10 Considerations for Program Planning
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Creative art activities are a fabulous way to support self-expression and creativity in children. Art is often seen as a form of therapy and can be useful in further developing themes, events and programming. Children will experience self-confidence, creative, problem solving and relationship development while participating in creative art activities.
WHAT: Creative art activities can be individual projects such as clay models or group projects such as murals. Leaders may choose to develop activities that focus around themes that are currently underway in the program or perhaps assist to make a space more welcoming to the participants.
WHEN: Creative art is important to a program however it relies on resources, space and time. Often the set-up and clean up can be quite time consuming therefore it is important to plan in advance for the activity chosen. It may not be realistic to run a creative art activity every day during program so perhaps leaders will decide to instead include it a couple of times per week.
WHY: Creative art activities can support themes and events in a strong way. These types of activities are also known to contribute to children’s emotional and physical wellness. Perhaps there is a topic that personally impacts children in your program such as crime or bullying? Creative art programs can open opportunities for children to express their thoughts on these or other issues. Expression is a huge component of creative art and can lead to amazing programming outcomes.
WHO: Children should be encouraged to use the time during a creative art activity productively. Often there is not a lot of time allotted to these activities so leaders should encourage children to work together and maintain focus to achieve the best product possible. Leaders should make sure to stay involved by assisting the children.
HOW: Leaders will need to confirm materials are available for the activity prior to programming. It is important to be realistic about the time it will take for children to complete the activity. Leaders may want to break down a creative art activity over a span of a few days. Leaders should prepare the creative art activity space before having the children begin. During the activity, leaders should assist and share their time with as many children as possible. Individual encouragement is important to provide to the children throughout the activity. Children should tidy up their space as to eliminate time at the conclusion. When appropriate, display the children art for parents, and participants to see.
Leisure activities are non-structural, choice-play opportunities. This time can be used for many different kinds of activities such as board games, reading, puzzles and passive games. These activities will support children’s emotional, cognitive, social development. A child will experience a range of structured activities throughout their day, so there should always be time directed to a child’s right of choice in play.
WHAT: Leisure activities are defined as free play. During these times in programming, children are able to choose their own activity. These times should have little structure but leaders should continue to interact with the children.
WHEN: The end of a program is a good time to introduce leisure activities. Children will be calmer and more willing to participate in less active games near the end of the day, as they will have been active at the beginning of the program. As parents/guardians arrive to pick up their children it is easy to conclude a leisure activity and transition smoothly.
WHY: Leisure activities benefit children in decision making, social skill development and emotional development. Children experience a large variety of structured programs throughout the day that may limit their abilities to identify personal desires and choices. Leisure activities will empower children participating in your program to make their own choices and allow them to express themselves in healthy and fun ways.
WHO: During leisure activities, leaders should still engage with the children. It is important that children remain safe and that program rules and regulations are followed during this time. Children should select the activities. Leaders will simply play along or assist with the games.
HOW: Leisure activities are easy to set up. A variety of options should be offered to the children. Each program will have its own variety of resources such as board games, computers, books, toys and more. It is important to offer a variety of options. Leaders should provide a reminder that the children are responsible for cleaning up their activity once finished. If resources are limited, leaders can encourage children to bring their own leisure activity or provide a list of passive games to play in small groups.
Any physical activity should meet part of a child’s 60 to 90 minutes a day of exercise requirement. There are three categories that a physical activity falls under: endurance, flexibility and strength. Factors such as inclusion, safety and interactions should always be considered during program development for this type of activity.
WHAT: A physical activity gets children moving and engaged in active games. An endurance activity for children can be soccer, which will elevate their heart rate and keep them moving consistently. Yoga is an example of a flexibility activity that can be done with children. Many options in outdoor play parks offer strength activities such as climbing, pushing and swinging. It is important for all individuals to warm up before physical activities and it is a great transition activity while setting up a game or equipment.
WHEN: This type of activity should be offered at the start of program as children are mainly seated and participating in academic activities throughout the day. Structuring your after school daily program plan this way will help children focus on other activities such as Health and Wellness/Nutrition, having allowed them to release built up energy from their school day.
WHY: Physical activities benefit children in many different ways. This type of activity is proven to improve children’s health, self-confidence and relationships. During a physical activity, children are able to learn new skills and develop good habits that will remain throughout their lives.
WHO: As a leader you must set an example by participating in the physical activities with the children and maintaining positive reinforcement throughout the activity. Ensure that the activity is developmentally appropriate and can be adapted to make sure that all participants are engaged and active.
HOW: Safety is the number one priority when doing a physical activity with children. Areas should be checked for any dangers prior to the start of program, protective gear should be worn appropriately and equipment should be age appropriate. Modifying games and offering diverse activities is a good way to ensure that everyone is given a chance to participate. Be flexible and let children choose activities that they would like to play. The more children are involved in programming the more they will be engaged during the activity.
To introduce an activity, only explain the fundamentals of the activity and not all the technical details. Children will understand information better if a demonstration is given and it is simplified. The best time to change an activity or wind down an activity is at its peak fun point. If you continue an activity past this point, children may lose interest. If children do become uninterested during an activity then they may act out during the activity or they may not want to do the activity again at another time.
A transition is a point in a daily program plan when change is occurring. Examples include changing activities, start and end of programs, moving from one location to another location and more. At these points in program planning, it is important to keep in mind that children must still always be supervised and engaged.
WHAT: Transition times are great opportunities to include additional programming such as songs, games and discussions.
WHEN: Starting a program every day with a circle game, then singing a song in the hallway while walking over to the gymnasium, finally playing ‘Eye Spy with My Little Eye’ while waiting for a parent to arrive for pick up are all examples of transition activities.
WHY: A leader must keep in mind that some children will react to transitions differently. An older child may become distracted as the younger children take more time to be ready. A younger child may need more assistance to complete the transition. If activities are not planned during a transition, children can become distracted and misbehaviour can occur. If children are kept engaged and active during transition times programming will progress more smoothly.
WHO: Leaders should establish a positive relationship with children by using positive motivation and appropriate guidance during a transition activity. As an example, if a leader is transitioning from the classroom to the library and wants to have the children line up to walk over, they should not rush the children but instead announce the change of location and expectation of behaviour five minutes in advance. To assist them further, a leader could coach them to complete their current activity with positive reinforcement e.g. “Great job everyone!” or “We can do this!”
HOW: It is a good idea for leaders to develop back-up activities such as establishing buddies between older and younger children or having children begin transitioning at different times (younger children lining up before older children). Leaders should be flexible with the time they allot to transitioning. Transitions can be difficult when beginning a program as children are unaware of the routine; however, if these times remain consistent, positive and fun it will lead to a great day!
Wellness and nutrition activities are important components of an after school program. Children can learn the fundamentals of overall wellness, social relationship building, safety and nutrition. Positive health habits can evolve from sharing information, practicing skills and observing role models during these activities. Topics can vary from positive emotional coping skills, hygiene, road safety, bicycle safety, food groups and more. It is important that leaders encourage group activities where possible to ensure that children are engaged and understand the topics.
WHAT: Wellness and nutrition activities can be physical activities, passive games, discussions or other formats. They focus on developing children's overall wellness and nutrition in a variety of age groups.
WHEN: The time allotted for these activities can vary greatly. However, a portion of each daily program plan should be dedicated to this type of activity. Leaders should plan to have as many children participate as possible so it is useful to schedule these activities near the start of the program when the highest number of children are present.
WHY: Wellness and nutrition is a large factor in an individual’s well-being. Children often are aware of things that are good for their health but do not necessarily have the skills, role models, information or tools to create healthy habits. These activities will support healthy choices in a variety of areas in the child’s life such as stress management, resiliency, meal planning and oral hygiene.
WHO: Leaders should be comfortable in discussing questions and comments with the group and should also set positive examples to ensure that children are receiving valuable information. Involved the children in choosing topics that interest them. Expressing feelings, working together to solve conflicts, washing hands before handling food and wearing protective gear during sports are examples of things that leaders should be demonstrating to children during the program.
HOW: Wellness and nutrition activities should be as inclusive as possible. At times it may be easier to divide children into smaller groups in order to adapt content to be more specific to needs of the children. Build confidence by offering children choices, encouragement and activities that challenge and build skills. Make activities fun and use different formats such as physical games, worksheets, group discussions and scavenger hunts. Provide resources, if available, to parents so that children can engage them in what they’re learning about to further support healthy lifestyle habits outside of the after school program. Connect with local community organizations so that parents can learn about the services in their neighbourhood.