A new classroom can be a strange and intimidating place. Afterschool programs present an additional shift since, in addition to having to move from home to school, children must then go from school to another new environment.
A new classroom can be a strange and intimidating place. The chairs are set up differently, there are new people to meet, and even the rules can be different! Afterschool programs present an additional shift since, in addition to having to move from home to school, children must then go from school to another new environment. Such transitions are the first major obstacles children must tackle, which is why they are a vital part of building resilience. Resilience refers to a child’s ability to “bounce back” when faced with setbacks or new situations. Nefertiti Bruce and Karen Cairone delve into this important emotional skill in their book Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure. This invaluable book provides teachers and program directors with everything they need to know to help children develop resilience and confidence.
For example, how can programs promote resiliency by strengthening home-school relations? Afterschool programs in particular have the important role of acting as one large transition between school and home. Children are able to complete homework or learn new things while also being given the opportunity to socialize and be creative as they wind down from their day. However, the movement from school to afterschool to home can still be jarring and frustrating for many children, which is why instructors should strengthen their students’ resilience by making their program feel even closer to home. Here are some tips from Socially Strong, Emotionally Secure that will help ensure your students and their families are supported in afterschool.
- Learn about and respect the family and culture of those important people in the children’s lives. Most classrooms today find themselves with a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds represented by their students. Some children may speak multiple languages while others may practice different holidays or traditions. Afterschool classrooms should provide children with opportunities to express and celebrate their different families. Have show-and-tell days where students talk about their family traditions, or do a project where students bring in pictures of their families to hang in cubbies or on a bulletin board. It’s also important for program directors know about cultural differences so that they can accommodate them. For example, if a Muslim student observing Ramadan is in the program, instructors should provide her with an alternative activity during snack time so she needn’t be tempted to break her fast. Likewise, if there are multiple languages in the class, things should be labeled in both English and the other languages spoken by students.
- Celebrate what the child and family can do, drawing on strengths, interests, and abilities. Children whose family culture is vastly different from the school’s dominant culture can feel isolated, and the transition from school to home can be made even harder. These differences might also be a point of insecurity for the student, which is why it is important to emphasize the strengths each family brings to the program. An example might be a Cuban family whose members are only just starting to learn English. This language barrier can make it difficult for both the student and the parents to connect with others in the program. Try inviting the family to find another way to be involved in family nights or classroom projects, such as providing their favorite dishes if they like to cook or teaching a specific skill the family practices, like weaving or stitching. This kind of inclusion emphasizes the value of every family, even when communication is difficult.
- Establish an ongoing system for exchanging information between school and home. It’s important that parents know what is going on during afterschool care and that they are comfortable contacting the program director with any questions, concerns, or suggestions they have about their child. Newsletters and emails are great ways to keep communication open between directors and guardians; instructors can outline the project plans for each week in the newsletter and send specific updates about each child as they see fit. Make sure any information is presented to non-English speakers in a language they can understand and ensure there is a way for these parents to communicate with program directors.
- Encourage children to talk about school happenings and happenings at home, as both environments help shape their worlds. Children should be encouraged to talk about their experiences. Discussing their academic experiences at home encourages them to do their own research on topics they enjoy. Meanwhile, talking about their families can make them feel closer to home while at school. Families and their cultures may also provide children with common ground on which to build friendships: an African-American child and a Chinese child might bond over their families’ mutual love of home-cooked food, or a dual language student may find she enjoys speaking in Spanish with an immigrant student from Panama. Overlapping these two environments allows children to embrace all the facets of their identity and develop confidence in who they are both at home and at school.
- Support each child’s relationship with all caring adults in the family. Families are not always comprised of two biological parents and a child. Some children are raised by single parents, grandparents, adopted parents, adult siblings, or aunts and uncles. In some cultures, multiple sets of adults and children live close together and comprise tight-knit extended families, every adult having a great impact on the child’s lives. Directors should make an effort to include non-traditional families in their classroom materials and encourage children to talk about all the adult family members in their lives. Avoid framing family visits as “Parent Days” or limiting Mother’s and Father’s Day celebrations to include only people who fit those titles. Supporting children’s bond with their families helps them feel included and secure even if their caregivers don’t match the traditional family pattern.