I was having a conversation with a fellow educator. We were discussing the different types of programs that exist for school age children. There are play-based programs--traditional programs like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, educational programs like Kumon, plus corporate options like KinderCare and Champions. With the variety of different programs I started to wonder What is the role of an afterschool program in the lives of children?
Thinking about this question I researched some attributes of quality afterschool care. Qualities like cleanliness, organization, training of educators, being licensed, variety of materials, curriculum and location near school contribute to the basic services families need when choosing an afterschool program.
The Afterschool Alliance, an organization that has a stated vision of “Were working to ensure all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs” has a list of guidelines that create a quality afterschool environment. Some examples include frequent interaction with adults, quiet areas and noisy areas, outside experiences, imaginative play opportunities and opportunities to work with a variety of materials and projects. There are seventeen qualities listed and only two of the qualities resemble direct learning activities like children experience in school because children need a break from work just like you do.
Some educators have told me in afterschool that we are “preparing the children for college”. Some programs and agencies believe this is our mission. I found articles talking about quality afterschool with titles like, “Afterschool Programs Develop College and Career Readiness”, “Afterschool Programs Support Common Core Implementation” and “Workforce Development in Afterschool”. Being an educator in afterschool for many years I never believed that was our mission.
I believe afterschool is a place for children to come and socialize with friends, have a snack, play outside as much as possible, rest, read a book, learn at their own pace in an interesting prepared environment and choose their own work. Some children will paint others will build with Lego’s. Some children love board games, playing sports, building with clay, making creations out of recycled materials and sewing. There are a million other choices I have witnessed children enjoy over the years and none of them include preparing for college. Why?
Because the children in our care are doing what all of us do when we are done with our work day we want freedom of choice to explore our hobbies and develop our interests outside of work. In school age care, some educators view these activities as a waste of time. They believe children should be doing homework, learning STEM and doing projects that equal more rote learning so they can get a job in 15 years. What happened to being a child, enjoying the outdoors, chasing butterflies, playing with a stick and playing kickball?
More work and more adult directed learning are replacing all of the child directed activities so a child can get good grades instead of becoming a whole person. If this is the real mission of afterschool, why have it after, just stay in school.
I propose afterschool become something else. A place where we encourage young people to develop a well-rounded perspective on life, one with an idea that life is more than a bunch of facts to be regurgitated on a test, one that learns for the joy of the activity, one that lives in the moment and one that makes social connections in the formation of a community.
Is the mission of afterschool preparing children for college?