Usable Knowledge School’s Out! Let the Learning Begin Exploring the ingredients of a great summer enrichment program Posted June 9, 2015 By Bari Walsh Summer programs can play a powerful role in kids’ lives and learning, especially when they’re structured in a way that prioritizes strong peer and mentor relationships and that actively engages kids in a mission that they themselves help to define. That’s one of the findings of a new series of reports from the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) that explores how out-of-school programs — whether in the summer or after school — can most effectively engage young people and create a truly enriching experience. In a commentary [PDF] that accompanies the reports, M. Elena Lopez identifies four dimensions of engagement in out-of-school learning settings: cognitive engagement: the investment of effort into acquiring information, practicing skills, and developing critical thinking; behavioral engagement: attendance, conduct, and participation; social engagement: actions that make young people part of a community; and emotional engagement: the feelings that young people develop through participation and relationships that can make them feel accepted and cared for. “Afterschool programs can make youth engagement happen,” writes Lopez, the associate director of the HFRP. “By paying attention to the quality of physical spaces, activities, and interactions, afterschool programs are expanding youth interests, knowledge, and skills. They are also helping youth shape their identities in the transition to adolescence, and for older youth, to adulthood.” But the academic, personal, and social benefits depend on the quality of the programs available, Lopez writes. Drawing on more than a decade of research on afterschool programs, Lopez and colleagues identify a set of best practices that afterschool programs can adopt to promote engagement and help young people develop skills like problem solving, responsible decision making, and self-confidence. To promote cognitive engagement: Offer new and desirable content Customize learning activities Offer encouragement To promote behavioral engagement: Make the environment fun and relaxing Provide structure and routine Vary modes of learning To promote social engagement: Design meaningful peer interactions Form interest-driven interactions with staff and peers Foster a sense of community To promote emotional engagement: Encourage staff and youth relationships Provide leadership opportunities The HFRP’s related series of out-of-school learning reports kicks off with a comprehensive case study of the Everett Boys and Girls Clubs in Everett, Massachusetts. The report [PDF], entitled “This Is Their House, Too”: An Afterschool Space Designed for and by Teenagers, was written by HGSE doctoral students Deepa Vasudevan and Jessica Fei. It chronicles the Everett club’s success in engaging middle and high school students through intentional efforts to give them space and autonomy. Also in the series: An interview with S. Craig Watkins on family engagement and connected learning. Watkins, a professor of media studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is a member of the Connected Learning Research Network, which explores the possibilities of connecting what children learn in school with experiences outside of school. A look at the “Steam Express” — an innovative mobile classroom for students and families to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math A look at the successful engagement strategies used by an innovative museum-based learning center. An update from the US Department of Education about designing authentic STEM experiences in afterschool through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. You can take part in a text-based web chat, Engaging Families and Youth in Afterschool and Summer Learning, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, from 1-2 p.m. (EDT). The chat will feature many of the researchers who compiled this HFRP series of reports. *** Get Usable Knowledge — DeliveredOur free monthly newsletter sends you tips, tools, and ideas from research and practice leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Sign up now. Usable Knowledge Connecting education research to practice — with timely insights for educators, families, and communities Explore All Articles Related Articles News The Effectiveness of Summer Math As schools seek to recover from COVID's disruptions, a significant new study shows how summer learning experiences focused on mathematics can play a part. Usable Knowledge Summer By the Book Closing the gap by helping families build a tradition of summer reading. News Happy Camper With Camp Akeela, Eric Sasson, Ed.M.'98, has created a valuable summer experience for the "quirky" kids.