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July 26, 2022

What opportunities do you offer in your 21st CCLC program for older and younger students to interact? How can that interaction benefit both parties? With tips from Y4Y’s Stages of Child and Adolescent Development and other courses and resources, explore ideas for the fall that can help all students grow socially, academically, and emotionally by forming big/little sister and brother types of bonds.

Research Speaks
Pairing students in similar age groups — whether they’re the same age or a few years apart — falls under the highly regarded pedagogical approach of peer instruction. A great deal of research shows that peer instruction can lead to better conceptual understanding, more effective problem-solving skills, increased student engagement, and greater retention of students (in science especially). These academic outcomes are true for both the younger student (who enjoys the attention of an older student) and the older student (who deepens their understanding by unpacking a topic well enough to explain it to someone else). But the benefits don’t end there. Y4Y’s course on stages of child and adolescent development, specifically the development matrix, can help you recognize the fertile ground of students’ social and emotional development and how you can help guide relationships to make the most of these opportunities.

Many 21st CCLC programs say younger students:

  • Are flattered and honored at forming friendships with older students, and it nurtures their self-esteem. Whether during the elementary years when self-image is being developed or adolescence when it’s suffering a bit, their confidence will get a boost.
  • Improve their goal setting. The adults in your program rank right up there with parents when it comes to students identifying with their elders, but close interactions with a student just a few years older can give that younger student ideas about realistic and attainable goals. This can include “do’s” and even a few “don’ts.”
  • Are inspired to do their very best. These relationships won’t be exactly like sibling relationships (surely you’ll be spared the hair pulling and the arm punching), but the upside of youngsters wanting to impress the “older sibling” is ironclad.
  • Learn through modeling. Younger students watch olders’ every move and interaction. Provide tips and training to older students about expectations and appropriate behaviors for working with younger students. Older students who model mature behavior can support healthy social and emotional development.
  • Gain a confidant. Young students could be grappling with everything from secrets about birthday presents to much more difficult subjects. A slightly older friend might offer a comfortable avenue for younger students to confide in. Be sure older students understand how to respond if a younger student confides something that seems especially troubling or disturbing. They might need help deciding which “secrets” to keep and which ones to share with an adult.

Many 21st CCLC programs say older students:

  • Are inspired to do their very best. Especially if your “older students” are in the thick of adolescence, the unbridled enthusiasm of younger students can pull them out of their shells into new (old!) bursts of creativity.
  • Develop empathy. This might be the greatest reason of all to implement those big sibling/little sibling kinds of relationships — offering students a concrete way to consider the thoughts and feelings of another person is a fast track out of narcissistic thinking.
  • Start thinking in terms of community. Your program can foster a sense of community all day long, but this has true meaning for students only when they see how they can personally make a difference. Starting inside your program helps students develop the practice of “giving back” that helps them develop as good citizens.
  • Improve their attendance. Once older sisters and brothers recognize a younger student is depending on them, they’re less likely to blow off your program, and we all know the benefit in that!

Keep It Simple
You don’t have to be ambitious about bringing students of different ages together, whether it’s for occasional tutoring, a large-group project, or social activities like icebreakers. You might be surprised at the ideas they come up with all on their own to strengthen their sisterly (and brotherly) bonds!