There is a certainly a laundry list of skills that youth need to learn if they are going to be successful in career and college in the 21st century. The list can include some detailed instructions as well as broad strokes. The important thing for afterschool programs to do is intentionally select the skills that afterschool is best suited to support. For example, in English Language Arts youth need to develop skills around reading, writing, listening, and speaking. While certainly all those skills can and should be practiced in the course of a high-quality afterschool program, focusing on one or two of those areas where afterschool best fits, makes even more sense. For example, because of the flexibility of time that we have in the program, giving youth plenty of opportunity to practice listening and speaking can be easily done in the afterschool program. One of the activities that I enjoy doing with youth is a modified version of speed dating. To do this you form two ildingconcentric circles, one inside the other. You ask the people on the inside circle to face out and the outside circle to face in, creating a pair to practice both speaking and listening skills. Rather than having youth randomly talk to one another, get them started with a topic and then help them debrief the process of listening and speaking rather than the content of the conversation. You can have them rotate partners several times, debriefing the process each time so they can demonstrate the best practices in the next conversation. Intentionally practicing good listening and speaking skills can only help the development of good communication skills.
Another skill that youth need to develop is the ability to think critically. You can easily do this by engaging youth in community service or service learning projects in which they must first identify an unmet need, gather information on the topic, make a decision about what they will do, plan it out considering all of the information and constraints, implement the plan, and reflect daily to make necessary corrections or determine to stay the course. Thinking critically is about collecting and analyzing information, making a decision about what action to take and then reflecting on what happened and how you can strengthen and/or celebrate what you’ve done.
Think about the 21st Century skills that youth need to acquire and then find a place for the ones that naturally find a place in your program. When you are supporting the development of these 21st century skills you will also help youth to hone skills in reading, math, history/social studies, and science—the four academic cores.
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