Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers
  1. Contact Us
  2. Join
  3. Sign In

Navigation

November 17, 2022

“October” and “scary” go hand-in-hand, whether you’re talking about Halloween or horror movies. One thing that doesn’t have to be scary, though? Encouraging your students to create a mental health tool kit! This tool kit can equip your students with ways to manage stress and anxiety while also reminding them of daily habits that are essential to mental as well as physical health and well-being.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Mental health among children and young adults is a growing concern for parents, and it has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five adolescents ages 12-17 have experienced a major depressive episode, and seven in 10 parents agree that the pandemic has taken a toll on their child’s mental health. It’s important to teach your students that attaining and maintaining good mental health is an ongoing process. It’s seldom a smooth road; it’s more akin to a journey with a few stop signs, roadblocks, and detours. The good news is that with the right map, the road is drivable, and the journey is achievable! What would this “map” look like in real life? Let’s explore.

Getting Introspective

Start with these guiding questions to help students focus on their thoughts and feelings:

  • Think of a time when you felt stressed or anxious.
  • How did your body respond to this feeling? Maybe your heart rate increased, your mouth or throat became dry, or your hands felt clammy.
  • Have you noticed certain events that cause you to feel this way? Perhaps it’s presenting to the class, meeting strangers, or taking an exam.

Once your students can pinpoint their feelings, symptoms, and potential triggers, it’s easier for them to handpick tools that can deescalate the situation. There are a multitude of ways to de-stress, and it can look different for everyone! Have your students try the following strategies:

  • Breathe in, breathe out: Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in for four counts. Then exhale slowly through the nose for four counts. Pay attention only to the rise and fall of your belly and chest.
  • Music therapy: If you’re able to, listen to a song that makes you feel calm or happy. Many music streaming services have playlists specifically designed to curb anxiety.
  • Muscle relaxation: Stress and anxiety often cause pain and tension in certain muscles, so tensing and releasing those muscles can provide relief. Try squeezing the muscles in your face, shoulders, hands, legs, and toes for 10 seconds at a time and then releasing, making sure to breathe through it. The goal is to pay extra attention to how loose your muscles feel after the exercise.

Can your students think of other exercises or strategies to alleviate stress? Ask for ideas, and try them out as a group! Students can decide individually which ones belong in their personal tool kits.

Supplementation Minimizes Frustration

Along with healthy exercises that can decrease feelings of stress and anxiety, arm your students with strategies they can use in their everyday lives to keep stress at bay. Engage students in an open conversation about things they already do to lessen stress, and also discuss activities and behaviors that might not be helpful. Here are some topics you may cover:

  • Physical activity is a proven stress reliever. Need some ideas for incorporating it into your program? Y4Y’s Health and Wellness Click & Go can get the ball rolling — literally and figuratively!
  • Do your students’ parents or guardians limit screentime (maybe to the student’s dismay)? Research shows that this can actually fight off anxiety symptoms over time, making it a perfect tool for students to include in their mental health tool kits. Express to your students that, while they may not love time away from their devices, it’s important to let their minds focus on other stimulating activities.
  • Something as simple as combing your hair and brushing your teeth can be supplements in a mental health tool kit. Keeping up with your personal hygiene is a little reminder that you deserve attention and care!

I’ve Got the Power!

Let your students know that having a mental health tool kit packed with handpicked strategies that work for them is a powerful thing. It gives them the confidence and  know-how to regulate their own feelings and emotions. Model key strategies for your students. The next time you or your staff are feeling overwhelmed, doing something as simple as a breathing exercise can show your students that destressing doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s something that we can all benefit from, so why not start young?



September 23, 2022

Man looking at reflection in mirror that is laying on the groundComparing yourself to others is, unfortunately, human nature. Often, we do it without even noticing. But when we do it in front of children, they notice. That’s because children are like sponges — they tend to soak up behaviors, attitudes, and ways of thinking. Imagine what may happen in the mind of a child when their adult role models openly criticize themselves. The child may wonder: “If they don’t believe they’re enough, should I be worried about how I perceive myself?”

One of this month’s Creative Program Ideas is to offer students a dedicated day (October 19, to be exact) to evaluate their life. Evaluate Your Life Day was inspired by a model of social behavior called Self-Evaluation Maintenance. This model suggests that if students have close friends or family members who “outperform” them in an area students don’t particularly pride themselves in, that connection boosts their self-esteem. But if a friend or family member outperforms a student in an area that matters a lot to the student — like skills in sports or the arts, or even attractiveness — then that relationship may take away from their self-esteem.

In other words, the Self-Evaluation Maintenance model suggests that a child’s self-evaluation is constantly interacting with how others close to them perform. That means each child’s identity and sense of self can be affected by how their peers perform.

What can your out-of-school time program do to help students find healthy ways to negotiate the natural human tendency to compare themselves to others? Here are some ideas.

All for One and One for All

To make sure that all your students feel like their success is possible, they must first feel like their voice matters. It’s important to incorporate regular self-reflection in a way that deters negative comparison. Y4Y’s Student Voice and Choice course takes a deep dive into maximizing student engagement and equipping staff with the tools they need to encourage a healthy self-image. When students feel heard, their confidence grows, and they’re more likely to develop a strong sense of self. You can nurture this strong sense of self by:

  • Assessing student needs
  • Conducting student interest surveys
  • Encouraging goal setting
  • Prioritizing student self-reflection

Setting the Scene for Reflection and Growth

Just as incorporating student voice and choice nurtures a healthy self-image, it’s also important to make sure your learning environment cultivates constructive attitudes. Creating a positive learning environment will, in turn, give your staff and students the setting they need to have open and honest conversations about self-reflection and self-love. The strategies in Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course can help your staff to create a safe space where students and families feel supported. Students in an open and positive environment are more likely to be supportive of each other. In fact, learning to celebrate one another’s successes is a great way to stop the “comparison habit” in its tracks.

When program staff members build positive relationships with and among students and create a nurturing environment where each student feels seen and heard, it sets the stage for students to discover their own strengths. Further, a safe, nurturing environment provides opportunities for them to develop those strengths. This is the path to establishing a generation of students with a healthy self-image and a productive attitude.

You can guide students along this path by teaching them that self-reflection is best practiced through a lens of positivity and self-compassion rather than constant comparison. Make sure your students appreciate that they are only ever striving to be their best selves.



May 13, 2022

Children playing with toy rocket and looking at the sky. Boy and girls make a wish by seeing a shooting star.At each stage of child development, there are new cognitive horizons to explore. Summer’s the perfect time to open young minds to different ways of thinking. With guidance from Y4Y’s course on stages of child and adolescent development, think about summer fun like going barefoot, stargazing, nature journaling, or hosting a lemonade stand to support healthy development in engaging ways.

The Little Guys

A recent study of academic pre-k programs in Tennessee revealed that early childhood settings with an academic emphasis may better prepare first graders for testing than their counterparts, but ultimately those students don’t perform as well and are more likely to display behavior issues. The importance of having the freedom to explore at young ages is promoted by a Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, Stacey Gummey, as the foundation of the Hickory Hill Nature School, a “Nature Kindergarten.” While 21st CCLC programs begin at the kindergarten level, these findings are a good reminder that “play” is a child’s work. Also, play nurtures creativity among people of all ages. That’s something to keep in mind as your team plans activities, especially during summer programming!

The Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix demonstrates that 4- to 6-year-old children are beginning to play cooperatively, are eager to show adults what they’ve learned or can do, are more attentive to details, and with an increased understanding of cause and effect, ask many questions. This summer, consider how your program can offer your youngest students the chance to explore new spaces as teams — whether indoors or out. Ask them the kinds of questions they might want to find answers for. Even if it’s a rainy day and the school cafeteria is the only space available for exploration, challenge them to see the space in a new way. What shapes can they find? How many tiles run along each wall? Are some surfaces more worn than other surfaces? Why might that be? Hopefully, you’ll have many new outside spaces to explore, with even richer discussions on tap.

You may be surprised at how much development can occur over a summer at this age! To ensure you’re meeting goals you’ve set for your summer program, download and customize Y4Y’s Individualized Observation Log for Early Childhood.

In the Middle

Returning to the Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix, you’ll see that students in middle childhood, ages 6-9, are transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” They’re becoming more interested in having special friends, can and should be tasked with more independence and responsibility, but still want to please adults and enjoy imaginative stories and play. While your summer programming will be a little more focused on academic recovery and reengagement for students in this age group, those academics can be imbedded in exciting play in your 21st CCLC environment.

What sort of continuing theme might you weave through your summer program to spark the imagination of your students in the lower grades? You could designate your 21st CCLC program as an old-fashioned newspaper office and put out a new issue each week with contributions from each student and their buddy on a topic of their choosing. (Be sure they research their subject!) Or maybe your program will become a space station or a candy factory. What roles need to be filled, and what are the responsibilities of each of those roles? Get serious about involving student voice with students in this age range. Y4Y offers student goal-setting tools for all grade levels (check out those for grades 2-3 and 4-6), and an activity choice form to get you started. And as with younger students, using the age-appropriate Individualized Observation Log to gauge student progress is essential.

What Summer Means to the Big Kids

Your summer program needs to be captivating to appeal to students in late childhood and adolescence. Through the end of elementary and on through middle school, students get better at planning. They usually experience a boost in self-esteem, though it quickly drops. They’re much more inclined to break into peer groups, and they have increasing awareness of linguistic and cultural nuances. Then on into high school, they struggle to gain more independence and develop greater anxiety about the future. High school students enjoy meaningful debates that demonstrate a greater awareness of the world around them. Most ultimately recover their self-esteem. They may even envision playing a crucial role in improving the world as they grasp complex problems.

Student voice is never more important than it is in your middle- and high school programs, so be sure to visit the tools that accompany the Y4Y course on student voice and choice and the Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students. For several years to come, your program will have to bear in mind that these are the students who missed some critical social and emotional development opportunities due to the pandemic. Despite the very great need for academic enrichment, evidence points to these students valuing the social aspects of your 21st CCLC program above all. Of course, when you’re active in capturing student voice, those social bonds might be forming over an interest in STEM, spikeball, or hip-hop dancing — or all of the above! Get them involved in new and interesting ways to imbed academics in these activities and take a leadership role in implementing them. Remember, the sky’s the limit in summer, so if students suggest writing research reports on the invention of spikeball, choreographing a hip-hop routine around principles in geometry, or developing a word cloud around cold fusion vocabulary, get comfortable with the words, “Sure, let’s put it to a vote!”



April 19, 2022

A picture of a city hall building.Citizens young and old are so focused on national politics, they often don’t realize that their neighborhood or town government officials make just as many decisions that impact daily life — or more! Taking tips from two Y4Y courses, Civic Learning and Engagement and Project-Based Learning, discover how even the youngest elementary students can meet their local representatives, learn about the problems impacting their community, and make a difference in the place where they live.

From the Rocks to the Politics

The significant role of local government is coming into sharper focus for communities around the country. From small-town courthouses to the governor’s office, what basic government functions can help students better understand their place? Sarah Johnson, an environmental educator and Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, colorfully describes “learning a place” as involving investigations, “from the rocks to the politics.” This illustrates that learning a place ranges from something as unchanging and objective as a rock to something as fluid and subjective as politics. That fluidity is a good place to start! Why are politics so fluid? Elections! To help students get to know about elections in your area:

  • Arrange to visit a polling place during school board, primary, or local elections. Have a polling official ready to answer student questions about what’s being voted on and what the different outcomes mean.
  • Invite elected officials to come and talk about what they did to be elected and why they decided it was important for them to serve. Start with your local school board members, who’ll likely tell your students it was to see them succeed!
  • Hold an election in your own program for a leadership position that carries some meaning. Even down to your youngest students, if you have a student role or responsibility that the students fight for, make it a monthly elected position and emphasize how important it is to change each month, and the value of having someone who’s an active participant in the program to serve in that role.

Beyond Politics: Governing!

Under that superficial layer of “politicians” — elected officials — lie many layers of government employees who work hard, often without recognition. Recognizing the essential role of these people is an important part of students’ civic learning and engagement. Y4Y developed the Civic Learning and Engagement course specifically to help your program involve students in local governing. Check out these Y4Y tools:

More broadly, you can tailor Y4Y Project-Based Learning course tools by working with partners such as state and local government, courthouse, urban planning, and law enforcement offices; organizations like the Bar Association and Women’s Council; and elected officials at all levels of government including school boards. Ask these professionals to help direct students to real work they can do to contribute as citizens. Check out Y4Y’s:

For additional ideas and guidance on directing students through place-based civics learning, check out Y4Y’s Voices From the Field podcast, The Smithsonian, Sustainable Communities, and Your 21st CCLC Program, with Heidi Gibson, a science curriculum developer. The Smithsonian community research guide for 8- to 17-year-old students, Sustainable Communities? How will we help our community thrive?, is a great, low-tech resource for helping your students gain a deep understanding of the place where they live. All of your students’ place-based learning — in the arts, literacy, human and natural history, STEM, and careers — will ideally culminate in their development as amazing, curious, and contributing citizens of the world. And maybe even more important: citizens of their own community.



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.