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August 25, 2022

Smiling teenage boy reading book online on tablet computer when his sister checking social media on smartphoneWhile students decidedly still need access to books, you may depend heavily on computers for literacy activities in your program. Here are some reminders about partnering with the school day to share resources, teaching internet safety to even your youngest students, and thinking critically about the websites they’ll visit.

Centering on Centers?

If your data tell you that literacy needs to be a high priority in your program, literacy centers can be a great approach. What’s more, devices can be a way to address lower-than-ideal staff-to-student ratios when you want to keep groups small.

  • Start with Y4Y’s Literacy Activity Center Planner tool. It will help you think about how you’ll design centers to accommodate some use of computers or tablets for students to independently build literacy skills.
  • Check out the Y4Y Literacy course and its full list of tools for more guidance on developing your specific activity goals.
  • What familiar websites are going to be comfortable and user friendly for students? Has your district already done its due diligence in identifying the best literacy sources? Are they willing to share online subscriptions, given that you’re all serving the same students? Consult Y4Y’s Continuous Education course and its full list of tools if your leadership needs to get up to speed on forging and maintaining that partnership with school-day professionals.
  • Y4Y also has developed a list of reputable online education sources, available in the Quality Online Education Resources tool.

Next-Level Decisions

Y4Y offers an entire Click & Go on digital literacy to further guide decisions about what online activities to offer and how to train students to use the internet safely and wisely.

The Future of Using the Internet to Strengthen Literacy

The pandemic meant hitting the “fast forward” button on virtual learning. The planet was headed in that direction already, but my how that process sped up!  Y4Y developed The Virtual Edge course to help 21st CCLC professionals continue to use virtual learning to their students’ advantage. But here’s a thinker: did you notice how many celebrities began to do online BOOK read-alouds during that time? Storyline Online is a great example. This was in recognition that when it comes to literacy, almost nothing compares to reading, or being read, a good old-fashioned book. So, as you continue to offer literacy activities on devices in your program, never forget the value of sitting in front of your students with a picture book in hand, doing all the funny voices and gestures that you can muster, and foster a lifelong love of reading.



August 25, 2022

bookshelf with booksDo your students have unlimited access to the school library? Do you depend on donations of books, or do you use your 21st CCLC grant money or other braided funds to keep that bookshelf stocked? What role do books play in your program schedule? These back-to-basics reminders point to research about why books in hands are so important for all children.

Start With Staggering Stats

A 2019 study of 31 countries found that individuals who grew up with a home library demonstrated greater adult literacy, adult numeracy, and adult technological problem-solving. While researchers looked for a relationship between library size and these skills, they discovered that the greatest returns from book ownership came from smaller libraries — and that’s good news for your families! Another literacy study makes the shocking claim that the likelihood of being on track in literacy and numeracy almost doubled if at least one book was available at home compared to when there was none. One book.

A Revolving Library?

Consider stocking a program library with the hope of sending books home permanently with students and families. This goal means high volume, so get creative in how you bring books into the program. You might

  • Partner with local stores — bookstores, thrift stores, grocery stores, and even clothing stores. Have the students make posters for a “Why I’d Like My Own Books To Keep” campaign theme.
  • Speak with the school and public libraries about taking their “hand-me-downs.” Sometimes public libraries hold fundraisers with the titles they’re retiring. You can schedule a family outing around one of these very affordable events.
  • Reach out to faith-based or parent organizations in private schools or more privileged districts — especially if you’re in a larger city — to gauge their interest in a book drive for to benefit students who don’t have home libraries. Again with the posters!
  • Research regional and national grant funding for books, such as the National Book Fund (for promoting adult literacy) and book giveaway programs like Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
  • Educate families on the relationship between book ownership and lifelong success. Be sure to stress that they don’t need to bring an encyclopedia into the home! Each family member should make selections that match their own interests.

How Y4Y Can Help

Y4Y has a number of tools that can help you ensure that what you have on your bookshelf honors everything that’s great about books!

  • Read this month’s Voices From the Field interview with Amy Franks of Book Harvest to appreciate the importance of students being able to see themselves in literary characters.
  • Keep in mind that the stories in books can be used to support many aspects of growing up healthy and well. The Y4Y Student Trauma Book List gives examples of titles to help students overcome trauma. As other titles come through your program, give them a skim and consider whether they might be earmarked for helping students through any kind of life challenge.
  • Y4Y has also developed a Financial Literacy Book List that can serve a similar purpose.
  • Book clubs gained traction during virtual learning. Download Y4Y’s tool, Literacy Book Clubs, to keep them alive in your program! Depend on those partnerships to get multiple copies of titles, and be sure these treasured sets stay with the program after the book club.
  • Your program “librarian” can make use of the Y4Y Text Genre Checklist to help stay organized and balanced in your offerings.

The Final Chapter

Comedian Trevor Noah said so poignantly in his memoir, Born a Crime, “People love to say, ‘Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ What they don’t say is, ‘And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.’ That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

The literary equivalent of that fishing rod is book ownership and, according to studies, even a modest household library can make a huge difference in the life of a young person.



August 25, 2022

Young students sitting around a table drawingAs a close second after the fear of public speaking, most of us have at least a little fear of putting our creative selves out there. But the willingness to share our literary or scientific ideas, or our artistic creations — even if we feel vulnerable — is what keeps us moving forward. Y4Y’s new Click & Go on makerspaces can help you guide students as they discover the risks and rewards of “making.” Y4Y resources on creative teamwork, design thinking, and problem-based learning will also support your efforts. Did your program participate in this month’s Date to Create? Whether it happens on August 8 or any other day of the year, show students how to support each other’s creativity.

Mission: Makerspace

Makerspaces began as an adult practice in the most forward-thinking companies, but they’ve since been adapted to educational settings for students of all ages. Makerspaces recognize and celebrate all that can be learned through tinkering and play, especially thinking critically, collaborating, and communicating. Are you considering a makerspace in your program? If so, congratulations on shifting to a “maker culture” where you encourage students to explore and innovate as you put student interests at the center of everything you do.

The Creating a Makerspace Click & Go mini-lesson introduces you to potential outcomes and simple steps for developing your makerspace based on evidence-based practices. It walks you through:

  1. Understanding your learners
  2. Evaluating existing program offerings and school-day curricula
  3. Considering global trends and best practices
  4. Developing a theme
  5. Gathering your resources

These steps are accompanied by new Y4Y podcasts and tools — with just a few linked above — to turn the idea of a makerspace into a reality that suits your program needs. After spending just 30 minutes with this content, you’ll gain key takeaways for supporting creativity, like:

  • A culture that rejects “right-answer thinking” in favor of different-answer thinking builds confidence.
  • There are no mistakes, only opportunities to discover ways to improve (a central idea in the design thinking framework).
  • Establishing student roles for group work in a makerspace can foster mutual support of creativity by developing interdependence.
  • Emphasizing questions over answers grows excitement for exploring possibilities rather than simply arriving at a destination.

Creativity Comes in Many Forms

Fostering creativity doesn’t just mean putting a paintbrush in everyone’s hand and saying, “Now get to work!” Instead, you’re encouraging students to act on their unique creative impulses. For example, some students might want a pen, musical instrument, or dance floor instead of a paintbrush! By laying the groundwork for your tailor-made makerspace — consisting of anything from popsicle sticks to computer software and many things in between ­— your program can support creativity year-round.



June 14, 2022

Conference or meeting with elementary school teachers students and parentsDo you ever feel like your 21st CCLC program is simply tapping into an already tightly woven community? This may be the case if your program has been around for a while, you lucky ducks. But if your program is new, or if people frequently move in and out of the area, you may be bringing some families together for the first time. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, serving a mix of “old” and “new” families. Whatever the case in your community, what lessons did you take away from the past program year for engaging those families? They were probably feeling torn by a strong need for supports and a healthy concern about gathering. With tips from Y4Y, reflect on your community’s greatest needs so you can plan family engagement events in the coming year that serve important purposes — including fun.

Now That’s a Fine How-Do-You-Do
Get a jump on those warm community fuzzies this fall from Day One! Staff need to be sure to know their community culture and understand the challenges that are unique to family engagement in your community. Besides tools, Y4Y offers staff training in cultural competence — try to make this important professional development a priority over the summer. (What you thought you knew about your community may have shifted dramatically.) Do you have standouts — some call them “super-volunteers” — who you can reliably go to, even after their children have graduated from your program? You know, the ones who always have their finger on the pulse of the neighborhood (in a positive way — gossips need not apply). Try to keep them on your program team through this slow shift back to “normal.” They can help you set the tone and hit the right notes as you start the program year.

Tell Me What You Need, What You Really, Really Need
Don’t let your community needs be a mystery! A crystal ball isn’t going to tell you what families are looking for when it comes to adult learning opportunities or group activities. Survey, survey, survey! Y4Y offers a family engagement survey and tips on focus groups to get a clear picture of what your families might be looking for from your program. Below are topics that just a few years ago you might not have expected to have such importance. Have potential partners lined up to offer family experiences and adult learning in:

  • Mental health resources
  • Mindfulness and other stress-reducing strategies
  • Response to trauma
  • Financial “rescue” resources
  • Childcare “co-ops”
  • Access to healthy foods

Be sure to gather this data as early as possible for the most effective planning of family engagement events. One important question on any survey: Are you more comfortable online or in person? Be ready for hybrid or parallel offerings for at least one more program year.

Did Someone Say Something About Fun?
As you work with families, you may very well be tackling some heavy topics and situations. Responding appropriately requires sensitivity and understanding. Y4Y’s Voices From the Field guest, Kathy Manley, grew up in abject poverty and later taught children who were in the same situation. She offers poignant insights into recognizing signs of poverty in children and how best to navigate those signs. She points out, for example, that children raised in poverty may sometimes laugh at seemingly inappropriate times as a defense mechanism or a way to find the lighter side of even the darkest subjects. Talk with mental health specialists on your program team about healthy ways to respond — and ways to tap into the “funny bone” as you work with children and adults.

Look for opportunities to build some laughs into your family engagement activities this year. After two years of virtual and hybrid learning, there may be more focus than ever on student learning and achievement. But who says you can’t laugh and learn at the same time? Family engagement events can be a great distraction from the heavier side of life, and you have all the room in the world to build in some fun! Consider shaping a literacy or STEAM event, for example, around:

  • A summer blockbuster comic book movie
  • Your city’s (or state’s) favorite baseball or football team
  • NASA’s 2024 mission to the moon
  • A simulated Olympics, tying academics to physical challenge stations
  • A “real-world” Minecraft or other popular video game event
  • A spin on a traditional American holiday — what celebrations around the world parallel Halloween, for example?

Are You Ready to Engage Current and Future Families?
Does your program culture and climate help you:

  • Welcome and support all students and families?
  • Foster a sense of community?
  • Consider the needs and priorities of all stakeholders (including kids!)?
  • Make room for fun?

If you can answer “yes” to these four questions, congratulations: Your next program’s already set up for a warm and wonderful start that engages all families, whether they’re newcomers or old-timers.



April 19, 2022

New York City, USA - April 28, 2019: People study in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library's main building on Fifth Avenue (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building).Where did the street names in your neighborhood come from? Or park names? Or the names of bodies of water? Diving into local human history might lead you down the path of the language spoken by your city’s first European settlers or the Native Americans who once inhabited it. You might also discover surprising connections to other places and cultures all over the world! Who are the artists and writers influencing the local atmosphere today, and how are they themselves influenced by that atmosphere? Learning about the people, both past and present, who shaped and continue to shape your local culture will connect your students to their community on a whole new level!

Past Is Prologue

These famous words by William Shakespeare tell us to understand and learn from history. Of course, engaging students with dusty old facts can be challenging. Storytelling, however, is appreciated by people of all ages, and oral histories have been a key way for many cultures to pass along important knowledge. Who are some potential program partners in state and local historical societies and libraries? Local tribal elders, organizations like Freemasons, Shriners, and Daughters of the American Revolution? These are people with a passion for local history, and many have a gift for sharing that history in colorful story form.

Be sure to access Y4Y’s course on Student Voice and Choice to drive your place-based historical inquiry. You might work with your partners to draft a questionnaire on what interests your students most, then use the results to drive your activities. Here are some potential questions to explore:

  • What Native peoples lived in the region 500 years ago?
  • What was their lifestyle like?
  • What became of them?
  • What Europeans or other non-Native peoples first settled here?
  • What was their motivation for coming? Did they come here by choice?
  • What were they looking to “create” with the farms/towns/cities they established?
  • Who developed our specific neighborhood or community?
  • How does it differ historically from other neighborhoods or communities around town?

Keeping the ever-changing tapestry of American cities in mind, you can shift your place-based human history to the present by partnering with regional educational and city government officials. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who are our largest immigrant populations today?
  • What are their motivations for coming?
  • What are they seeking from and for our community?

Effective place-based learning activities around your community’s human history can also help your students to realize that they are creating new history in that community, and that they have the potential to make an even greater impact into adulthood. For example, young people across the country are digging deeper into some historical facts that might not carry much pride in the modern era, and are pressing for school name changes. Although this concept may not sit well with community traditionalists, your partnerships can help your community grow and progress more smoothly through collaboration and mutual understanding.

Creative Influence

In an era of recorded music, audiobooks, online movie streaming, and mass production of art prints, how many adults, let alone young people, are tuned in to their local art and cultural scene? You don’t have to attend the philharmonic or exclusive art gallery openings to take an interest in your local creative culture and learn something about your community’s influencers, and neither do your students! Even more interesting, you can give students cultural and literacy experiences by discovering from local painters, potters, musicians, and authors how the community influences their work.

Start by again asking students what art forms appeal most to them. Then connect with your state and local art, music, and writers’ guilds; dedicated unions in any of these fields; privately operated performance companies such as local ballet, theater, and orchestra; and bookstores — especially independent stores — known to feature local authors:

  • Do any artisans have a studio in walking distance from your program? Why did they choose this neighborhood?
  • Perhaps a mural has been painted and you have an opportunity to connect with its creator to discuss how the piece came about.
  • Are the schools in your district aware of any alumni who have published? Would they be willing to work with you on a place-based literacy activity?
  • Summer street fairs are rich with local artisans of all forms. Maybe your summer program can connect with organizers to learn which artists are passionate about the region, and you can partner for a place-based art lesson.
  • Is there an accomplished local musician who can be found on the same corner of town on a regular basis, guitar in hand, their case open for contributions? Help students understand how accepting donations for performances (“busking”) differs from panhandling. Some may say street musicians or buskers enrich that neighborhood. What do nearby merchants and residents say about it?

Here are a few useful Y4Y tools to take on this place-based learning of human history and culture:

Author Paul Gruchow notes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “I read, in the course of 12 years of English instruction, many useful and stimulating books, but I never learned that someone who had won a National Book award for poetry… lived and worked on a farm 30 miles from my house…. I had not imagined, or been encouraged to imagine, that it was possible to live in the country, and to write books too…. I was left to unearth by my own devices, years later, the whole fine literature of my place.” Help your students to discover what rich human history and creative works have inspired and been inspired by the place in which they live.