Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is Your Program Learner-Centered?

Do you focus on what the youth in your program experience or what your program offers?  If you focus on what youth experience, then you are learner-centered.  In learner-centered programs, the learning opportunities youth have are active, collaborative, and meaningful.  They also support mastery and expand the horizons of the participant (LIAS Principles).  The activities engage youth in problem solving, decision making, and thinking about the learning through review, reflections, and debriefing.  Here are some key characteristics of learner-centered programs.

  1. All staff in the program seeks to build positive relationships with youth.
  2. Goals are set jointly and collaboratively with youth and staff both having input.
  3. Staff know what each young person is interested in learning, including each student’s talents and abilities.
  4. Youth are encouraged to work together and those groups change often.
  5. Activities are flexible to accommodate students’ individual needs.
  6. The program space is inviting, warm, open, and encourages all youth to participate.
  7. Youth are comfortable asking questions and working with adults to find the answers.
  8. Youth have an opportunity to “teach to learn” and share with others the knowledge, skills, and thoughts that they have.
  9. Program staff uses a variety of strategies and techniques to support learning in an authentic and real-world environment.
  10. Youth are encouraged to participate in decision-making about the program and accept leadership roles.
  11. The program embraces a youth development approach and understands that youth are assets to be developed.
  12. Strategies such as a KWL Chart, Think, Pair, Share, rubrics, portfolios, and student presentations are utilized to develop the learner.  

Being a learner-centered program pays huge dividends not only for youth but for the leaders as well.  Share your learner-centered activities with us so we can share those best practices with others. You can reach us at 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring Celebrations

There are two equinoxes every year—September and March.  On the equinox, the sun shines directly on the equator and results in the 24 hours of the day being split evenly between day and night.  When you look at the three words, “equinox,” “equator,” and “equal,” the prefix “equi” (which means even), makes total sense.  The equinox at the equator (the band which divides the northern hemisphere from the southern hemisphere and is about equal distance between the North and South Poles), identifies the coming of spring for one hemisphere and fall for the other.  Helping young people understand that the seasons are opposite on the other side of the equator is part of global understanding, even though it is hard to imagine Christmas in summer.  Equinox means “equal night” in Latin, and is experienced around the world.  
The Equinoxes – along with Solstices– have been celebrated in cultures all over the world.  One of the more famous ancient equinox celebrations can be found on the Mayan Calendar.  (Remember that this is the same calendar that many believed was signaling the end of the world last December.)  The picture of the Mayan Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico was the location for this celebration.  
Consider how you might celebrate the Equinox with the youth in your program.  One of the activities you might consider is anything that divides items equally—such as a “Push-me Pull-You” a Dr. Doolittle character, Two-Face, a Batman character, and the comedy and tragedy drama masks.  Have youth come up with other pairs that divide things equally.  Let us know how you celebrate the equinox. You can reach us at

Monday, March 18, 2013


Consult 4 Kids (C4K) offers both training and consulting services.  You may be asking yourself, “What’s the difference?  Aren’t these two things the same?”  Actually, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”  Here’s the deal, training is part of consulting for sure, but consulting is more than just training.  So let’s take a look at these two services. 

Training comes in a variety of ways.  Training can be written, virtual, and/or face-to-face.  Training can be both theory (in your seat away from your site), or in the field (on-the-job training to help you learn while working.)  Training can be short (an hour or so), or can last most of the day.  C4K offers all of these types of training.  Our Vocational Training can be accessed online and is written training (there is also an audio version), complete with quizzes, tests, and exams.  At the end of the training, the person receives a certificate.  The training is designed for both front line staff and site coordinators.  C4K also offers content instruction through its Online Instruction, and over 400 videos that cover all of the pertinent topics for afterschool professionals.  Then of course, we are happy to provide face-to-face training in a multiple of settings.

C4K also provides consulting (part of which can be training), but also includes brokering resources, coaching, facilitating, and helping clients to think through strategies and plans to move to the next level.  As consultants, the entire goal is to build the capacity of the client so that you “work yourself out of a job.”  In fact, that’s when you know that you’ve been successful.  Although the results are not instant, the process of transforming into the high-quality program the client has envisioned is a rewarding process. If you need training or consulting services, give us a call.  We have some of the top afterschool experts in California who can work with you and your staff.  Contact us at

Friday, March 15, 2013

Common Core

Do you provide youth with hands-on, interactive learning opportunities in your afterschool program?  Do you debrief the learning at the end of each lesson?  Do you encourage youth to persevere when it comes to challenging homework, learning a new dance, or practicing for a presentation in front of peers?  Do you ask questions instead of giving answers?  Do you believe that your role is as a facilitator, a guide on the side so to speak, rather than expert or the sage on the stage?  Do you believe that youth should master leadership and followership skills, solve problems, and think critically?  If the answer to these questions is “yes” (and my guess is that this is the case), then you are well-positioned to embrace the Common Core Standards.

In afterschool learning opportunities are active, relevant, done in partnership with others, open doors that have been otherwise closed to young people, and are rigorous enough to be challenging and yet within the grasp of the learner.  If your school district partner has embraced the Common Core, ask if you can be part of the training that they will be offering to school day staff.  It is important that you are on the same page.  If your school day partner isn’t quite ready to look at Common Core, check out the information you can find at STUDENTSACHIEVE.  This website will provide you with information you need to get a baseline understanding of the Common Core.  The materials they have are not only informative, they are free.  Getting on board with the Common Core is going to be an essential part of your job.  C4K is prepared to help as well.  Let us know what you need in the way of frontline staff training.  We’re there to help.You can reach us at

Thursday, March 14, 2013

College and Career Readiness

Have you heard about the great work Dr. Julie Mendoza and her team are doing in El Monte, California to link parents and youth to information about preparing for getting into college and being career ready?  It is truly amazing!  She and her team have created resources that you can use in your program for free to support young people and their families understand how the education system works.  They have information on high school A-G requirements, college applications, financial aid, and anything else you need to know to prepare for college.  They have created a series of educational videos, to be used during the school day or in the hour’s after-school.  These videos appeal to a wide variety of stakeholders including superintendents, teachers, parents, and students.  The team has also provided access to a career interest survey that can be accessed at CaliforniaColleges. The survey asks a series of questions to help the participant identify areas of interest, things they are interested in and would enjoy doing.  Although the results (which are available instantly), do not recommend specific careers or jobs, it shares the kinds of jobs the participant has indicated they are interested in and would probably be happy doing. 

As we help young people begin to think about the future, opening their eyes to career possibilities is essential.  Since so many of the careers in the future will require a college degree, helping them get ready early will make going to college much more likely for them.  Check out this wonderful resource.

Do you have something you are doing to support young people as they learn about getting ready for college and/or career?  Share your best practices with us and we will share with others.You can reach us at

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Check Out Summer Learning

Do you know the facts about Summer Learning loss?  The National Center for Summer Learning has gathered some very interesting facts which are posted on the Children’s Aid Society website.  Here’s what they found out: 
Two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower-and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.  As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).
Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.  Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).  When this pattern continues throughout the elementary school years, lower income youth fall more than two and one-half years behind their more affluent peers by the end of fifth grade. 
Most children—particularly children at high risk of obesity—gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break (Von Hippel et al, 2007).
Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffer et all.  2004). To learn more, visit The National Center for Summer Learning website at SUMMER LEARNING 

What will you do to prevent summer learning loss?  If you are running a summer program the solution is easy, but what it you’re not?  What can you do to promote learning in the summer?  Let us know what you are planning.  We’ll be happy to share it with our readers. 
You can reach us at

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tips for End of the Year

It’s hard to believe that you are nearing the end of the school year.  It seems like we just began, and yet, it is April.  Here are eleven things you might want to consider to make the End of Year (EOY) run more smoothly.

  1. Plan any end-of-year student activities and begin communicating about them to your supervisor, the school day, the parents, and the youth.
  2. Throw away things that are worn out, but be sure to plan for the replenishment.
  3. Organize your supplies and materials.
  4. Write down your start-up order for next year while you are putting things away.
  5. Check with the principal to be sure you have a safe place to store program supplies and materials.
  6. Let Food Services know when your last day of program will be.
  7. Label your items clearly so you’ll know what you have at the beginning of next year.
  8. Check out the curriculum kits.  Have you lost anything that needs to be replaced?  If so, replace now while it’s on your mind.
  9. Prepare for any year-end reports that you will need to submit.  Be sure that your sign-in and sign-out sheets are in order.
  10. Back up your files.
  11. Be sure that all paperwork is complete

Do you have any tried-and-true tips?  Share them with us and our readers.  Your experience can make it easier for everyone. You can reach us at

Friday, March 8, 2013

Connect to STEM

STEM activities in your afterschool program make total sense.  Studies have found a clear consensus that afterschool programs can help youth: 

  • “Develop an interest in STEM and STEM learning activities
  • Develop capacities to productively engage in STEM learning activities
  • Come to value the goals of STEM and STEM learning activities”

STEM activities are incredibly engaging for youth.  STEM learning is active and relevant.  Kids can pose questions and then conduct experiments to determine the answers.  During STEM activities kids can work in pairs or small groups.  These activities also help kids to see themselves differently and consider themselves as a scientist, mathematician, or engineer.  STEM lets kids become proficient in using technology as a tool for supporting learning or as an opportunity to be creative. Click on this link : Afterschool Alliance

If you haven’t implemented STEM in your program, consider doing so this spring.  Take a chance.  Find out what youth are interested in learning about and then work out the answers together.  Promote investigative (process) science with youth.  Check out Science Buddies for possible areas of discovery.  Plan Math Olympics and challenge your students to become proficient.  Bring in robotics and challenge your youth to build a “bot” that can also act as a catapult or something else of interest.  Jump in and share your successes with us so we can pass your best practices along.

Remember, tomorrow’s better way will be invented by someone who today is a student.  A future Nobel Laureate could be one of your students.  Open the doors of possibility this month. 
You can reach us at

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Habits of the Mind

Habits of the Mind can be non-cognitive skills that young people need to develop if they are to grow up to be effective and successful as adults.  Habits of the Mind provide a foundation for the Common Core and can be developed by all youth.  Just like you need to exercise to strengthen your physical muscles, you need to exercise your “habits of the mind muscles” for them to become strong.  Thinking critically is bolstered by being able to apply different combinations of these habits so you can ensure success.
This month we would like to take a look at one of the sixteen identified habits:  finding humor.  Finding humor has been described in this way: “Laugh a little!  Find the whimsical, incongruous and unexpected.  Be able to laugh at yourself.” 
There are two sayings about humor that speak in opposites:  “Sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, sometimes we smile to keep from frowning.”  Whether we smile or laugh, finding the humor in situations we are in is often a necessary part of moving on.  We take ourselves so seriously that making a mistake seems unforgivable.  We chastise ourselves for not having anticipated what would happen, or being prepared to handle every situation perfectly.  When each of us can find the humor in situations, and each can laugh at him/herself, we give ourselves permission to be human, to be fallible.  We must know full well that making an error in judgment or a mistake is not unpardonable, because as we know this as adults, we give permission to the youth we work with to make mistakes as well.  Humor is a great stress reliever and while sometimes we laugh to keep from crying, we can also laugh until we cry.  Either way, finding the humor in situations is a key to building and maintaining the ability to persevere, even when things look the darkest.

In what ways do you find humor in your daily work with youth?  What makes you laugh and not take yourself so seriously?  Share your humorous experiences with us so we can share them with others.  Truly, laughter can be the best medicine. You can reach us at

Monday, March 4, 2013

Spring Forward

Each spring we adjust out clocks into Daylight Savings Time.  In this practice, clocks are adjusted forward one hour (of course they are adjusted backward in the autumn), so that in the evening we have more daylight and in the mornings we have less.  This notion was first proposed in 1895 by George Hudson and implemented during World War I.  This year we will spring forward on March 10.  At 2:00 in the morning (when everyone is supposedly sleeping), the time moves to 3:00 and then we have the process of adjusting to the change.
Actually, these extra hours of daylight in your program should be welcomed.  Not only is the weather warming up, the daylight allows opportunity to spend more time out-of-doors and take advantage of learning, inside the outdoors.  Think about the things you could do.  You could increase physical activity and help kids build cardio-vascular strength and endurance.  Perhaps you can start a walk-run club that has the kids working together to log enough miles to make it to Hawaii.  (From LAX, Hawaii is 2,551 miles and from JFK 4,990miles).  Think about how fun it would be to culminate your “trip” with a luau! 
You could also start a garden.  Maybe the school will give you a small plot of land.  If not, what about flower beds, flower pots or egg carts.  The bigger the garden, the more time you and your youth can spend working in it.  Contact a local Master Gardner who will volunteer to help you get started.  If you grow veggies, you can end by harvesting the groups and preparing taste treats for program kids.

You could also…wait, let’s ask the question.  “What are you planning to do this spring that will take your students outdoors?”  Let us know.  We’d be happy to share your plans with the rest of our readers. 
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