If I would have written this blog post in February, it would have looked a lot different than what follows.
Why? Because a “benefit” is context-reliant, and "after-school" has taken on a new meaning since the beginning of the calendar year.
For instance, many students aren’t in physical classrooms and are learning online, which means their entire learning experience has been shaken up.
And while that might seem like the biggest change students are dealing with, there is so much more that goes along with it, from online homework to social time, the after-school routine, and more.
So, while you thought you had a good handle on the benefits of after-school programs, some of what you already know is still true, but now, there is much more to consider.
Benefits of an after-school program
As mentioned, “school” can be defined in a million different ways these days, which means some of these benefits might speak louder to you than others.
As we go through the following, though, the simple point is that school is just different than what kids and teens are accustomed to—they’re learning from teachers differently, however that might be; they’re doing homework differently, however that might be; they’re being tested differently, they’re socializing differently, etc.
The usually-consistent school experience that has traditionally followed more or less the same format from corner to corner, city to city, and state to state is now a jumbled hodgepodge in every direction you look.
So, while there isn’t any way of knowing what each and every one of you is specifically experiencing with your school’s approach to this upcoming academic year, I can reasonably assume that it’s different than what it was like last year...and that kids may be needing the benefits of an after-school program more than ever as a result.
1. A different kind of learning and skill-building
Even if schools were perfect in delivering course materials, saw students completing 100% of their assignments, and had everyone getting A+ grades on their exams, there would still be room for after-school enrichment activities and the many benefits of them.
Why? Because many schools just don’t offer things like coding classes for kids, or Minecraft modding, or entrepreneurship, etc.
Thus, while camps are great destinations for kids to build skills in these areas when school lets out for the summer months, after-school programs can fill that void during the school year.
This is both a good and a bad thing about school: many students grow up going to school with the same kids; learning in classrooms with the same students, and eating at lunch tables with the same friends. The “good” here is that students are able to develop deep and meaningful relationships with these same students, but the “bad” of course is that students aren’t getting out of their social bubbles much.
So, with after-school programs, kids can connect with other, different students. And yes, that still holds true with online after-school programs, as some of them go to great lengths to ensure that social time not only exists, but is also a key component of their offerings.
We will talk about social benefits below, but the key here is that with an after-school program, students are given the opportunity to discover—to discover things they didn’t know about themselves, to discover new skills as mentioned above, to discover new friends in the form of like-minded peers, and so much more.
Doors are opened that would have otherwise remained closed.
3. Social time (and social learning)
Which of course leads us to a huge benefit of any after-school program—social time and relationship building. Really, depending on your personal experiences, this might be the biggest benefit, right?
By being stuck indoors and unable to do many social activities they’d normally be taking part in if it weren’t for COVID-19, kids have been forced to endure a lot over the last few months.
You might even have students who were, dare I say, excited to go back to school, just so they could connect with and converse with others.
The problem is, their expectations may have been quickly brought back to reality either by physical distancing (if they’re on school campuses), or by not being able to have much interaction during their online courses.
So, after-school programs can provide the social outlet that many kids are still craving. These experiences are able to offer a deeper social focus because, while learning is still a top priority, they have the flexibility to dedicate more of the allotted time to socializing.
4. Mental stimulation
The “summer slide” phenomenon describes the idea that when kids are out of school over the summer - and away from the classroom and associated learning - their proficiency in certain skill areas might take a dip.
Well, now, even though kids are back in school, because of the uncertainty, inconsistency, and different learning experience altogether, there is a thought that they still might get hit with a slide in certain areas. (You can call it the Coronavirus slide, and that link contains a few tips to combat it.)
So, after-school programs can both help keep kids sharp in these potential education “danger zones,” and can also keep young minds stimulated—that is, keeping brains hungry and creative by introducing new ideas and opportunities.
Kids need confidence, but they also need confidence where it counts. So, while they might ace their math tests, and earn amazing grades on their book reports, is that confidence being maximized and/or applied where it really is most useful?
Meaning, when students end their school days, weeks, months, and years, is that confidence empowering them and encouraging them in any way shape or form as they move forward in their lives?
On the other hand, if kids, through an after-school program, are able to gain experience and build confidence in an area they actually want to pursue as a career, like coding or robotics, that confidence may have a greater impact.
For as beautiful as creativity can be, it can also be stifled quickly.
Meaning, being able to dream up big ideas and disseminate those thoughts through different creative outlets is a feeling like no other. But, when it comes to priorities, those creative activities quickly take a backseat to the “must dos.”
In this scenario, with school back in session, attending class and completing homework (view online homework tips) take priority over anything that could be considered a “nice to do.” Then, days go by, kids get into their routines, and before you know it, creative expression is nowhere to be found.
So, after-school programs can re-introduce creativity back into those important daily routines, giving kids that outlet to innovate, explore, and again, build confidence, and what’s more, have fun…
7. Fun and enjoyment
To end, let’s not forget what it means to be a kid—to have fun and feel good; to smile and laugh. These last few months have taken away a lot of laughter for a number of different reasons, and even today, a lot of the fun that a kid could or want to have, either on their own or with others still proves to be elusive.
An after-school program allows for fun, plain and simple. It’s not a secret, and not something I have to really explain...just a reminder that while fun options are limited, they can still exist.