Not all learning happens inside the classroom.
According to Brad Pethel, owner and learning director at Mathnasium in Woodmere, and Scott Vollmer, vice president of STEM learning at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, children learn a lot from after-school programs.
“One of the major ways (after-school activities) help is allowing students to realize learning doesn’t just take place in school,” Pethel said. “They can implement their learning in an environment that is less stressful and have fun doing it. And sometimes, they can be exposed to activities that aren’t offered in school.”
After-school activities provide a safe environment for students, which may boost a child academically. Vollmer said that is needed as students get older and are faced with more time away from parents. Paired with snacks, meals and homework help, students are given resources to succeed.
“This encourages their interests, and to delve into products that interest them that they may not get in school,” Vollmer explained. “This also gives children the opportunity to not just have a teacher-student relationship, and a relationship with someone other than a teacher. That can enhance their lives greatly.”
Vollmer said many after-school activities plan their curriculum around what the students may be learning in school. This promotes continuous learning, he said.
“If they are good programs, they will coincide with what teachers are doing in the classroom,” Vollmer stated. “Most programs will work with teachers so they can do that. Also, informal learning, which is outside of the classroom, has the opportunity to teach soft, social-emotional skills that can carry over into the classroom.”
Pethel added, “Many times during these after-school activities, students learn a new way to think about a topic. It gives them confidence when they go back into a class to implement this way of thinking and to ask questions they might not have thought if they didn’t do the program.”
Participation in after-school activities can promote in-class focus and learning.
“At Mathnasium, we have students that come to us because they feel like they aren’t being challenged at school,” Pethel said. “It allows them to come and explore math in a new way. Everyone in the class is doing the same thing, so they get to come here and explore. And I’m sure that it’s the same for other areas. With after-school activities, students can blossom.”
Vollmer said after-school activities can introduce students to new content that can be used while in school.
“It can be an introduction to new content or extra attention to current content that will allow them to focus more in school,” he noted. “There are many after-school programs that provide an outlet for physical and creative activity and that helps students focus in the classroom.”
But, both professionals said there is a point where after-school activities may hurt a student’s success, especially if they are too overloaded to focus.
“We will see a disconnect often where parents might be overscheduling their kids,” Pethel said. “So, it’s important for parents to know whether their child truly has an interest in something and not just exposing them to it just because. Also try to find things that reduce the stress, like having them bring their homework with them (to the after-school program.) Parents want to offer what is best for their kids, so having something to supplement their learning can relieve stress at home.”
Vollmer added, “The trick with after-school programming is finding the balance. You don’t want to extend the school day. But since teachers have limited time and resources, structured activities in an after-school environment can play into the school day. So, you have to find a balance.”