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August 21, 2018

According to the National Science Foundation, humans have somewhere between 12,000 and 70,000 thoughts each day. Sad to say, up to 80 percent of those thoughts are negative — but we can do something to change that. Educators hear a lot about positive youth development, character education, positive behavior interventions, social emotional learning and positive program climate. Programs that formalize these practices can contribute to building confidence, resilience and happiness for the youth we serve. With or without a formal program, you and your out-if-school time program can immediately implement practices that will start harnessing the power of positivity.

Positive Self-Talk

In Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help, a little girl learns this mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” This is exactly the kind of positive self-talk we want to encourage in our students. How often have you heard a student say, “I’m not good at…” or “I can’t…”? Make a conscious effort to help them rephrase those thoughts more positively: “I’m getting better at…” or “I’m learning how to…” When you take the time to restate something in a positive way, you help a child train their brain to think more positively. You might ask students to develop a positive mantra for the program and individual mantras for themselves. Devote a quick minute each day to repeating those mantras and further developing their positive self-image.

Gratitude

Students can get caught up in the game of comparison: someone else has fancier belongings or is more skilled at a sport. Help students realize their natural abilities and identify their strengths. Consider having students start gratitude journals. Processing thoughts for a few minutes a day can build important cognitive skills, and capturing them in a journal develops writing skills. You could start a gratitude sharing practice during snack time. Ask students what they are thankful for that day or what they are looking forward to in the program. Helping students learn to identify and focus on positive things in their world builds a positive world view.

No Complaining

How many complaints do you hear in a typical program day? It’s time to issue a no complaining challenge! We can help students — and ourselves — learn how to respond more positively and effectively to whatever life throws at us. In his book, A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen describes his complaint-free challenge. He uses a 21-day cycle, during which participants wear an arm band and move it from one arm to the other each time they complain. This creates a physical reminder to think more positively. You might have your students create positivity friendship bracelets and try the same challenge. The goal is to keep the bracelet on the same arm for a full 21 days. Students can remind each other not to complain and help each other rephrase thoughts to be more positive.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” You can help students change how they view themselves and their world, and lower the percentage of negative thoughts in their day. Try one of these positivity practices and watch the impact on your students and the overall climate of your program. For a ready-to-use professional learning session on positive youth development, download this Y4Y Training to Go. For a quick one-page reference, also grab The 5C’s of Positive Youth Development.



August 7, 2018

Could you pass a basic test of financial literacy? According to the FINRA Foundation’s National Capability Study, in 2015, 63 percent of Americans couldn’t. Can you calculate the interest you would owe on a loan, do you know the difference between a 401K and an IRA, or do you know how to improve your credit score? Because so many adults struggle with these concepts, we need to do a better job of preparing students and closing the financial literacy gap.

Where are young people supposed to learn about money and their financial future? In 2018, according to a report from Next Gen Personal Finance, only 16.4 percent of students were required to take a personal finance course prior to graduation. Out-of-school time programs that connect activities to the real world are the perfect place for students, from elementary to high school, to enhance and apply financial literacy skills. The big question is where to begin, especially when many adults may not feel confident in financial literacy.

A number of groups, such as the Jump$tart Coalition and the Council for Economic Education, have done some thinking about what financial literacy should look like at different ages. At its most basic, financial literacy can be broken down into these categories:

  • Earning
  • Spending
  • Saving and Investing
  • Credit and Debt
  • Protecting and Insuring

So, how do you help students of all ages better understand those categories and give them opportunities to explore and practice related skills? Financial literacy shouldn’t be taught through boring slides that explain compound interest. Let students truly explore financial concepts in action!

  • Students can collaborate to create a business and sell a product, such as pet rocks. Give students a start-up budget that they must manage. Let them determine their expenses, price their product, and learn about profit and loss. Have them make proposals to other students for investment money. See this Edutopia blog for more ideas about introducing entrepreneurial activities.  
  • Middle and high school students can participate in the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game, which is specifically designed for out-of-school time programs.
  • Give students a taste of life after graduation. Many online resources offer game-of-life lessons, or you can try the Finance Authority of Maine’s online Claim Your Future game. Here, students can try out various education choices, careers and other financial decisions.

Teaching financial literacy also provides great opportunities for community partnerships and high-value connections to students’ family members. Many banks offer some form of community outreach programming. This could include a speaker who would visit your program, a volunteer who would teach a series of classes, or the opportunity for your site to offer banking days complete with student savings accounts. Invite parents and other family members to build financial literacy alongside their children, or schedule events at convenient times and locations for family members who work during program hours.

To explore more resources and ideas for incorporating financial literacy into your program, visit the Financial Literacy for All section of the Y4Y website and download the Quick Guide to Financial Literacy.



July 16, 2018

It’s hard to believe, but fall is just around the corner. As you plan learning events and opportunities for the next school year, focus on your requirements, needs and goals. Then brainstorm and organize resources to support staff learning.

Requirements

Many states, school districts and child care licensing organizations require annual professional learning hours, and many define topics that must be covered. In addition, state 21st CCLC program guidance may require grant-supported staff to attend events such as an annual conference. Your approved grant proposal might include a professional learning plan that defines the number of annual hours and specific training topics. Be sure you know all program and staff requirements before beginning to plan your calendar of opportunities.

Needs

Consider overall and individual staff learning needs. Have staff members do a self-assessment to uncover areas where they feel most confident and where they need further development. Now is a great time to discuss how your staff believes they learn best. Do they prefer traditional classes, or would they prefer peer mentoring? Coordinate this self-assessment information with annual staff review data and ongoing observation data to get a well-rounded view of staff needs. You might also create an inventory of strengths so you’ll know which people have skills (classroom management or activity design, for example) that might make them good mentors.

Goals

Examine your continuous improvement goals for the year. Maybe you want to emphasize project-based learning or find ways to provide continuous education through better alignment with student needs. Think about types of training and support that will help staff implement the plan. To be successful with a new initiative, staff may need to observe other practitioners in action, receive regular feedback, and have opportunities to reflect on their own learning and practice.

Resources

Y4Y has a wealth of resources to help you along the way. Staff can use online courses to build knowledge and skills on a range of topics. For quick strategies on academic enrichment activities, inclusion of students with disabilities or new director orientation, see the Y4Y Implementation Guides section. Y4Y Click and Go resources offer mini-lessons, podcasts and downloadable tools that focus on intentional design of activities. See the Y4Y Train Your Staff section for materials that help you assess staff knowledge and implement training using fully scripted PowerPoint presentations, training guides and handouts. Go to Professionalization Resources to access higher education opportunities and your state’s out-of-school time network, where you may find free or low-cost learning opportunities. With this many great learning resources, you’ll be ready to kick off a new year of learning in no time!



July 16, 2018

How is your summer program going so far? Are students engaged and attending? Retention can be a real challenge this time of year, when you don’t have the automatic incentive of school attendance to support program attendance.

Two keys to retaining students in summer and out-of-school time are family engagement and student engagement. Ideally, you already have some engagement strategies in place. For example, if you’re going to have an attendance contract with incentives for compliance, that needs to be set up at the outset. If you decide to have a parent liaison — a tactic proven to improve retention — you need to recruit a volunteer or part-time staff member well in advance. Here are more ways you can add to your retention toolkit if your current strategies aren’t enough.

Family Engagement

The younger the student population, the more family engagement matters. Here are some ideas for keeping parents and caregivers involved.

  • Pick up the phone. Call families of children who’ve missed more than a day or two. Let them know their child’s participation is important to the child and to the program.
  • Send materials home. Keep families engaged by showcasing what their children are doing. Suggest “conversation starters” about an aspect of program content that families can discuss together, followed by simple activities the whole family can do at home — find examples here.
  • Set up a family meeting. Involve whole families in program content with a fun, active event.
  • Recruit family members to help with programming. It’s not too late to get family members who aren’t at work during the program day to help with field trips, games, art activities, reading aloud or any activity where you could use an extra (untrained) adult.
  • Make a “good news” call. Boost retention by calling families to report children’s academic or behavioral gains.

Student Engagement

Keeping young people involved in program content and activities is important no matter the age group. It’s especially vital for high school and older middle school youth, whose parents have less influence over their attendance and who juggle other priorities that compete with program attendance. 

These ideas for engaging students are long-term strategies, but now’s a great time to start!

  • Set up a culture of high expectations. An environment in which students hold one another accountable will go further than any number of reminders from adults.
  • Get students involved in authentic work. You’ll get built-in motivation from project-based learning that delivers products with tangible benefits for the students or the community. Use this checklist with students and staff to gauge participation levels.
  • Tap into the power of peer groups. Students are more likely to show up when they know their group needs their creativity and input — and will miss them if they’re gone.
  • Support staff to build strong relationships. The quality of youth-adult relationships is an important factor for getting young people to come back. Try using positive youth development approaches and other ways to create a positive environment.

If you haven’t already built these retention tactics into your program, what can you add today? What can you put on the planning list for next year?



June 20, 2018

Do you wake up each morning with a new brilliant idea for your program? That’s wonderful! But when was the last time you encouraged your program team to bring their ideas to the table? Try these strategies to bolster professional learning this fall, and you’ll set the stage for teamwork and creativity.

  1. The spontaneous yes. The next time you hear a team member introduce a good idea with “I wish…” or “If only…,” respond with an enthusiastic “Yes! Terrific idea!” Follow up by asking them to start thinking of ways to make it happen. Offer to put the idea on the agenda for a future team meeting so they can get input from others and develop the idea further. Your encouragement and support might be just the push they need to get the ball rolling.
  2. Virtual brainstorming. These sessions often start in real time during team meetings and move to a virtual (online) space with a "ticking clock" deadline (usually 1 to 5 days). This approach gets even the most shy or reluctant team member to participate. Team members can add to one another's ideas during the virtual brainstorming session but refrain from evaluating or criticizing ideas. No decisions are made until after the deadline.
  3. The “what if” game. Invite your team to reflect on this question: “If money and resources were not an issue, what program practice would you add, change or get rid of, and why do you think it would make a positive difference?” Once everyone’s ideas are on the table, challenge the team to “think outside the box” about possible ways to make their best ideas come true. (You could use the “virtual brainstorming” process to play this game.)