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Social Emotional Learning in Out of School Time, Part 3

Posted: July 20, 2015

     In last month’s posting we discussed how to increase social emotional learning in Out of School Time programs through program design.  Now we will take a quick look at a second avenue of how intentional social emotional focus can be implemented into your program.  This second avenue is through individual activity design or delivery. 

Most quality programs provide activities for their youth that are hands on and collaborative, but a next level can be reached through the front line staff.   Talking with the staff or offering training on how to guide children through a reflection process after activities is one large step.   Programs can also implement a curriculum that includes reflection, but implementing independent practices with all staff will foster environments where reflection is embedded throughout the programming day.

The Momentous Institute’s Therapeutic After School Program stands as a great example of how to successfully interweave reflection in this manner.  They do this through what we informally call the “huddle up”.  After each activity, program staff ask youth to form a circle so that they can facilitate a conversation about what they did, what they saw, how they felt at certain points, and how people reacted to different emotions.  This practice may be awkward or result in low participation the first time through, but consistent implementation will make the practice second nature to both staff and youth as reflection becomes integrated into the program’s culture. * 

Programs can also help staff be more intentional about promotion of social emotional skill development within the activity itself.  An easy way to help direct service staff see the intention of activities can involve a quick discussion at team meetings or any time before programming begins.  Managers can ask staff to inform them of the activities of the day and then ask how concepts like collaborative learning, persistence, self-management, or reflection will be incorporated.

If face time with their staff is not a viable option, including a concept map for them to review prior to the activity can help as well.  The maps can be as detailed as the designer would like or they can provide a quick “bird’s eye view”.    Below is an example of the latter.


This concept map is easy to read and serves as an easy to digest visual reminder of the intention of the individual activity.  It is not intended replace activity or lesson plans, but it helps pull out areas of focus or attention that may have been passed over during the staff’s reading of the detailed activity instructions.  Of course, if program leaders have time to meet with their staff daily, the most effective method would be discussion of these social emotional focus areas and how best to implement them.  However, concept maps can help bridge the times when face-to-face meetings are not an option.  These maps are also great tools if you have volunteers assisting staff with activities. 

One final way programs can improve focus within activities is through providing intrinsic rewards for displaying indicators of healthy social emotional skills during the activity.  For instance, Balloon Bowling is an activity where youth use different materials to construct an object that will complete the bowling challenge.  Each team is given the same amount of starting materials.  Staff can reward teams with additional material selections when they witness and identify positive behaviors.  For example, if two children are arguing over a way to build the object and they find a compromise, the adult would verbally recognize their ability to work out their differences and allow them to go select additional materials.  This will help them see that teamwork will help them achieve their goal of succeeding.

Through promotion of social emotional learning, program leaders can help all youth with their positive mental and social development.  Hopefully, between program design and activity design and implementation, managers can add more tools to help build a stronger and healthier program.  However, prevention and promotion do not stand-alone.  In some cases, intervention is necessary.  Programs should locate mental health professionals and other specialized resources in their area to keep their children’s parents informed of support systems available.

*(Dallas Afterschool will be hosting a Momentous-led “Huddle Up” training in August for program partner staff.  Please email Justin Hensley or your Quality Advisor for more information).



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