Friday, June 3, 2011

8 Habits of Highly Effective Afterschool Leaders

Habit #3 has 3 Parts: The Great Afterschool Programming Triad – the ERE

See the YouTube video snippet of our 8 Habits workshop!

When intentionally designing an afterschool program, three basic programming tools to consider are the Environment, Relationships and Experiences (ERE). We have an influence on children through the Environment we create, the Relationships we develop, and the Experiences we provide for them. This theory reflects current brain research and afterschool quality research.


When you walk into a gymnasium, you behave differently than when you walk into a library. When you walk into a funeral home, you might behave the same as if you walked into a government building, but you might feel differently. You see, the environment says things to people about the way they should behave and feel. Similarly, the afterschool environment tells children some important things about the way they should behave and feel, so it is important that leaders provide an environment that encourages desirable behavior. The space should say "Play with me!" in a way that clearly defines how to play with it. The way you arrange your space tells children what types of behavior are expected in that space.

Dramatic Play Area

Highly-effective afterschool leaders initially provide an environment, which meets the basic biological needs of children, taking into consideration safety, nutrition, and water. They then add novelty and stimulation to the environment by creating a variety of areas in which children can be involved in diverse ways: art, construction, fine motor, manipulatives, quiet conversation, food, science, strategy games, and outdoor play. Afterschool leaders can provide novelty and enrich the environment through new colors, posters, child’s art, and music.

Indoor space: The indoor space needs to be clean and colorful, interesting and inviting, and it needs to reflect the children -their varying ages, cultures and special interests. It needs to be broken up into different areas, providing a variety of activity choices. It needs to be labeled; clearly communicating what privileges and expectations children have in each area. It needs to be homelike, and contain at least one very homelike area.

Planning and preparing the environment can be an activity! Get the children involved in designing the space. Generate some discussion and have them write suggested floor plans. Include science, art, construction, science, homelike, drama, and snack areas. Give them the feeling of ownership, while teaching them citizenship. If you involve all of the children, it will help your environment to reflect your group of kids and what they like.

In another area, make a special interest place that changes regularly. In this area, put any kind of fun thing that you can think of, or any special thing that interests a leader or the children currently. The key here is variety. Have plenty of choices and opportunity to do many things that will interest many different children, so that they are having fun and are engaged and less likely to misbehave. Misbehavior is often due to boredom or activity choices that are too difficult, too limiting, or not challenging enough to meet the needs of certain children.

Outdoor Space: Outdoor space is very important to quality and to behavior management. The playground is a kid’s world and it needs to stay that way. It is a place where they can learn life. They learn about government and global domination by staking out territory, forming alliances and making treaties. They are under constant staff supervision, but they have the opportunity to spread out and call a place their own, and feel like they are on their own. That is very important to them.

Playgrounds need to be safe, and it is the responsibility of every afterschool leader to ensure that it is. Establish rules: playground equipment was designed to be used in a certain way, as a rule of thumb - require children to use the equipment in the way it was meant to be used. Establish boundaries: allowing children to use only the amount of space that the supervising leaders can safely supervise.

Effective afterschool leaders create special interest centers outside too. Sand toys are a great way to allow for dramatic play outside. Children will construct extravagant make believe places, with no material at all, but making some shovels, buckets, sifters and some cars will help the process along. Allowing children to build forts outside is another way to allow for dramatic play, but make sure forts allow for supervision of the children inside by leaders that are outside. Bubble making is a great outdoor interest center, all you need is a bucket of dish soap and water and some handmade or store bought bubble makers. Water tables and other water activities are great outdoors. Make sure to have plenty of outdoor equipment available: playground balls, softball set, footballs, soccer balls, frisbees, ropes, parachute, etc.


Relationships are important in the social context of the school and school-age care community. Relationships between adults, between children, and between adult and child must be positive. Research shows that children who develop a positive identity are more likely to experience academic achievement, positive peer relationships, and community service. Children who do not develop a positive identity are more likely to engage in a wide variety of negative behaviors including violence, early sexual behavior, school behavior concerns and the use of drugs. Positive identity includes developing a sense of personal empowerment, a sense of purpose, a positive view of personal future and high self-esteem. It is important to provide opportunities to succeed through empowerment by the intentional programming of the adult-child relationships in school-age care programs. Self- esteem is the ability to respect oneself and to think highly or favorably of oneself, and it is very important that this ability not be squashed, but nurtured and protected.

Self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, and self-acceptance are all terms used to describe the way people think and feel about themselves -- adequate or inadequate, likable or unlikable, lovable or unlovable, valuable or worthless, smart or stupid, good looking or ugly. An adult can squash a child's self-esteem, but cannot alone build a child's esteem. Self-esteem comes from inside people and cannot be developed externally. Self-esteem is an internal asset that is built when children do things that they have a right to be proud of. Highly effective afterschool leaders facilitate the development of social competencies, decision-making, community responsibility and other skills and abilities that allow children to develop a positive image of themselves, their abilities and their personal future.

The way children feel about themselves depends largely on their response to the "feedback" they have received from the important people in their lives. If these people have helped children to feel significant, empowered, and loved, they will be inclined to have a positive self-image. If people give children a reason to feel inadequate and unneeded, they are apt to find themselves thinking they are a failure and do not have anything positive to offer, so they tend to offer negative behavior. It is important for school-age care leaders to provide boundaries and high expectations for children and to value them as important people who have a role in society.

Leaders must facilitate the internal development of self-esteem in every child, through self-discipline, empowerment, high expectations, and through having a role in the program. When this is done, most discipline problems fail to materialize. The personality of the leader is a primary factor to building a relationship of trust and respect. There are few skills the leader may consciously develop to gain the influence that will tend to result in higher self-esteem.

It's ALL about the Relationships!

• Have a genuine liking for each child in the program.

• Avoid showing favoritism.

• Show sympathy and understanding.

• Employ democratic methods.

• Have faith in children to accomplish tasks and do the right thing.

• Be extremely fair in decisions.

• Have a sense of humor.

• Give sincere compliments regularly.

• Be consistent in attitude, behaviors and decisions.

• Use phrases like "Knowing you I'm sure you'll do fine," "I can see you put a lot of effort into that,” "You can figure it out," "I have faith in you", and "Don't worry we all make mistakes."

• Avoid saying things like "Let me do that for you," "Better get some help," "If you can't do it right don't do it at all," "You can do better," "That looks too difficult for you," and "Don't touch it, you'll break it.”

Highly-effective afterschool leaders work to establish and encourage realistic boundaries and high expectations for children. High expectations provide children with the appropriate novelty, challenge and feedback necessary for brain enrichment. Afterschool providers can plan interactions with fun, caring, authoritative, and mature adults who are experts in child development. They plan for interactions between children of different ages who model responsible behavior and share a sense of community. Challenging, interactive feedback is a key to brain enrichment.


Afterschool leaders can introduce variety and novelty. Novelty in the form of experiential learning is the key to brain enrichment. Afterschool leaders must provide a variety of enriching experiences such as field trips, guest speakers, computers, games, role plays and dramatic play, art activities, and long- and short-term projects.

Interactive and self-generated feedback is critical for brain enrichment. Afterschool leaders must provide a mix of child-directed and adult-directed activities. Research indicates that children can to learn to play a musical instrument or speak a new language more easily before the age of ten; therefore, afterschool leaders must provide enriching experiences like music and language.

Knowing that motor stimulation and activities requiring hand-eye coordination stimulate neural growth patterning, afterschool leaders should provide sports and other novel sources of motor stimulation. Knowing that challenging problem-solving helps grow a better brain, they should involve children in and teach them about creative problem-solving. Afterschool leaders should teach children to identify problems, redefine the problems as goals, brainstorm about possible solutions, select and implement solutions and follow through on the consequences of their actions, knowing that neural growth happens through problem-solving, regardless of the solution.

Afterschool leaders also must provide problem-solving opportunities through science, math, and building projects. The brain is designed for music and art. Knowing that music arouses the brain and carries words, they should incorporate music into the experiences. Knowing that art has a dramatic, positive, measurable, and long-lasting effect on brain development and social development, they should provide creative, playful art experiences. When planning for experiences, they plan for building a sense of community and for brain enrichment, rather than providing activity for the activities' sake.

Community-Building Activities
 Planning the Activities: The time spent goal setting and planning and visualizing how you plan for things to run will have significant pay offs in behavior management. Planning minimizes waiting/down times, allows for organized transition times, ensures variety for the children, and therefore, reduces misbehavior that is caused from boredom.

Why Plan? - Children will generally find ways of occupying themselves, even if no plans are made. Why then should you bother to plan at all?

1. Planning ensures the variety and novelty that the brain craves. The more choices a child has the more possibilities a child has to be involved in a positive and appropriate way.

2. Planning cuts down on the amount of conflicts children have. Children need free time, but when children have too much free time, boredom leads to misbehavior.

3. Planning is a way of accessing quality in the program, passing useful information on to other leaders and recording for future reference what was done at the center.

4. Planning sets forth specific responsibilities for leaders, aides, and volunteers.

5. Planning provides an outline, which determines what supplies, materials and duties will be needed on a given day.

6. Planning provides substitute coordinators and teachers with information in the event that a leader is absent.

7. Planning makes it possible to inform school administration and parents of program activities. It is very important that educators and parents see afterschool leaders as professionals who believe in quality and in the education and development of children.

Vital Curriculum Planning Elements – NOVELTY is the key!

1. Active play and passive activity choices.

2. Opportunities to be creative: art (not packaged projects), drama, dance, music, & play.

3. Opportunities for the kids to be involved in the planning and operating of the program.

4. Diverse activity choices, which reflect on the cultures of the program and community.

5. Activities designed by older kids and with older kids in mind.

6. Opportunities for the program to be involved in helping the community.

7. Opportunities for children to develop life skills such as cooking, earning money, etc.

8. Opportunities for families to be involved in the school-age care program.

9. Long and short-term projects for children to see through to the end.

10. Have Fun! Fun, playful activities that children truly love!

Put your plans in writing: In addition to the promotional activity schedules produces for the clients, each coordinator should make more specific and detailed written plans. The daily plans should model the daily schedule in the parent manual, but be filled with details. It is advisable for coordinators to post this more detailed daily plan at the parent center (on an eraser board), so that parents can see the depth of planning involved. This daily plan should include approximate times, what is given for snack, free time, adult and child directed activities, interest centers, scheduled activities, transition and cleanup times, announcements and discussion/round up. Now that you have spent all of this time planning, planning, planning - be flexible. Your written plans are an outline. Stick closely to the outline, but if you have planned a game of super silly soccer and the children do not want to play, then substitute other opportunities for active play for the super silly soccer game. Remember that offering activities that are interesting and enjoyable to the children in the ultimate goal, so you must sometimes sacrifice the plans for whatever works!

1 comment:

  1. First of all, yes, I have attended your workshops, they are both informative and fun. I like implementing your suggestions/ideas into my program for enhancement and improvement to better serve my students and their families. I like the fact that as a professional of After-School services I am on the right track, that the work I'm doing is a positive experience and enjoyable for the students and is developing self-esteem and for students to become life-long learners. Thank-you so much and continue to have me on your e-list.


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