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March 16, 2017

Students need to feel safe, encouraged and welcome to keep their stress levels down and their minds open for learning. But creating a positive, inclusive environment is easier said than done. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone! In fact, it’s often best to enlist the help of school-day staff, parents and community members. Here’s how you can start:

Take positive steps to prevent bullying. 
The first step to stopping bullying is knowing how to spot it. Know how bullying is defined and learn about warning signs that can tip you off if a student is being bullied or is bullying others. When you see bullying happening, intervene immediately. Then follow up by finding out what happened and supporting the students involved.

Work with school-day teachers. 
Coordinating bullying prevention efforts is an important part of sharing responsibility with school staff. Align policies with schools to send a consistent message to students that bullying is never okay. Improve your connections to schools with the Communication and Collaboration Checklist.

Engage parents and family.
Including family members in bullying prevention can help students feel safer and more secure, and make parents worry less. Help parents and family develop the skills needed to talk about bullying with youth in productive ways, and share ideas for how family can be part of the solution. These efforts can support your goals for family engagement.

Get the community involved. 
Bullying affects entire communities. Taking the lead on prevention can be a service learning project for students, and a great opportunity to demonstrate the value your program brings to your community. Consider which of your existing partners might help, reach out to new ones and recruit volunteers.

Share knowledge and resources with others. 
Online or in person, bullying causes misery now and can lead to unhealthy behaviors in the future. The website StopBullying.gov offers many free, research-based resources and strategies to help young people and adults stop aggressive behavior and build a positive community climate. For example, learn about the different roles: students who bully, students who are the targets of bullying, students who assist and reinforce, students who defend, and students who want to help but don’t know how. Also see The BULLY Project website for ideas about how to take action.

When students don’t feel safe, you can’t possibly expect their full attention. Don’t let bullying-related stress be an obstacle to their happiness and their ability to learn!



March 16, 2017

Phillip A. Collazo, MSEd., Education & Training Specialist, Kids Included Together

Knowing a little about biology and brain chemistry can make a big difference in helping students lower their stress levels. Here’s a promise: You won’t need to memorize formulas or spend hours in special classes. As 21st CCLC practitioners, you work in the ideal environment to build pleasure into learning.

What Research Says

According to research conducted by Dr. Stuart Shanker, stress ranks as one of the greatest barriers to learning. He wrote extensively about decline in the mental and physical well-being of U.S. children due to stress. 

When humans experience stress, our bodies produce cortisol, which some call the “stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol have been linked to “increased anxiety, depression and challenging behaviors in children and youth” (Ruttle et al., 2011), and to “higher risk for developing learning difficulties or impaired cognitive abilities” (Suor et al., 2015).

Our bodies can balance the negative effects of stress by producing endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals. Fun, active and engaging activities that also encourage positive social interactions are some of the easiest and healthiest ways to activate endorphins and reduce classroom stress. Both exercise and relaxation can help. 

In an ideal world, children and youth would spend their days learning at their own pace, while also having fun in and out of school. In reality, curriculums, learning objectives and high-stakes tests often control the content and pace of the school day. How can we help children reduce stress and make learning more fun? Here are two strategies that work well together.

Stress Reduction Part 1: Manage Time to Match Focus

This solution involves managing time by strategically grouping content — what Preston (2013) calls “activity chunking.” Many educators have successfully used versions of this strategy for years. 

Start by setting realistic and achievable expectations. Consider your students’ natural attention span, and chunk activities accordingly. Preston recommends calculating the average focus time of students by adding five minutes to their age. For example, the average six-year-old should be able to attend to an 11-minute lesson. Psychologists, scientists and researchers hold varied opinions on attention span, with estimates ranging between 15 and 40 minutes (Briggs, 2014).

For tasks that can complement academic content while still giving students a chance for a break, incorporate activity centers into your program. With common classroom materials you can plan quick exercises that develop key STEM and literacy skills. With these suggested STEM and reading activities, you can “chunk” in as needed to help students refocus.

Stress Reduction Part 2: Activate Senses to Feel Good

Plan activities that capture your learners’ interests, and then play to their strengths. According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1991), we all have “a unique blend of capabilities and skills (intelligences).” Plan activities and short breaks that use a “six-sense” approach. Look for ways to get students to use their eyes, ears/voice, fingers, muscles, balance and social skills. End it all by encouraging the group to take two deep breaths together. The sensory activities release those feel-good endorphins and help students refocus for their next learning activity.

Here are a few ideas for building the senses into activities and breaks:

- Ask young students to act out characters when they read a story aloud. Older students may enjoy dramatic readings of poetry or plays. Don’t be shy: add a musical soundtrack with some group humming to keep the beat.
- Stand up and “shake your wiggles out” now and then.
- Play a creative game of Acrobat-Simon-Says, use call-and-response chants, or create finger play songs.
- For older students, include time for meaningful socializing by encouraging share-outs, group polling or content debates.
- Play games like “I Spy” or practice yoga poses. See “Tips for Helping Your Child Focus and Concentrate” from PBS Parents for more ideas.​

Everyone Benefits

Fun, active and engaging activities that benefit students can also benefit the adults in your program. Chunking activities can help you organize so you provide better support to help students meet academic goals. Managing time frames and achieving small goals increases educators’ sense of accomplishment, just like for students. Best of all, these strategies work for students of all abilities and can help make your program more inclusive. 


Resources
For information on creating an inclusive setting that welcomes students with disabilities, visit the Implementation Guides section of Y4Y to find resources on addressing individual needs, engaging all learners, supporting social-emotional development and other topics.

References
Briggs, S. (2014). The science of attention: How to capture and hold the attention of easily distracted students. Retrieved from opencolleges.edu
Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. (2009). Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Summary. Retrieved from facdev.niu.edu
Preston, J. (2013). Increasing attention span and engagement in the classroom through chunking: A method that works for all grades. Retrieved from brighthubeducation.com
Ruttle, P. L., Shirtcliff, E. A., Serbin, L. A., Fisher, D. B., Stack, D. M., & Schwartzman, A. E. (2011). Disentangling psychobiological mechanisms underlying internalizing and externalizing behaviors in youth: Longitudinal and concurrent associations with cortisol. Hormones and Behaviors 59 (1), pp. 123-132.
Suor, J. H., Sturge-Apple, M. L., Davies, P. T., Cicchetti, D., & Manning, L. G. (2015). Tracing differential pathways of risk: Associations among family adversity, cortisol, and cognitive functioning in childhood. Child Development 86 (4), pp. 1142-1158. 


January 19, 2017

The right trainings don't just broaden skill sets – they help your staff achieve their full professional and personal potential. But finding time to incorporate professional learning into your program can be a challenge.  Fortunately, Y4Y can help.

Our Trainings to Go tools allow you to develop a professional learning strategy that matches your staff's needs. These guides include everything you need for a productive learning session: slides with customizable content, handouts and a suggested script outline. Most lessons take about an hour to complete, and provide practical, hands-on tips for integrating new ideas into daily activities.

In each of the Y4Y courses you’ll find Trainings to Go that target topics important to your program. Do you want to be more active in promoting understanding of STEM topics for your students? Try the STEM Every Day Training to Go. Are you hoping to make new strategic partnerships in the coming year? The Recruit Partners Training to Go is for you. Want to make literacy skills a priority in your program? Start with the Five Components of Reading Training to Go.

Whether it starts with a resolution for the New Year or a reality check with yourself and your staff, professional learning belongs on your to-do list. Spend a little time now to plan professional learning events for your program. The benefits to staff and students will more than repay the effort!



February 13, 2015

In your afterschool and expanded learning programs, you try every day to fit in as much fun and learning as you can, balancing all the competing demands. Y4Y staff know how busy your days are. Luckily, literacy can be worked into a program in many ways, big and small. Let’s go through the key building blocks of literacy to demonstrate some ways.

Reading

Many programs have found success with book clubs. Beyond providing risk-free space to practice the mechanics of reading and strengthen comprehension skills, book clubs boost motivation, which is critical for developing readers. To get everyone on the same page, visit Y4Y’s Book Club hub for ideas that will help your students become detectives or space explorers, visit other countries, travel to the past or future, and meet people who are very different but very alike, too.

Writing

In the special space of afterschool, writing needs to be more than sitting down and working in silence. Get your students super-charged about writing by involving them in fun and thought-provoking Pre-Writing Activities from Y4Y. They’ll be engaged in a topic and brimming with ideas, ready to write! To add another level of motivation, bring in a local writer or offer books written by people from your city or state.

Speaking and Listening

Speaking and listening skills are gateways: they help students become better readers. One strategy that’s common in early childhood education works for all ages — it’s the Interactive Read-Aloud, which mixes a teacher reading to a group, students interacting with the teacher about the text, and students talking with one another to dig deeper into the content.

Language

It’s easy to incorporate language skills into any program activity or project. Try some of the strategies on Y4Y’s Vocabulary Development page to reinforce language learning while your students are accomplishing other goals. Several strategies, like those that foster word consciousness, take very little preparation time and can be fun and casual to add into transition times or snack time. Some of the more formal strategies, such as a Vocabulary Collage or the Frayer Chart, would pair perfectly with a new thematic unit or a project you are already doing in your program. 

Tip: Engaging families in literacy events is also a great way to build your literacy programming and make a positive impact on your community.  Consider hosting a fun family literacy event. Use this checklist to ensure it’s well planned!

For more ideas to incorporate the key building blocks of literacy into your program, check out the Learn More Library’s wealth of resources. 



July 13, 2014

You may not have noticed it with all the parades and picnics and fireworks, but a new version of Y4Y was rolled out for you over July Fourth weekend!

This upgrade was mainly to the backend infrastructure that powers the Y4Y portal.  What this means for you, the frontend user, is faster load times and a portal that’s generally quicker and easier to use.

One thing you’ll surely notice is the completely redesigned Discussion Boards. All your favorite topics are still there, and all previously existing conversation threads and uploads were successfully converted to the new format. The new design will make it easier for you to navigate and participate. Now you can also Subscribe to your favorite topics, so when someone posts something new on topic of interest you’ll automatically get an email letting you know. As always, if you want to do more than just read the posts, you have to be registered and signed in to participate in the Discussions!

The new site is also more secure than ever before, thanks to the addition of a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate similar to those found on your favorite e-commerce sites. You can never be too careful in this day and age, so a little added security will keep everyone’s information that much safer.