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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!”



June 16, 2021

Getting back on track after two breakneck program years will take some truly intentional assessment and reflection. Programs have learned a lot from in-the-moment experimentation, making changes on the fly to meet students where they were. Now that the worst of the great storm has passed, you can use this summer to take full stock of your program. With tips from Y4Y tools designed to walk through every key aspect, you can be sure the new program year is beginning with the clean slate of comprehensive assessment and reflection, and begin anew with a solid grasp of your students’ needs, going forward.

  • Brush up on the basics. Y4Y’s Introduction to 21st CCLC is an important course to revisit whenever you’re looking to mentally step out of the daily grind of your program to give thought to its structures.
  • Take it to the next level. The Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course is a broader, deeper extension of the introduction, and is worth revisiting each summer. You’ll be amazed at how many 21st CCLC fundamentals may have slipped your mind while in crisis mode, and how much more you can get out of the course with another year of experience under your belt.
  • Get your ideas down while they’re fresh! You’ll be shifting into planning mode before you know it, and the Sample Annual Task Timeline is a handy tool for this. If you reflect on it now, you can make some smart customizations to the document based on your timely recollections of this past program year.
  • Now dive into all those layers. As you’ve discovered, each Y4Y course that adds new dimension to your program comes with “assess and reflect” tools. Here are some important ones to pull up now:

This month’s blog post on celebration notes lightheartedly that celebration is the “nth” step in 21st CCLC programs. Celebrations are so important to give your students and yourself that sense of accomplishment — which isn’t just a sense: You’ve accomplished SO MUCH this year. But as you sweep the proverbial confetti and clean out those cubbies, you’ll be thinking about that “nth plus one” step of continuous improvement. What are your takeaways? Your leave-behinds? May your summer reflections be rich with pride in an amazing year!



March 18, 2020

It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.

The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.

Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.

In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.

Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.

The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:

Step 1: Build a Program Team

Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.

Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets

A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.

Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources

Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.

Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.

Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students

Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.

Step 7: Engage Families

A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.

Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect

Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!

Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve

Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.



August 9, 2019

Experts agree that heeding student voice can help out-of-school time programs engage students and help them grow academically, socially and emotionally. Sometimes, though, when the defining characteristic of your program seems to be noise, you might think you have more student voice than you can handle! How can you be sure you get it right? Here are some quick tips and Y4Y tools.

Engage Students in Program Decisions

Consider these questions. If you can’t answer “yes,” decide what actions you need to take:

  • Are students represented on your program planning team?
  • When your team starts to plan for the next program term, are all students included in a goal-setting activity or discussion?
  • When your team reflects on results at the end of a program term, are students included, too?

Also consider this:

  • Who thinks about program culture and climate, and sets norms for behavior — staff alone, or do students contribute?

Involving students in decisions helps give them a sense of ownership in program activities and supports engagement. Equally important, it equips young people with important skills like collaboration, communication, caring and reflection.

Do Formal and Informal Observations

The next time you’re surrounded by students in your program space, conduct an informal observation: Close your eyes and listen.

  • Maybe you’ll hear comments like this: Wow! I get it! Cool! Can we do that again? I want to try that, too.
  • Or, maybe you’ll hear this: Go away, I’m doing this. Get somebody else to hang with. Do I have to do that now?

This type of quick, informal check can tell you how things are going in the moment, so you can act immediately if students and colleagues need help to find their focus.

To capture information for designing an effective schedule and engaging activities, use a formal observation tool. Y4Y’s Observation Checklist will help you consider staff and student engagement, fidelity of implementation, and the status of the physical environment. The data you gather can help with intentional design of student activities and staff professional learning events.

Conduct Surveys and Use the Results

Want to know how students and families feel about your program, and how you can do things differently or better? Surveys offer a quick, anonymous way for audiences to tell you what they think. Here are some Y4Y survey tools you can use:

When you ask others to respond to a survey, be prepared to react in turn. You won’t get future feedback if you ignore what respondents tell you now. After you analyze the combined data, be sure to share the results. You can post charts on the wall, include numbers in the electronic newsletter, or announce results through social media. Present the data beside plans for future activities to demonstrate how audience input helps to shape your program.


July 16, 2019

Learn from the past to improve the future. How many times have you heard this saying from historians, politicians and even your mother? It’s good advice for 21st CCLC programs as well!

As you plan your fall program, look back at data you gathered in the spring to pinpoint learning needs for current students and staff members. Learn about students who haven’t been in your program but could use the extra support you provide. School-day teachers can help you identify new prospects, and tell you about academic areas where they see students struggling.

Here are some data types and Y4Y tools that can help you learn from the past:

Program Performance Data

Identifying and Addressing Program Strengths and Weaknesses Training to Go: This ready-to-use presentation can be customized or used “as is.” It offers strategies that help you analyze program performance and build on strengths to improve effectiveness.

Sample Evaluation Guide: This tool describes program-level evaluation, which uses some of the same data you’ll want for fall planning. Look near the end of the guide to find sample focus group questions for parents, students and staff. These questions can also be used in interviews or surveys to help you discover stakeholder reactions to and ideas about your program.

Observation Checklist: This tool helps site leaders understand important areas of student engagement, teacher/facilitator engagement and the physical environment. If you used the checklist during spring or summer program sessions, you already have data to analyze. If you haven’t used this tool, it can guide reflections and discussions when you plan your next session. Be sure to add it to your continuous improvement process tool kit.

Student Needs Data

Three Types of Data: This tool explains school-level, student-level and student voice data.

Survey of Student Needs: Use this tool to check with school-day teachers about student needs in subject areas and specific skills. It also helps with setting priority levels for student needs.

Staff Learning Needs

Intentional Activity Design: Mapping Needs to Activities: As the title suggests, this tool helps staff put data into action. If your staff hasn’t used SMART goals before, introduce this tool when you use the Setting SMART Activity Goals Training Starter. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

The tools in this list come from three Y4Y courses: Continuous Education, Summer Learning and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program. To see more free learning resources, go to the Y4Y Learn Overview page and start exploring!