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Social Emotional Learning in Out of School Time, Part 2

Posted: June 29, 2015

  Recent research  is indicating that skills and traits are better indicators of future success in the world than academic benchmarks.  These skills and traits include leadership, perseverance, self-management, cooperation, empathy, critical thinking, and awareness, among others. 

Before moving on, please note that some of these may be terms similar to what you have heard, but they are not exactly the same.  There is a wide array of language used, so in some places you may, for instance, hear “resilience”, while in others “perseverance”.  Or you may hear “self management” versus “self control”.  While there are no officially agreed upon definitions, the terms overlap to communicate the same concepts.      

If we know the importance of social emotional skills (SEL), the next question becomes “How can Out of School Time effectively develop these skills in our youth?”  Most quality after school and summer programs support the growth of these skills by the very nature of how programs function.  For example, if a program offers opportunities for children to work in groups of varied sizes, than the stage is set for some skills to be practiced.  When children practice cooperation and empathy through collaboration, they have a chance to build on their sense of belonging.  Yet, just because the opportunities are there, it does not mean Out of School Time programs are capitalizing on the chances to develop the social emotional skills of their youth.  The key to doing this is intentionality.

There are a number of ways to intentionally incorporate social emotional learning  into Out of School Time.   For simplicity’s sake, we will look specifically at two levels where a program can add intentional SEL.  The first is at a wider level through program design and planning.  An effective tool to use in this regard is the Clover Model by the Program in Education, Afterschool & Resiliency (PEAR).  PEAR, led by Dr. Gil Noam, was created from collaboration between Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  The Clover Model looks like this:


Each leaf represents an area that all youth need to learn and develop.  The Clover itself is used to remind us of the balance required.   Some programs may serve as great examples of Active Engagement, but may not guide their youth through any Reflection practices.  Other programs might offer youth complete power to choose activities to enhance the Assertiveness side, but if these choices are all individual activities, then Belonging will lack.  Programs that strive for and achieve a good balance between the four areas of basic needs holds the best chance in helping youth develop positive mental health.

When designing your program one easy way to ensure all four areas will be covered can be found using these for phrases; “I Commit”, “I Connect”, “I Touch”, and “I Sit Back and Think”.  Youth engaged in programs intentionally designed to promote positive social emotional health should be able to say all four phrases about their Out of School Time experiences. 


“I Commit” - Assertiveness - To promote leadership and perseverance in your program, always offer opportunities for youth to lead as well as incorporate youth voice and choice.

“I Connect” - Belonging - To promote cooperation and empathy, ensure your program guides collaboration in activities that develop inter-personal awareness.

“I Touch” - Active Engagement - To promote self management and self control, youth should be engaged in experiences that are hands on, mindful of impulse, and offer movement.

“I Sit Back and Think” - Reflection - To promote critical thinking and self awareness, include time and staff training so each activity ends with a chance for youth to explore their insights and observations, leading up to analyzing different aspects of what they just did.

These are quick snapshots, to read more information on PEAR, the Clover Model, and the work of Dr. Gil Noam, please visit  

In additional to program design, there is a second level where programs can include an intentional social emotional focus through individual activity design or delivery.  Most quality programs provide activities for their youth that are hands on and collaborative, but a bigger impact can be made through equipping front line staff.   Next month, we will highlight a few ways to bring intentional SEL to youth through the direct service staff including an effective method to make reflection part of a program’s culture.


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