The human mind seeks to make meaning of the inputs that it receives from a person’s interactions with the stimuli that abound in the world. We continuously use our senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, to gather inputs and then interpret what those inputs mean based on our experiences (or sometimes our lack of experiences). Sometimes we interpret things incorrectly. Sometimes we don’t have enough information to make meaning, so we fill up the “vacuum” with our perceptions and our best “guesses” of what is happening.
While school is certainly not the only place a person can learn, it is one of those places that intentionally focuses on learning. Key skills and strategies have been identified in the four cores—English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies, and parsed out in age-appropriate ways to each of the grade levels. After-school programs are an opportunity to extend this intentional learning time for 3-4 hours each and every day. Of course, this space of extended learning time will not be nearly as beneficial to young people if an after-school program simply tries to replicate the school day. Successful after-school programs extend learning time by presenting opportunities for youth to engage in learning through a variety of modalities and intelligences, through hands-on, interactive, relevant and rigorous learning opportunities.
We are always learning. We are always working to make sense of the world around us. We are always trying to make the world “predictable” so we can keep going and not feel overwhelmed by the gaps or voids in our understanding. We all learn differently. The beauty of a complementary after-school program can be found in the opportunity to extend the school day and the good work that is happening during the school day in countless classrooms across the country.