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After School Program Lesson Plans & Curriculum Ideas for Teachers

Drexel University School of Education

An after school program isn’t just advantageous for children; for some, they’re crucial. They improve homework completion, encourage good behavior in the classroom, and provide a productive outlet during after school hours when kids are most likely to engage in, or be victim to, a juvenile crime.

At the elementary and middle school levels, students who take part in after school programs can help them improve test scores. At-risk students can also see their reading scores improve by taking part in high-quality programs. Here are a few ideas to build an after school program curriculum that can help keep students engaged with learning both in and out of the classroom.

How to Start a Successful After School Program

Organization is key when trying to determine how to run a successful after school program.

The first step is to consider the curriculum itself. Most after school programs take a holistic approach to a child’s well-being, evaluating how it can make a child more socially engaged, physically and emotionally cared for, and more committed to academics. Your program focus, like an arts program or focus on math homework completion, should complement those fundamental needs. This will dictate the staffing needs of your overall curriculum. You’ll also want to survey the needs of your students and community.

Once you’ve considered what type of after school program is most beneficial, it’s time to consider a funding plan and map out an operating budget. Meet with parents, teachers, and administrators to propose what your program will look like and cost, as well as what specific resources you may need. These needs may include tangible resources (such as a room) and human resources (which can include existing staff within your school or district, volunteers, or other paid personnel from outside your school).

Also recommended is that you secure additional sources of funding; that’s often where 21st Century Community Learning Centers, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, can be of help. Sponsorship from community businesses and organizations can also help.

Licensing needs for how to start an after school program will vary by state and the nature of the school, but public schools are generally not subject to licensing requirements.

Creating an After School Program: Lesson Plans & Curriculum

The activities make the program. Students should be united under a common goal with their activity, given a chance to share resources, and have an equal opportunity to participate and excel. If you offer trivia, for example, make sure there are questions anyone could raise their hand to answer.

Here are a handful of suggestions:

  • The arts. For a creative, communal, and cost-effective activity that’s suitable for elementary or middle school age kids, set up a crafting table using blank-canvas objects from nature, like a pine cone or wood block. Set out paint brushes, scissors, felt, glitter, and glue, and let students work at their own pace. Encourage them to all examine what each of their classmates have made, all using the same resources—placing emphasis on individuality and the difference in process.
  • Literacy. A writing and literacy activity might involve partnering with a Pen Pal service to match older elementary students or middle school students, with kids around the world who are their age. Students learn how to format a letter and correspond with sociability and cultural perspective in mind. Be sure to read the letters before sending them out to insure no personal information has been divulged.
  • Science. For a STEAM-specific activity, try science experiments that require fewer materials and demonstrate a lot using very little. Kids tend to be exhausted by the time after school activities are scheduled and are unlikely to engage heavily with involved experiments. Try collecting straws, eye droppers, and wax paper to have kids individually blow into the water and watch the droplets move and break apart, demonstrating surface tension. As a middle school or high school program idea for experiments, try science experiments with a theme—like renewable energy—that will culminate in a larger project and spark interest in a career pathway.

After School Program Curriculum Examples

How an after school program is structured can often depend on the age groups and educational levels of students involved. To see the distinction, here are some abstract samples of after school program curriculum examples:

  • Elementary students may require some time to expend some energy accumulated during the day, making a free play and any kind of physical activity exercise a welcome part of the activity. From there, find a focused activity, such as: silent reading time, brainteasers, or a science experiment. They will also require a snack.
  • An after school program curriculum template for middle school and high school students would be to have a similar structure, but sure to build in time for feedback and reflection after an activity. For activities, consider: more involved, thematic ways to engage—like teaching interdisciplinary elements of STEAM by rotating out arts, science, and math activities with a common mission; finding a sport like soccer or physical activity like running that allows them to stretch their growing bodies; operating a student newspaper; and community service activities that help to build leadership skills.

How After School Programs Benefit Students

In the big picture, after school programs offer many benefits to students from all walks of life and areas of interest. They provide them with an alternative to learning just what’s in school textbooks and having an avenue to exercise their own creativity and push their limits. Here are just a few groups of students who benefit from after school programs.

At Risk Youth

After school programs for at risk youth go a long way toward building confidence among students in low-income communities. The social dynamics of a high-quality program can help to further boost attendance rates in school, math scores, and keep them from risky after school behaviors.

Middle Schoolers

After school programs greatly impact the social lives of middle school children. They also improve homework completion rates and boost interest in science. It’s also a safe, supervised environment for an age group in which nearly 4 million kids are unmonitored after school hours. It’s a formative transitional tool for giving kids in this age group independence while offering basic supportive structures from elementary school they may still desire. And, it builds a bridge toward developing adult role models.

Children Who Need Extra Educational Assistance

How after school programs benefit studies with extra educational needs—those trying but still falling behind on math and reading—is all in the numbers: Forty percent of students who attended 21st Century Community Learning Center-supported programs improved their reading and math grades after attending after school programs regularly.

Students With Working Parents

Kids who have working parents are given more structure with an after school program. It gives them an environment to make healthier dietary choices, keeps them safe, and, for parents, allows them to miss less time at work for their child’s after school needs.

Learn more by contacting Drexel University’s School of Education and request more information about degree programs and teaching career opportunities.