The Learning environment

There is often a trap in the words ‘after school activities’. One may easily believe that since these activities are after school, they are not of much importance. But, one couldn’t be more wrong. Research suggests that children pick up some of their most important skills from after school programs. That is why children who do not participate in any extra curricular activities are generally slow and less vibrant.

The learning environment that one fosters in after school activities must be as disciplined and as functional as that found in the school. This is especially true of educational after school programs. This is the best place to teach the child important skills like time-management and goal setting. Time-management is a vital skill, but it is not achieved easily. Children need to feel the discipline that is needed to finish a task and the happiness of finishing the allotted work in a specific time frame.

Children look for different things in an after class program. The learning environment should be attractive, colorful and informative. Use charts, pictures, posters and drawings to liven up a class. Additional resources (resources that are not easily available in the school) will make the classes interesting. For instance, when teaching a biology lesson, allow the child to see through a microscope or see slides of bacteria. This will add to his knowledge and also make him more enthusiastic about his after school program.

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Discipline is a must in after school activities. In fun or sport-based activities, it is easy for children to step out of line and wreck havoc. While children should be allowed to have fun, they should be curtailed from unacceptable behavior. The best way to enforce discipline is to lay down the rules at the very beginning. Let the children know what is unacceptable, right at the beginning.

Rewards are an important part of any learning process. The reward can be a simple pat on the back or a token of appreciation. Motivate your children to aspire for higher things by rewarding their achievements. Holding competitions or sport activities where the children can show their proficiency is a reward in itself.

Children can get bored easily, especially in the case of an educational program. The main thrust of an academic program is to repeat what has been taught in class and to allow the child to learn it quickly. It is difficult to pique the child’s interest a second time, especially when the child is already tired of one dose of the same lesson. It is best to thwart boredom by using creative techniques like an impromptu extempore on any topic, a quiz program or a slideshow.

After school activities are becoming more popular by the day. Parents want their kids to learn more. Children too have an insatiable quest for knowledge. In an after school program, it is possible to pay individual attention and quench this thirst using various effective techniques.

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Recreational after school programs

After school programs can be divided into 3 broad categories: academic, recreational and social. Balanced development takes place when there is compatibility between the physical, mental as well as the educational achievements of the child.As the name suggests recreational after school programs are based on a sport or recreation. Some of the more common physical activities include football, swimming and basketball.Some clubs offer programs like gymnastics, trekking and hiking. In this case,youngsters are often given a short class in first-aid class also.

Recreational after school programs offer children an opportunity to let off some steam and to destress themselves. The closed classroom atmosphere and a day full of textbooks and writing cause the child to repress his natural enthusiasm. He curbs his energy when he is required to sit quietly in class and learn. Physical activity is an all-time low during such times. This physical lethargy and inaction is countermanded by recreational activities. Growing concerns of obesity and child diabetes make it necessary for children to indulge in some strenuous exercises thatwill allow them to work up some sweat.

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Unlike educational programs, recreational programs do not tax the mental processes. But, they do aid the learning process by making the child more active. A child who is physically active is mentally fit, and is able to focus his thoughts on the work at hand. Additionally, recreational programs teach discipline, mechanics of teamwork and fair play. These are important lessons in the growing process.

As more and more nuclear families emerge, the child faces greater isolation. Many children shuttle between their classroom and their bedrooms and do not have any meaningful relationships outside these. Recreational programs offer ample avenues for socialization. This is a place the child can go to and play even when his neighbor is not the most welcoming. The Boy / Girl Scout programs are excellent recreational after school programs. Lately, survival classes and camps have devised to combine important survival skills with sports and games to educate children on how to handle emergencies.

Like any good after school program, recreational programs are designed to give children a safe area where they can indulge in some group activities that interest them. This is one of the most effective ways to keep kids out of the streets and out of trouble. But, one has to be careful when enrolling children for recreational classes. The age of the child, his temperament and his physical caliber has to be taken into account before you choose the right program for your child.

classroom  Recreational after school programs classroom

Reading activities

In a world that is slowly but surely turning away from books and getting glued to monitors or television screens, the importance of developing a passion for reading cannot be overlooked. Reading is a habit and should be established when the child is relatively young. What can you do to foster this habit?

Enroll your child for reading classes: There are many well structured after school reading classes that aim to draw the children to books. They help kids with diction, idioms and phrases. For young children, these classes can be fun with animated characters and pictures. Illustrated picture books, rhymes, silly songs and pretend stories all attract the young child. Use creativity to capture the child’s vivid imagination.

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Pique your child’s interest: If your child has a favorite character, pick a series of books that features this character. For my son, it was Spiderman. Thanks to friendly neighborhood spidey, my son latched on to comics fairly early in his childhood.

Build a home-library: A skill like reading cannot be learnt in isolation. Do not leave all thehard work to the after school program. Pick up books that you think your child will like. The Internet is also a rich resource of reading games that will attract little children to the fine art of reading.

Spiderman  Reading activities Spiderman

Quirky after school programs

With the growing interest in after school programs shown by the Government as well as parents, new and hitherto unheard of programs are being explored. In an attempt to make a child aware of his responsibilities as an individual and as a citizen, these after school programs make use of a child’s natural curiosity and his irrepressible energy.

Investigative Skills In some schools in Kernersville, children are developing their investigative skills. Children meet with adults who introduce them to the details of fake non-violent crimes. They take notes, visit the scene and gather information. Students learn to listen to alibis, collect fingerprints and gather any other pieces of evidence. According to the principal, these activities challenge her students’ problem solving skills. Children learn to think critically and to form informed judgments.

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Fisheries and sciences In North Carolina, children who are interested get a chance to win a scholarship through their after school activity. Here, students are given a chance to face hands-on fisheries science experiments in a freshwater or marine setting. Professionals, educators and experts from the world of Fisheries act as mentors. Students accepted into the program get a $3,000 scholarship.

The above examples go to show that after school activities are becoming serious. They are slowly morphing into important parts of a child’s education and moving away from the fun-and-frolic-only programs of the past.

scholarship  Quirky after school programs scholarship

Potentials of after school programs

With children becoming the primary focus of society, ways and means to ensure their safety and development are being researched. The Government too has pooled in to make a success of such programs. Here are some of the reasons why after school programs have become so popular:

1) Preventing Juvenile Delinquency, crime and violent victimization: About 10% of juvenile crimes happen between 3 P.M. – 4 P.M. Children need to be kept safe and out of trouble at such times

2) Preventing alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Risk-taking behavior that seeks to establish superiority in a clan is mostly seen in ‘latchkey’ children. Children in their pre-teens, if they have a meaningful relationship with a mentor, are less likely to indulge in these kinds of destructive behavior

3) Decreases appetite for Television: An average child watches about 23 hours of TV per week. When enrolled for some activity, the child utilizes his mental and physical skills to meet challenges.

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4)Improving academic achievements

5) Improving school attendance: More confidence in self and increased interest in school leads to greater attendance in school. A program that helps children with their homework also gives the child a much-needed feeling of self-achievement.

6) Improved behavior and inter-personal skills Children who attend after school activities handle conflict better and cooperate more with authority figures.

7) Closer family and community ties.

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Over-scheduling kids

Several studies are expressing a growing concern that after school programs are pressurizing kids to do too much too soon. They point out that when a child’s afternoon is filled with classes, trips, sports another forms of organized activities, kids do not really get the time to be just kids. They are even being deprived of the cherished family time.

Undoubtedly, there are children who are being burdened with a schedule that places too much demand on their time. This leads to increased levels of stress on the child and the family. As regular studies cannot be ignored, children are almost always on the run to achieve more. Such children are really bearing a burden that is too heavy for their frail little shoulders.

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In an ideal world, all children would go home directly after school to loving and caring parents who are waiting for the children to come home. But the social and economic realities show that many children have to attend after school courses because there is no one available at home. For such children, these classes are a boon.

Parents should however restrain themselves from reading too much into these activities. After school programs are complimentary in nature. They give additional support. Therefore, their importance should also be limited.

reading  Over-scheduling kids reading

Need for after school activities

When children are literally up to their gills with the learning and sport activities in school, it may seem superfluous to enroll them for after school activities. In spite of this, after school programs are sprouting up in large numbers and most of these are booked full. This shows that there is a real need for after school activities.

The unavailability of parental supervision is the leading cause for the surge in after school programs. It is seen that many children spend about 20-25 hours a week unsupervised and alone at home. And as the saying goes, “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop”. Children who are left alone to contend with too much free time invariably fall into the wrong company. Drug abuse, alcohol, tobacco and crime come knocking at their doors sooner rather than later. Parents enroll children to various after school programs to keep them occupied in a productive manner. This way,  the kids are free to enjoy themselves in a supervised activity.

Crime is considered to be at its peak during the after school hours, between 3- 4 p.m. During such a time, children need protection. Getting the children together under one roof and encouraging them to participate in a group activity is protection enough. It diverts the children from ennui too.

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Obesity is a matter of growing concern in this country. It is noticed that more and more children are becoming couch potatoes. After school, many of them relax on the sofa with packets of chips, cool drinks or chocolates while they watch T.V. 30 % of the kids below the age of 19 are considered overweight, and about 15% of these are obese. An after school program ensures that the child shakes off his lethargy and keeps himself busy. This also helps to reduce the child’s fascination for T.V and computer games.

After school activities that promote social awareness develop the individual’s sense of social responsibility. It is seen that these sorts of programs not only keep kids out of trouble, but also help to produce responsible citizens. To that extent, they are valuable building blocks in a child’s personality.

Times are changing and parents want their children to excel in academics as well as in other activities. This may be a reflection of the parent’s unfulfilled desire to excel – a remnant from his own childhood. Whatever the reason, parents today encourage their children to enroll themselves in various programs and develop the various facets of their individuality. Children too seem to be comfortable learning many things at the same time, and gain satisfaction from this.

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How to find after school activities

Start off by making enquiries. Nothing can beat the power of information. Approach the school authorities first. Find out if they are offering any after school activities. Get a list of the various classes that are available in your school. In case the school does not provide any extracurricular activities for the child, approach your neighbors. Collect information about any after school programs, the quality of the courses taught and the timings etc. Also, check out some of the community resources. These may include places of worship, community centers, Museums, libraries, the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club etc.

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After you have colleted all the necessary information, discuss the various options with your child. Find out what his interests are. The best way to find out what is most suitable is to ask your child. When little children are too small, you cannot completely rely on their feedback. In this case, monitor the development of the child on a regular basis. If the child shows excessive resistance to an activity, it may be necessary to look for other options. Always consider your family’s schedule when planning the extracurricular activities. If it is difficult for you to chauffeur your child, you may want to employ tutors at home or conduct some activity at home itself.

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How much is too much?

Should your child go for the football practice 5 days a week?  Are 3 days enough? It is common for parents to be a little confused when it comes to deciding how much is too much with reference to after school activities. They argue that since most of the activities are fun (as different fromstudies), children will simply lap up these classes. But, too much of fun can also make a child sick. Here is a simple guide that will help you decide how much is too much for your child.

Kindergarten:Your child is just beginning to learn to interact and get used to discipline. His or her after-school life should be simple and carefree. One or two classes per week are enough at the beginning. Once the child settles down, look for more challenging activities like a music program.

Grade 1: One or two activities per week, play dates and playground visits are recommended. Avoid competitive sports activities. The child is still too young to have to worry about winning and losing. After the rigors of a full day at school, he or she needs a healthy outlet for pent up energy. Physical activities and noncompetitive sports are best for this age.

Grade 2: Your child is old enough to voice opinions on what activities he or she wants. Sports, skating, swimming or computers – steer him towards things he likes. Many children begin lessons on a musical instrument around this age. But, allow your child some ‘alone time’ during which he can unwind and just do whatever he wishes.

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Grade 3: Socialization begins to take center stage. Team sports are a good choice. Developing motor skills, painting, drawing etc are good too. Let the child explore areas of interests. But leave aside enough time for the family and for fun activities.

Grade 4: At this age, the child will tell you what he likes. He needs to get involved in activities that will boost his confidence. This will also help him manage stress as this is the time when social pressure is beginning to build. But, beware of the homework demon. Your child needs more time with his studies. Balancing his schoolwork with other activities is very important.

Grade 5: The fifth grader is bubbling with energy and will want to do just about everything. But she or he may conveniently push studies to the background. So, close supervision is needed. Keep one or two days free for family time and other activities. Now is a great time to get your child interested in community service.

Middle school: Steer him away from TV. Get him engaged in activities that reinforce learning. Academic performance can be improved by encouraging your preteen to join clubs like the Girl/Boy Scouts program, language clubs, chess clubs etc. As a thumb rule, 16-20 hours a week of extra activity should be more than enough. But look out for signs of burnout.

What you select for your child and how long he should work at it is basically decided by the child’s temperament. As a parent, you should closely observe your child and base your decisions on feedback from the child himself.

football practice  How much is too much? football practice

 

Effective after school activities

When there are so many activities on offer, and each one looks as good as the next, how do you gauge the worth and effectiveness of these activities? Sure, you want an activity that junior enjoys. But, we really cannot afford to waste time on pleasure for pleasure’s sake, do we? There needs to be a grain of gold somewhere in there. Given below is a list of characteristics that any good after school activity must possess.

Clarity in objectives and goals is the first important thing. What does the course offer? How does it propose to achieve the results? How many kids make up a batch? Ask questions. After all, when you are dishing out the dough, you really need to understand what you are getting in return.

A good after school activity will provide lots of opportunities for the young to increase their level of understanding of complex concepts. This is true of recreational activities too. Learning to pitch a ball, or dance to a tune – regardless of the activity involved, the child should be encouraged to grapple with and conquer new concepts. This not only keeps boredom at bay by challenging the child, but also builds up his self-confidence. Development of academic, personal and social skills is one of the prime aims of an after school activity. As the skills develop, the child’s self-esteem also increases.

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After school activities are all about boosting a child’s sense of competence. Good and effective after school activities promotes the resilience of youth and encourages them to grow stronger, be it mentally, emotionally or physically.

Safety is one of the first requirements of an after school activity. The staff should be qualified, adequate and alert. Never put your child in a program where safety is a matter of accident instead of a matter of priority. The staff should be friendly and should have a positive relationship with the child. Therefore, the program should have professional and trained staff that loves to interact with children. The program should maintain a cooperative and supportive attitude and a structured environment. Participation and collaboration as opposed to competition and antagonism must be encouraged.

Some programs involve the children in planning activities and making decisions. Adults often forget to get the opinion of their children. By giving the children an opportunity to voice their opinion, programs become fun activities that children are motivated to participate in. Young people thrive when they are listened to, respected and allowed to contribute their mite.

Routine evaluations are an important part of after school programs. If the child does not benefit from a class, don’t waste time being over-optimistic. Try something new.

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