their learning about themselves, their community, and the world beyond. Mentoring and service learning can provide youth with the opportunity to explore a variety of work environments. In addition, students who have not performed well academically in school may find an area in which they feel competent (Miller, 1998). Citizens Schools, a not-for-profit corporation, successfully combines both mentoring and service. Through its Apprenticeship Curriculum, children work directly with Boston's best performers, artisans, and tradespeople. These mentors help youth to develop high-quality, useful products or inspirational performances that are a service to their community (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 1998).

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