When you design an after school space, what do you think about? Most likely table arrangements and colorful wall hangings spring to mind, or perhaps some ideas about play centers and project spaces.

Science and art spaces are a staple of any classroom, but what about spaces for emotional development? After school programs don’t only offer enrichment in academic areas; they are also a place for children to develop their social-emotional skills. The more flexible setting of an after school program provides children with more opportunities to engage in social situations, and the less rigorous academic curriculum provides directors with more time to introduce social emotional learning activities.

One important piece of social emotional growth is resilience. Resilience refers to a child’s ability to adapt to new situations and challenges. Parents, teachers, and program directors help children develop resilience by providing security and modeling healthy social and emotional skills. However, another piece of the resilience puzzle is designing a classroom that reinforces children’s sense of confidence and validity while providing resources to support their emotional development. Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure, by Nefertiti Bruce and Karen Cairone, provides program directors with tips and ideas for how to set up a resilience-promoting classroom. Here are a few things to add to your after school space that will build resilience and security in your students.

Individual Theme Kits

When adults take the time to learn about children’s interests and plan for activities that encourage these interests, children learn that adults are caring, connected, and supportive. They will then be more willing to cooperate, take an interest in what their friends enjoy, and explore their interests more in detail.

What to Do:

  1. Spend several days observing and listening to the children, asking them questions about the things that interest them. As you learn more about what they’re interested in, begin collecting items related to those themes to create their theme kits. Kits can be created with individual children in mind but should be available for all to use
  2. As you collect items representing a particular interest, place them in one of the containers. For example, if you have noticed that the children currently have an interest in animals, you can collect plastic animals, pictures of animals, small books about animals, and so on
  3. Once you have enough materials in the container, let the children help label and decorate it and talk to them about all the wonderful items inside
  4. Use theme kits to enhance the play experience anywhere inside or outside. Children can even take them to cots or mats during rest time

The Be-By-Myself Box

Children benefit from knowing there is a safe place to retreat to when they are overwhelmed or need a break from the larger group. Just like adults, children need their own space to help them relax and regroup from time to time.

What to Do:

  1. Talk with the children about how, at certain times during the day, they may want to “get away from it all” and be by themselves
  2. Show them a place in the classroom they can go to have some quiet time
  3. Next, introduce a large cardboard box, explaining that this will be the be-by-myself place (for older children, comfy chairs or pillows work just as well)
  4. Together with the children, decide where the box should end up once it’s finished
  5. Next, work together to determine the rules for the be-by-myself space. Write up the rules and add pictures if possible
  6. Cut one side of the box completely open, as this will serve as the entrance to the be-by-myself space
  7. Decorate the outside of the box (or walls of the area) with paint, markers, or collage materials. Decorate the inside with photos or drawings
  8. Place the box in its space, review the rules regularly, and enjoy

Wall of Fame

When children see their creations displayed, they learn to take pride in what they do, take care of their own things, and respect the work of others.

What to Do:

  1. Find space in your classroom where you can hang your students’ work (on the walls, hanging from the ceiling with string and clips, back of shelving units, doors, etc.)
  2. Give the students paper stars and art supplies and help them decorate it however they’d like
  3. Once the stars have dried, place a clothespin on the back of each one with either tape or hot glue
  4. Hang a string from two nails along the wall and add the caption “Wall of Fame.” Begin adding the children’s creations with the clothespins
  5. Whenever a child shares her work with you, ask open-ended questions like:
  • “How did you decide what to draw?”
  • “What made you choose these colors and materials?”
  • “How does this creation make you feel?”
  • “If you had to give this a title, what would you call it and why?”