Categories » ‘Youth Development’

Big Kid, Little Kid

October 17th, 2012 by

Here is a recent article I wrote for our after-school center’s newsletter about mixed-age groups:

One of the questions I am asked most frequently about the philosophy at our after-school program is centered around the fact that we allow age groups to mix freely during the day.  Kindergarteners can freely mingle with the 4th and 5th graders, and it’s not uncommon to see a 3rd grader playing with someone either 2 years his/her junior or senior.

Of course, there is a valid concern that younger children are at risk of being bullied by older children in a relationship where there is a “power imbalance”.  This is, of course, a possibility (as it is in any relationship – even into adulthood)… but it is a possibility of which our qualified and caring staff members are aware, and proactively seek to prohibit.  The emotional and social safety of all the children are major pillars of the work we do in our after-school program.

With that in mind, it’s important to look at the major benefits reaped through mixed-age play.  One of the major precepts of our center’s philosophy is that School-Age sites are, in the end, miniature societies, complete with their own unique patterns of relationships, values, and ethics.  Through our emphasis of the Character Counts! pillars of character (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship), we are creating the kind of social “fabric” in our group that helps pave the way for positive, beneficial relationships between all ages.

According to a study by South Dakota State researcher Marilyn F. Rasmussen, children who are routinely a part of mixed age groups after school consistently experience “positive social interactions…such as cooperation, nurturing, inclusion, and sharing.”   Rasmussen continues to expand on the learning of cooperation:

 

            In a mixed-age group, mutually reinforcing perceptions
come together to produce cooperation. Young children
look to older children to provide leadership, helpfulness
and empathy. Older children perceive younger children as
in need of guidance and help. A collaborative spirit
replaces the competitive tendency frequently found among
same-age mates. Cooperative actions and reactions bring
out a sense of caring in older children, and they typically
accept the responsibility of being a role model.

 

In my 20+ years of working with mixed-age afterschool groups, I have found that older children identify with roles that encourage the growth of responsible behavior; that older kids receive “hands on” experience in being the nurturer, caregiver, resident expert, and “big brother/sister”.  The younger kids benefit by having accessible role models, and learn that older friends can become allies; I’ve also seen that children who develop relationships with older kids are more confident and less susceptible to bullying as they grow.

In the end, a mixed age group more closely represents what children will find outside the gates of the school – in “real life”, if you will – and having experience and comfort in negotiating such situations can build confidence, empathy, and living skills for all involved.

Locked Down?

October 14th, 2012 by

A little slow on the postings this past week, but I wanted to comment on a post from Free Range Kids guru Lenore Skenazy.  Another “stranger danger” incident happened recently at a preschool in the SF Bay area.  Apparently, a parent had allowed another adult inside the preschool compound without letting staff “buzz” them in, which created quite a stir- AND a lengthy letter outlining the dangers of people we don’t (and do!) know.

My reaction is this:

  • Why are our preschools / afterschool programs / schools wired like a minimum security prison in the first place?  I mean, I understand why.  At least I understand the reasons given.  I don’t agree with them.  Do we need to look at the DOJ statistics?  If we’re merely playing a statistics game then, shouldn’t we ban parents from driving their children home? (more car accidents happen per year with child passengers than stranger abductions) Perhaps we should ban relatives from picking up children at all (most abuse happens at the hands of relatives than any other category).
  • The main issue I have with the “lockdown” mentality is the subconscious message that it sends the children.  It tells them that they are just victims in a game where strangers lurk in every crevice waiting to pounce.  It tells them that they are incapable and must be protected from all things, real and imaginary.  It creates in children a sense that the world is a dangerous place, and that they’re better off not exploring, questioning, or learning about the wider world.

The fact is that, statistically, children are safer now than at any time in our nation’s history.  But paranoia makes for great headlines and child safety (or the fear of un-safety!) makes for great copy and Nielsen numbers.

But what is the cost to our kids?

The Primal Question

September 28th, 2012 by

Before we can even begin to discuss what needs to change in our system of education, we need to take a long, hard look at our raison d’etre for education in the first place.  Our cultural subconscious has been branded, as it were, since the 1950′s with the idea of what success looks like: more money, more power, more prestige.  And that is the ethic that we mindlessly hand down to our children: stay in school, even if it sucks, stick it out, get good grades, go get a “good” job, work your butt off for someone else’s profit for 50 years, retire, and hope you’ve socked enough money away that you don’t starve in your old age.

But what we are finding through the generations since the end of WWII is that having this “more” mentality has had some adverse effects.

People doing unrewarding, personally meaningless work because it pays well or because someone along the line told them they “should” pursue a certain career.  Important, necessary work falling to the wayside or relegated to the underclasses (or socially masochistic) because it has not been glamorized by our culture.  A subculture of people who will disregard ethics, principles, and even the rule of law if a certain activity will fill the “more” mold set forth by society.

As Brendon Burchard has written in his latest book, The Charge, Maslow’s hierarchy is now turned on its head.  In today’s uber-connected, sped-up, and super-informationalized society, our base needs have pretty much become a given.  Today, the poor of our country aren’t those who can’t afford food- they’re the ones who can’t afford cable TV and cell phones.  And behind this fast, profound change that we find our society amidst, is our human search for meaning… our drive to be fulfilled and live lives of purpose.

So… what does this have to do with education?

Today’s education model is still trying to turn out, assembly-line style, “workers” for the old economy.  People who will go accept any job to grab hold of a rung to try and climb to “the top”, wherever that is.  Children are told to sit down, shut up, and listen; the single most valued character trait in today’s schools is compliance.

Rarely are our children given any tools to understand, much less seek, fulfillment.  Rarely do our schools speak to children about meaning and purpose.  Yet new psychological studies are showing that children who do understand and have intrinsic representations for purpose and meaning are more apt to learn and contribute (See William Damon’s book “The Path to Purpose”).

So the question that must be asked is this: at the end of our kids’ compulsory education, do we want factory-ready worker drones, or do we want thinking adults with an intrinsic link to the meaning of being human?

I realize that it is not as simply dichotomous as presented above… but I do know that if we are to evolve as quickly as our technology is moving, we need to start questioning the foundation – the reasons – for our educational systems.

Finding Purpose and Meaning
It’s time for schools to foster the incubation of little humans’ search for meaning and purpose

When Lawsuits (or the threat thereof) Rule the World

March 18th, 2012 by

Again, thanks to Lenore Skenazy of FREE RANGE KIDS for another thought-provoking article.

Read original post here.

Turns out, a mom with a toddler attending afternoon baseball games on the site of an elementary school sought to use the bathroom (actually, the toddler was seeking to use the bathroom…) of the on-site afterschool program.

The long and short of it is that the request was denied.

Reason?  Liability.  The afterschool program has a policy in place not to let outsiders use their facilities.  The “worst-first” thinking goes like this: what if the woman or child slipped while in the bathroom?  Then the afterschool center could be held liable for damages.

What’s worrisome to me is that our center (and all the other afterschool centers where I’ve worked in the past) have the same policy.  BAD THINGS happen in bathrooms, and the insurance company knows it.  So, better to have a policy forbidding unauthorized restroom use than to open yourself to the infinitesimal chance that something could happen.  Can’t be too careful, you know.

Got me to thinking about how pervasive this “worst-case-scenario” thinking is in our profession.  I’m sure there are many who would wrap the kids in bubble wrap and put them in the corner until their parents picked them up, if they could.

Like I’ve said before, I believe that the raison d’etre of school-age care is to foster the social and emotional growth of the charges in our care.

If we let the “bubble-wrap” thinkers take over, we’ve failed.

Funny and Profound – Don’t Kill Creativity!

September 3rd, 2011 by

Here is a remarkable video from Sir Ken Robinson that was brought to my attention by a former teacher and mentor (thank you, Brad Hawkins, for this video, and thank you for the difference you have made in the lives of the thousands of children and youth that you’ve impacted and continue to impact to this day).

Yes, it’s 19 minutes long, but it’s highly entertaining and has a message that today’s education professionals need to hear.

What is wonderful is that, using Youth Development principles, this is a gap that is being filled by Out-of-School-Time professionals already.  How affirming!

Enjoy!

Thought Leadership

June 20th, 2011 by

Thought Leadership (or, in the personal tense, thought leader) derives from business jargon in the mid 1990′s for leadership (primarily in corporations) that bases itself on ideas of merit.

It has since evolved to mean involving a company (or any similar group) in an integration of professional ethics with highly effective leadership development.

What better place to plant the seedling of Thought Leadership than in Out-of-school-Time?  It is that time that is (supposed to be) devoted to the youth’s path of becoming; of learning the ways of the world and interacting with and leading communities.

Even Laurie Ollhoff, formerly of Concordia University’s (St. Paul) college of Education has described Out-of-School-Time care as a miniature community, where children are not learning to become, but are actively involved in the act of becoming (as we all are, regardless of our position on the path of life).

This year, our Junior Staff Leadership Group of 4th and 5th graders will be becoming Thought Leaders.   Stay tuned to find out how this turns out!

Introducing Generation Four (G4) in School-Age Care

December 28th, 2009 by

What do we mean when we talk about “Generation 4″ – or G4 when it comes to the Out-of-School-Time profession?

G4 is a direct thought-line descendant from “Generation Theory”- work that was pioneered and authored by the Ollhoffs, et. al. at Concordia University’s department of After-School Time (a subdivision of their Education Department).

In a nutshell, Generation Theory traces the purposes and defining characteristics of School-Age Care programs. Generation 1 had as it’s focus a simple warehousing of children while parents worked- a utilitarian viewpoint. Generation 2 followed with child-centered and developmental activities. Generation 3 took the long view of the child, family, school and culture, and promoted School-Age Care as an integral piece to the overall socialization of children and youth.

Through the heyday of the Youth Development Movement of the mid-to-late 1990′s (and early 2000′s), Generation 3 and Youth Development Theories seemed likely to create a critical mass nationwide in Out-Of-School-Time arenas and were poised to win the day as the gold standard for Out-of-School-Time philosophy. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) published it’s “Purple Bible” for quality baselines in School Age Care. Concordia University in St. Paul rolled out its groundbreaking School-Age Care degrees, both for undergraduate and post-graduate work.

Then came the Bush years (and, in California, the Schwarzenegger years)… No Child Left Behind became law, and Prop 49 was passed in California setting in motion a conflict for the soul of the Out-of-School-Time profession. Should after-school (School Age Care centers and Out-of-School-Time-focused organizations) continue in the vein of the Youth Development philosophy, or should they be co-opted as second-fiddle actors in the rush to boost school-day test scores?

Today, we stand at that crossroads.

Generation 4 will either see the continued development and implementation of Youth Develoment strategies and professionalization of the after school field, or it will fall as we see Out-of-School-Time disappear and be co-opted into a longer school day. At this point, it could go either way.

Restarting the Conversation

August 31st, 2009 by

Over the summer, we let the ball drop.

We have spent the past three (really? has it been three?) years working with the kids in our afterschool program in the context of the Josephson Institute’s CHARACTER COUNTS program.   At times using curriculum from the Instititute, and most of the time crafting our own relatable curriculum around the six pillars (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship), we’ve spent a fair amount of time engaging the children in the meaning and import of these abstract ideas.cc-bnr-6pillar

Then, for some reason… call it laziness, failure to plan, summer overwhelm, whatever… we stopped talking about the pillars this past summer.  And guess what?  The ideas and behaviors that had become a daily “given” at the site (older kids helping younger, sharing, and a sense of community) simply fell out of existence.

The beautiful thing is, now that the school year is underway, and we’re back to a more normalized (ritualized) schedule, the pillars have once again become part of the conversation.  We opened with our first “Word of the Week” (WOW) and we chose the one word that sums up what it is we’re up to as a group:  COMMUNITY.

Lo, and behold- as if a magic switch were flipped, the kids are back in the swing of things.

Or, I should say, the kids are back in the conversation.

Not a casual, one-on-one conversation, but the conversation.

The conversation is made up of all the hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller daily words, actions, and conversations between the teachers and kids (and the teachers and teachers and the kids and kids as well).

I once took a course that tantalizingly held out the maxim that “the only way to transform an organization, is to raise the level of the conversation.”  When we talk with kids and keep them in THE CONVERSATION, we keep our community in existence.  Instead of looking to find ways to make children “behave”, perhaps we should be looking for ways to raise the conversation.

Should the School Day Get Longer?

March 29th, 2009 by

There seems to be a growing call across the country to lengthen the school day.  Advocates from every political stripe see this as an easy softball issue.  Really, who would be against our kids getting smarter?

Plus, one can hear the clarion call of fearmongering leaders who warn that Americans, after years of statistical gains, are either: 1) dropping out of school at alarmingly increasing rates, or 2) falling behind our industrialized-world counterparts in academic achievement.  This can only mean one thing: we need more school time!

Let’s look at this more closely.  First, the measurement of dropout rates has been a highly contentious issue.  For such a seemingly basic statistic, one hardly knows where to turn.  For instance, the 2000 graduation rate has been pegged in the United States at anywhere between 62 and 88 percent- depending on whose research report you’re reading.  That’s a pretty wide disparity of numbers for something that one can imagine could be easily calculated.  Really… we can land a man on the moon, and yet we can’t figure out a simple statistical datum with a disparity of less than 26 percentage points?

By most accounts, the dropout rate is (and has been for the past 20 years) between 10 and 12 percent with variable spikes and valleys throughout that span.  There has been neither sharp increase nor appreciable decrease since 1990.  This “alarming” dropout rate is certainly no reason to increase the amount of time kids spend in school.

Another tactic used by the panic-of-the-week politicos goes something like this (perhaps you’ve read an article like this before?)…

Headline: American Children Falling Behind Kids in (Japan, Australia, Canada, insert most worrisome country here) in (Science, Mathematics).

What kind of sick sport is this?  Let’s pit the children of the world against each other in academic competition?  What does the winner get?  Really, I’m with Alfie Kohn on this one, when he says that these types of academic competitions and comparisons only lead to a culture that filters down… not only are countries pitted against countries, but states against states, districts against other districts in their state, schools within a district against each other… and ultimately kids against kids.  How disquieting it is to know that my 7th grader is judged, not by the merits of his own learning, but, rather, by how he stacks up against the other 32 kids in his math class.  In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn states (and I paraphrase): if all countries do poorly in terms of academic excellence, what glory is there in being at the top; likewise, if all countries do well, what shame is there in being at the bottom?

Surely, this artificial competition between countries, states, districts, and schools is no reason to elongate the school day.  That this competition may be about money… well, that’s a different question, but I won’t digress in this post.

Many Youth-Development-Based programs operate today, but are being threatened by the spectre of extended day programs that the feds and states have implemented.  In California, this has led to more state requirements and strings attached to funding while weakening some of the strengths of asset-based (Youth Development) programs.  More on this in another post.  The point being that the state (in California and other ‘forward looking’ states) are poised to co-opt afterschool programming to use it to create a longer school day.  This is a nefarious and ill-advised idea.

Schools don’t need more time.  Really- they have our children hostage six-plus hours a day, 180-plus days a year.  Really, if they’re saying they can’t get the job done in that amount of time, why should we, the parents and public, be willing to give them additional time?  Like marketing guru Dale Calvert told me over a decade ago… “don’t wish you had more… wish you were better!”