Quality programs for school-age children come in all types. Regardless of their variations, one element is critical: providing a safe place for children to play, develop social skills and learn.

Quality programs for school-age children come in all types. Regardless of their variations, one element is critical: providing a safe place for children to play, develop social skills and learn. When people walk through the door of a school-age environment, they form an impression of the program within moments. What message does your environment send?

Creating environments that meet the needs of all the children—considering age, gender, ethnicity and ability— requires time, planning and information. A quality school-age environment is a welcoming, dynamic place full of action and rich in resources and learning opportunities. Go beyond tangible physical components to consider how people, policies and practices make children feel in the environment.

A school-age environment includes three dimensions:

  1. Temporal environment: schedules, routines, rules and learning opportunities meet children’s needs
  2. Interpersonal environment: fosters relationships and interactions of all individuals involved in the program, including the children, staff, parents and the greater community
  3. Physical environment: the indoor and outdoor settings, furnishings, materials, lighting, colors, plumbing and layout meet the needs of all who use the spaces

The goals of Great After School Programs and Spaces that WOW! are to help you think about how all three dimensions of your environment affect children and to help you create a program that will keep children coming back, will build students’ self-confidence and will establish a sense of community with peers and adults. The book addresses a variety of limitations and challenges that school-age programs often have and provides many low-cost or no-cost solutions to these problems. Whether you have little experience or you have been in the field for a while, this book will motivate you to look critically at the three dimensions of the program environment and will inspire you to create an exciting and supportive environment for all children.

The ideas and information are based on hundreds of visits to school-age programs around the world; input from afterschool program staff, field experts, and parents; brain research; and best practices to support children’s needs and interests. The ideas may challenge your current thinking and help you look at your space in a new way, designing and equipping the environment to support children as successful learners.