Month 11 - Afterschool Programs - From Vision to Reality:

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Child Developmental Stages and Age Groups

Activity planning begins with a clear understanding of the children's needs and interests based on their development. It's important to realize that age and development are not synonymous. Some children develop faster or slower than others. It's more complicated than this, but development is a function of genes, experiences, overall personal, physical, emotional and social health, and one's quality of life in general.

Knowing these characteristics helps in determining the kinds of experiences that are best for both young and older children. They can help adult leaders anticipate problems that may occur for children during activities and help staff effectively motivate, encourage, and redirect children and youth during experiences.

Children 6 to 10

In order to understand how best to serve children in your front-line staff position, it's important to understand where young children are in their development toward adolescence. The following characteristics are general ones for this age group.

Children's Ways Adult Roles
The youngest children in this age group are often (not always) very busy, sloppy, erratic, and in a rush to complete a task. As they get older, their interest in being both neat and correct grows.   Adults should always set good examples in these behaviors. Children look to adults for models.
Having and keeping friends becomes important.  Adults encourage friends to sit together, play together, snack together, and work at resolving issues that threaten their friendships.
Children learn new things and need to constantly replace old ways of thinking with new ways. Leaving the familiar for the new untried ways is difficult for some.   Adults can help kids recall how successful they have been in the past during unfamiliar experiences, and how normal it is to be unsure about alternative ways of thinking about something.
They are generally more eager to learn, more curious, more enthusiastic, and imaginative at this age than at any other times in their lives.  Adults can use these qualities to regularly introduce many new experiences to children.
They begin to apply logic to solving problems, and get good at using numbers, letters, and words.  Adults should provide children with lots of guidance and opportunities to solve problems; find games that use numbers, letters, and words since it is in using these and accomplishing things with them that children learn.
They need routine and consistency from adults in their lives.  With routine consistency children do not have to worry or wonder about what comes next or what's expected of their behavior. However, provide flexibility as conditions that call for it arise.
Discovering things and inventing are favorite kinds of activities. Adults can ask children to make or design things that solve real and immediate problems in the program
Take-apart and put-together activities are popular with this age group.   Adults serve this interest when they bring in items that can safely be taken apart. Encourage the parts to be used in interesting ways.
Writing can be a favored activity, especially when it helps kids get something they want or need.  Labeling, pen-pal writing, shopping lists, program posters are all great writing experiences with potential payoffs.
Kids enjoy math if it's connected to and supports what they are invested in.   Adults should use games, cooking activities, and problem solving to reinforce school-learned skills.
Science is seen by kids as a way to explain the world they are becoming more and more curious about.   Adults should read up on the science children show interest in.
Their energy often needs focus and redirecting from adults. Be alert to the need to re- direct energy before it creates problems.
Children often have friends or partners of choice.   Adults should support these relationships when they are positive and productive.

Children 11 to 14

In order to understand how best to serve youth in your front-line staff position, it's important to understand where young adolescents are in their development towards adulthood. The following characteristics are general ones for this age group.
Youth's Ways
In their late elementary and middle school years, children:
  Adult's Roles
Begin to develop more personal self- awareness concerning the physical, social, and emotional changes that are rapidly occurring for them.  Adults need to be sensitive and patient as youth struggle with these changes.
Begin to challenge their own ideas about how they think the world works, as well as challenging the adult-based rules they used to live by without question.   Although the challenge appears to be personally directed towards you, adults must remember the challenge is focused on the ruled-on issue, not on you.
May begin to show skill in certain content and ability areas.  Adults should encourage youth to try lots of experiences associated with these areas, and show interest in these areas.
Boys and girls depart from playing together and often gather in all-girl or all-boy groups to play and do things. Thirteen is thought to be the year with the most significant developmental differences between boys and girls. Girls at this age often take interest in older boys.  Adults need to be sensitive to this shift.
Youth copy their peers in how to behave, how to dress, what to admire, etc. They put lots of energy into developing and perfecting their own sense of self or identity. Often self-absorbed, but eager to be in the company of their friends.   Adults need to help youth differentiate between when it's appropriate or acceptable to "follow" and when they need to pull back from the group. Make wise, independent decisions as part of figuring out identity.
Youth really want to talk to adults, but don't always know how.  Adults who are skilled listeners are highly prized by youth. Practice developing good listening skills by really listening more than speaking.
Youth have a strong desire for independence, especially from the constraints that are more typical of "little kids." Older youth enjoy relationships with caring adults.  This doesn't mean that you eliminate rules. Have rules that match older kids' abilities to be responsible.
They like to have their ideas solicited by adults rather than volunteering them.  Provide positive recognition privately and in groups as youth attempt to assume more mature behavior.
They generally enjoy helping younger children, being part of planning for them, establishing rules associated with the plans, and assuming leadership. Fairness in all things is a guiding principle in their lives. They are quite alert and sensitive to adult behavior which is perceived as unfair.   Adults should strive to include youth in programs for young children. Adults should be consistent and fair in their interactions, help, and discipline.
They have the same developmental needs as younger children, but need to have them attended to in ways more approximating those of adults.   Provide spaces, activities, and privileges to youth that are different from those available to younger children.
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