After-school activities aren’t just a convenient way to keep kids busy until their parents come home, they’re a powerful tool in the development and education of child learners.
The modern art of teaching itself has changed greatly in recent decades, with more focus today on learning that catches kids’ interest and lets them explore new things in a personal way.
Yet outside of the classroom, kids still need to be kids and many after-school programs offer educational and developmental benefits hidden within fun, involving activities that teach life skills in a natural way.
Lorrie Huggins co-authored the curriculum for the Playing to Learn program — which is implemented at YMCA centres across Canada — offering a myriad of sports and other group activities to keep kids active after the school bell has rung.
She says after-school programs in general can be a great boon to a young child’s development because they offer opportunities to engage a child by tapping deep into his or her personal interests.
“Research tells educators play is the way children learn, and it also says the longer a child is actively engaged in an interest, the more they learn. Children experiment and discover and we as educators need to set up opportunities for them to do just that,” Huggins said.
With Playing to Learn, the YMCA polled kids and found they were excited to learn and grow as individuals after school, but they wanted to throw off the shackles of traditional academic learning once they’d left the classroom.
“We asked kids what they wanted in an after-school program and they emphatically wanted an active place, a fun place, they wanted it more like a club than school. That drove our school-age programs into something that feels different than school,” Huggins said.
Just like adults need some downtime from the structure and stress of a normal workday, kids need time to unwind and enjoy their interests in a pressure-free zone — the result is a greater rate of development.
For Suzy Moreira, her own daughter’s experiences with after-school programs, first at the YMCA and now with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, have made her daughter into a much more confident child.
“Being in these programs has helped her ability to socialize with other people,” she said. “It’s really given her greater confidence, and when you build confidence in kids, they have more opportunity to ask questions in school, to be that outward person.”