After-School Programs in Middle Childhood
As many as 6 million students participate in middle childhood after-school programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Researchers suggest that children who attend such programs have increased achievement, better school attendance, and lower dropout rates (Fashola, 1998). Results of a study of seventh and eighth graders who attended an after-school program at least 3 days per week were happier, enjoyed activities more, and were less bored than when not attending (Dadisman, Vandell, & Pierce, 2002). Structured time also is related to a pattern of less risky future behavior in middle school and high school (Mancini & Huebner, 2004; Simpkins, Fredricks, Davis-Kean, & Eccles, 2006). Other researchers studying structured out-of-school involvement, such as taking dance classes, playing sports, or doing handicrafts, found that children’s free-time choices influenced positive social-emotional development and school adjustment (Blume, 2001; Fredricks, Simpkins, & Eccles, 2005; McHale, Crouter, & Tucker, 1999; Morris & Kalil, 2006; Ripke, Huston, & Casey, 2006). Despite parental fears about overscheduling their school-agers, there is strong, consistent evidence that participation in organized activities during middle childhood is related to positive development (Mahoney, Harris, & Eccles, 2006).
Recently, the national 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development released its findings for fifth and sixth graders from 13 states. Youth development programs specifically promote positive adult-child relations, skill-building activities, and youth leadership and are characterized by an emphasis on the “Five C’s” of competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring. Table lists 40 middle childhood developmental strengths that are promoted by such programs. While only 13% of youth were not in any structured activities, most children surveyed were involved in more than one type of activity and their enrollments changed from grade to grade. Overall, sports and arts programs attracted the greatest numbers of participants and formal youth development programs, the least (Theokas, Lerner, Phelps, & Lerner, 2006).
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