Awesome After School Programs Do Interesting Things

Let’s talk about the second part of the secret to a fabulous after school or camp program!

If the first part is to Hire Decent People (and they don’t have to be superstars), then the second part really is to Have Interesting Things To Do.

This may appear to be sooooo obvious at first glance. And you are rolling your eyes at me right now. (Really, I saw that.)

But it is actually the fundamental secret to having a successful program after you ensure you hire safe, reliable, enthusiastic adults. Think about it. Once kids connect with decent role models, they naturally want to do fun and interesting things with them!

I think two key concepts have been missing from the discussions on improving program quality in after school programs.

Children are wired to learn through play.

After school and camp programs are voluntary.

The voluntary aspect of after school programs cannot be overlooked, as I feel many in the field do, for if the program is not engaging children will ultimately ‘vote with their feet’ and find more engaging experiences elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these options are not what we all want for children.

So you are thinking you know this about play and needing to be engaging. But are you really and truly executing on this for the kids?


Has your after school program built any award-winning “bad-ass hybrid cars” lately?

Or sailed any boats?

Or tackled the 2011 Food Challenge in robotics with 3rd to 5th graders?

Or launched a business? Run a race? Seeded a garden? Visited a retirement center? Sent care packages to American troops? Created an original dance? Painted a mural? Pinned down the mechanics of a good jump shot? Listened to a good audio book while making art? Argued about the themes in the novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the latest in the Magic Tree House series? Built media literacy skills while dissecting the oddities of reality TV? Surveyed peers and then organized and presented the findings?

If these describe the type of activities in your amazing after school and camp programs, you and yours are awesome!! And everyone in the nation (okay, all of us reading this post) applaud you!

However, that’s not always the case (for a variety of reasons we can discuss later)…and when I walk through these programs, I don’t see dozens of energetic, bright-eyed children full of playfulness and curiosity, who are busy ‘getting their growth and enrichment on’. I see dull, obedient (mostly), tired little people who mostly want to go home or at least get some free time on the playground.

We’ll talk lots more in the future about excellent programming and how it can exist in many different formats. But in the end, no matter the program emphasis or activity approach…the kids still need interesting things to do!

So what do you do to make sure your children are engaged? Do your activities have these hallmarks below?

Hallmarks of Interesting Things To Do in after school programs

  • Children are using their bodies to actually do something and not just listening or reading about it
  • Children voices are heard a lot more often than the adult voices in the room
  • Children have choice and self-expression in the activity or even come up with the project themselves
  • If you ask the children what they are doing, they tell you that they are playing or having fun

P.S. Of course, we think laughing a lot is interesting. And flying paper airplanes.

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