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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!”