Bigger, smaller, faster, louder, messier, gooier, and crazier are the adjectives to keep in mind when creating after school programs.
Quality after school programs that allow school age children to learn through play will be the most effective of any format available. A high quality curriculum will provide multiple opportunities for the children to explore and experiment, supplementing their classroom experiences without the children even realizing they are learning. This type of program can be created by taking advantage of what early childhood professionals regularly provide for their preschool programs. But keep in mind those adjectives mentioned earlier as a way to tailor the activities to the older child’s interests, whether before and after school or for school breaks when the children are present all day.
The classroom for your after school program can be set up very much like that for a preschool program, including a series of learning centers arranged around the room in such a fashion that children are able to distinguish where one area stops and another begins. Besides keeping quiet activities together and separate from the noisier centers, it is equally important to have sufficient space for two to four older children to be involved in each area, so plan for a bit more space per child than is necessary for preschool children. In addition, the decoration of the spaces doesn’t need to be elaborate, but does need to sufficiently capture the imagination of the children and begin to lay the foundation for the types of activities that will be going on throughout your after school program. The children in an afterschool program want to be able to look at an area and get an idea of how to use it without directions when possible. This is a part of their budding independence. A management system of some form can be implemented to ensure that every child gets a fair amount of time in each area.
In a home environment, providing separate activities that the older children can do while the provider is working with the younger children may meet the school age child’s need for independence without disrupting the entire schedule. However, there is a risk that the older children are essentially ignored throughout the day as the provider continues to work with the preschool children. It is then that the school age children begin to act out and develop behavioral issues. It is much more effective to create activities that all of the children can participate in at their own developmental level while the provider continues to interact with every child as a facilitator and observer of experimentation and discovery.
The children in your after school program are a lot of fun and very challenging at the same time. They will see right through you if you are not prepared or are expecting too little of them. They do not want to be treated like “babies” or preschoolers. They are barely tolerating their need to be in the same environment as the younger children as it is. These children want to be challenged to be more than they are, to do more than others think they are capable of doing, to feel they are important in your world. Treat them with respect and listen to them more often than you tell them what to do, and you will discover how very much fun you can have as an educational care provider for school age children.
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