DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PROGRAMMING FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN
Carole L. Eller
Cooperative Extension Educator, 4-H/Youth Development
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut
Maureen T. Mulroy
Cooperative Extension Specialist
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut
In order to help school-age children achieve their potential, it is critically important to recognize their developmental needs and abilities. To be most valuable, the program should help children work on the tasks they must accomplish at each stage of development and in each domain of development.
For purposes of this paper, the school-age period is divided into three stages:
- YOUNG SCHOOL-AGE CHILD: Children in K-2
- MIDDLE SCHOOL-AGE CHILD: Children in grades 3-4
- OLDER SCHOOL-AGE CHILD: Children in grades 5-6
Domain of Development is the term that will be used to refer to primary or concentrated areas of development. The four domains of development are:
- PHYSICAL DOMAIN: Focuses on the body, large and small muscle development and motor coordination.
- SOCIAL DOMAIN: Focuses on self-concept and interpersonal relationships.
- EMOTIONAL DOMAIN: Focuses on feelings and emotions.
- INTELLECTUAL DOMAIN: Focuses on cognitive development, thinking and ways of learning.
Important information will be presented about the school-age child's skills, abilities and needs in each of these four domains of development. This information can be used to help you:
As you look at the developmental continua printed herein, keep the following information in mind:
Young school-age children are interested in perfecting skills that have recently come under control. They will spend much time and energy practicing a variety of movements such as running and jumping, throwing and catching. Games such as *Mother May I?*, *Statues*, *Tag*, *Giant
Steps* and *Red Light/Green Light* are important because they allow the child to practice known skills and introduce them to rules and roles.
Middle school-age children delight in learning more complex skills related to team sports such as baseball, soccer and basketball. However, this is the time for learning the basic skills and rules of the sport. Keep in mind that everyone needs an opportunity to play and succeed, so traditional rules may need to be changed or adapted.
Older school-age children are now in greater control of their body and its movement and are ready to begin more structured and adult-like activities such as dancing, gymnastics, judo and karate. They are also ready to learn the fine points of team sports and will relate to the knowledge and experience of a coach, trainer or instructor.
Young school-age children work to develop their eye-hand coordination by practicing skills such as cutting, pasting, tearing or drawing. They are interested in doing rather than in creating an object or a product. They use all of their senses when involved in an activity. These types of activities are hard work for this age child, and they will tire easily. Keep this type of activity short.
Middle school-age children really enjoy sampling a wide variety of arts and crafts activities. Their visual-motor coordination is good, and they like using real tools and utensils. The process of doing is still more important than perfecting skills and creating products.
Older school-age children will have acquired adult-like abilities in this area. They are ready to engage in activities such as making models, building rockets and woodworking. They also enjoy making works of art - carvings, mobiles and sculptures.
Young school-age children are interested in what is happening in the homes of other children. That is the outside world for this age group. They want to structure their environment as their home is structured. They tend to see all adults as parents. They will enjoy activities that allow them to play the roles of family members.
Middle school-age children are intrigued with the community and all the people, businesses and events that occur there. They will enjoy field trips to neighborhood stores, factories and public buildings. They are interested in finding out what goes on in each of the facilities. They like to know the how-to, what and why of everything and everyone. Maps, making them as well as using them, are important to this age group.
Older school-age children's horizons are expanding to include the world beyond the neighborhood. They are interested in cultures, foods, languages and customs of people different from themselves. Attending or organizing cultural festivals, adopting a child from another country and fund-raising events for world hunger are the types of activities that appeal to this age child.
The young school-age child forms many friendships which last for short periods of time. Frequently a friendship will develop because both children share the same interests. Once the interest shifts, the friendship often dissolves.
The middle school-age child can often be found in groups of the same sex peers. A friend is anyone who can meet the peer group's criteria for admittance. As the criteria for admission changes, so does the membership of the group. For example, all of the children who like to jump *Double Dutch* become part of "the group," or all of the children who like to play with GI Joes.
The older school-age child begins to understand the meaning of friendship. Qualities such as loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness and being a good listener are the characteristics that make a good friend. Being someone's best friend is important. Friendship groups are often small but intense in their feelings of togetherness. Often these groups or cliques serve as a security blanket for the members.
Young school-age children see themselves as no longer being babies and take pride in being able to do things for themselves. They still, however, need and want the assurance of an adult's presence. This age child can best be described as having a fragile sense of power.
Middle school-age children think that they can do no wrong. They are quite certain that they are the smartest person they know and don't hesitate to let you know. Nothing about them is wrong, or so they think. Any criticism is considered a personal attack or the mutterings of someone who is obviously inferior to themselves. They are quick to correct others.
Older school-age children have a much more realistic understanding of who they are and what they can do. They are now able to describe themselves using a variety of adjectives. They tend to compare themselves to the adults they see. It is not unusual for them to adopt the hairdos, dress and mannerisms of popular sports and music stars.
Young school-age children express feelings and emotions behaviorally. They are demonstrative with both positive and negative emotions. They experience feelings but are unable to label them. Overall, they are emotionally on an even keel. If they do erupt, the upset is usually short term.
Middle school-age children are beginning to use words more than actions to express feelings and emotions. Name-calling, teasing and rank-outs become a primary method for responding to upset. They use analogies or "kinda like" expressions for describing positive emotions. They
definitely do not want to say or do "yucky" things, like giving their parents a kiss goodbye or saying "I love you."
Older schol-age children are quite able to express themselves with words. They are aware of degrees of emotion and will spend a lot of time finding just the right word to describe their feelings. They use their voice and facial and body expressions to accent the various degrees of feeling they experience. Exaggeration and sarcasm are frequently used to describe subtle meanings and nuances. Although they can label many feelings and see their expression in others, older school-age children have problems seeing similar emotions in themselves.
Young school-age children enjoy playing school. They like to practice the new skills that they have learned. They do this by setting up pretend schools with younger siblings or with their dolls and stuffed animals. They really enjoy being the teacher and giving stars and stickers to their "students". They are not interested in reading, writing and arithmetic drills or tests. That's too much like real school and not a lot of fun.
Middle school-age children like to forget about school as soon as they leave it. They enjoy learning new skills and ideas by getting involved in projects that require thinking and doing. They enjoy using their reading and writing abilities as long as they aren't the point of the activity. Problem-solving and creative approaches to solving old problems capture their attention and interest. They tend to see things as "black and white" and "yes" or "no", so they have difficulty appreciating other people's viewpoints.
Older school-age children feel comfortable with a problem having lots of possible solutions. In fact, they like the idea of researching all possible sides of an issue and then testing them or putting them to a vote. This group is really interested in the point of view of other people. "What do you think, Mary?" is the type of question that you will frequently hear. Grades are important to these children and an area of concern. They appreciate having the time and resources (encyclopedia, dictionary or trip to the library) to prepare a school assignment. They are ready to learn good study skills and will benefit from study groups.
While it is helpful to know the sequences of development in each of the domains, it is even more important to look at the individuals in your program and determine where they fall on each of the developmental continua. All program staff should assist with this activity. If it is not possible for the entire staff to meet at one time, have them meet in small groups to analyze the development of each child in each domain. This will allow the staff to plan programs and opportunities to help children move along the continua and be able to encourage children needing to develop certain skills to participate in appropriate and beneficial activities.
After staff has read the developmental information presented here, ask the following questions: "Which children are most like the young school-age child? Middle school-age? Older school-age child?" Have a staff member list each child as they are mentioned under one of the school-age categories. Do not be concerned with the child's age or grade at this point.
Use the "?" category only when it is impossible to come to agreement about an appropriate placement or when staff members really have no clear idea of the child's abilities. Children listed in the "?" category will require observation by staff so that they can be placed in the most appropriate school-age category. Once the children have been categorized, the next step is to look at the children listed under each heading. Does any child stick out as not belonging? Are they older or younger than the majority of other children? Are they in a lower or higher grade than most of the children? If so, place an asterisk next to their name. These children most likely have special needs. You can refer to the section entitled "Serving Children With Special Needs."
Children who appear in the "?" column in many domains may be "shadow" children. They may not be participating in the program and may often be on the sidelines watching. Additional encouragement and support may be needed to make them part of the group.
The information provided by this chart will be useful as the staff begins to plan activities to meet the needs of all children enrolled in the program.
Because of expanded or restricted experience or the existence of a disability or special talent, the special needs child requires some modification in programming. Many special needs children can participate and enjoy the informal structure and wide variety of opportunities available in the typical school-age child care program.
It is important that staff and other children consider the special needs child a member of the group. The child should not be made to feel different because of the special need. Other children can learn to accept those who are different by knowing children with special needs and learning to accept a larger group of individuals as friends. Staff can learn to be more aware of the needs of all children by the inclusion of special needs children in the school-age child care program.
Participation of a special needs child usually requires minimal modifications in the activities that occur. These modifications should result in the individualization of the activity and should be taken into account when planning for all children. The modifications may require a change in the rules to make the activity more or less challenging. It may require a change in the time allowed for completion. Equipment may need to be modified. The process may need to be stressed instead of the product. Only one type of modification will likely be needed to allow for participation and acceptance of the child.
In his book, *School-Age Children with Special Needs*, Dale Fink provides helpful guidelines for programs seeking to mainstream children with moderate to severe disabilities. He stresses the importance of obtaining as much information as possible from the parent and developing open communication with the school staff serving the child. This will provide a source of consultation for the program staff.
School-age child care programs offer a marvelous opportunity for all children, but especially those with special needs to become part of a caring group and develop their skills and talents to the fullest. Remember, because special needs children have much in common with their peers, they will enjoy participating in the same activities that their peers enjoy.
The purpose of any developmentally based program is to help children grow and develop in ways that will lead to their becoming fully functioning and productive members of society. Planning such a program requires establishing long and short term goals and providing experiences that begin where the child is and help them move forward to more mature expressions and experiences. Good programming not only respects children for who they are and what they can do, but also challenges them to imagine what they might do and who they might become. In other words, good developmental programming is grounded in the here and now but focused on the future.
Planning a future-oriented program requires staff members who are: ready to design hands-on activities; excited about learning in new and different ways; enthusiastic about sharing what they know and creating ways for children to share what they know; and able to look back and see changes that have occurred in the child's development and to mirror the joy of that development to the child.
One way of thinking about helping a child develop for the future is to think about three types of spaces - Inner Space, Outer Space and Shared Space.
Inner Space - orients a child towards getting to know more about him/herself
Outer Space - encourages the explorer within a child
Shared Space - creates opportunities for getting to know the Earth's peoples
In every domain of development, there should be an awareness and emphasis on developing each of the spaces within a child.
Most activities you will plan to meet the developmental needs of the children in the program can incorporate the perspectives of one or more spaces. The following example will help you plan developmentally sound activities which are grounded in the SPACES concept.
Inner Space - aerobic dance. How does my body feel? What does the activity do for the body?
Outer Space - throwing for distance. Throw a variety of different objects such as a ball, feather, piece of paper, paper airplane or ball of paper. Which object goes the greatest distance and why? Have kids measure and record distances. Does the person throwing the object affect the distance; does it matter if the activity is done inside or out?
Shared Space - Playing dodge ball in a small circle with everyone standing as close together as possible. How does it feel when too many people try to share too small a space? Now make the circle larger. Is there a difference in how people feel; how the group interacts? What happens when too many people try to share the same space?
Spaces provides a perspective for looking at the world and preparing kids for a high-tech and global future. When you choose activities that also meet the developmental needs of the individual child, you are promoting optimal growth and development.
When developing a daily schedule, think about spaces and developmental domains, as well as the individual needs of each child, the resources available or creatively obtainable, the space you have or can acquire, and the time available for programming. Then you can plan for specific activities that will take place during the day.
The before-school program needs to provide a transition from home to the school day. The program should guide the child from a stress-filled situation of waking, dressing, eating and traveling to the structured, thinking environment of the school.
To exert a calming influence, the before-school program should keep the lights low, have quiet music playing in the background and have available games and activities that require little thought or action on the part of the child. Examples of this type of activity are: etch-a-sketch; stories; homework; simple, no-mess art or craft projects; VCR tapes; a simple snack and juice; or just sitting and talking. The following is a sample of a Before-School Schedule of Activities:
1. SNACK TIME - Staff should set up the snack area (cups, plates, food and napkins), but the children should be encouraged to prepare their own snacks as well as clean up after themselves. Try setting up the snack area like an outdoor cafe or restaurant, or surprise everyone and have a picnic!
2. HOMEWORK HELPER(S) - A staff person should be assigned to assist children in completing any unfinished homework or in practicing for a test or quiz that is scheduled that day. Remember that children learn quite well from other children. Ask interested children to become homework helpers too!
3. INTEREST AREAS - There should always be at least one person responsible for monitoring the children during this period of time. Staff will assemble all necessary materials for this period. They should organize the available space so that one group will not disturb another. Remember - kids become bored easily, so change these activities daily.
4. OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES - If you are fortunate enough to have good weather and a quiet playground setting, utilize it! Plan a nature walk; quiet games such as hopscotch, marbles or jacks; swinging on swings or watering the plants. However, AVOID any activity that produces wild running and screaming.
NOTE: If your before-school program is located in a school, it would be in the best interest of the children to have access to the school library during this period of time.
Shot from a cannon, funneled through the narrow door only to explode in your presence, school-age children will arrive in your program each day. The afternoon program should be the exact opposite of the morning one, as staff work to help children release energy in safe and creative ways. Especially on rainy days, there must be strenuous, large muscle activities that allow for noise making and laughter and whole body action. Now is the time for loud music, bright lights and drama! Get involved in dance, aerobics, *Double Dutch* and other rope jumping, floor hockey, soccer, sprints and hurdling - whatever you can think of that requires the body to channel its energy in bursts in a safe way is ideal for an after-school activity.
Occasionally some children may arrive looking and feeling totally drained by the stresses of the school day. These children will need to be reenergized. A quick snack and some time to talk about their day with staff and friends should get them ready for the rest of the afternoon.
The after-school program should provide a wide variety of activities designed to meet the needs of children, enrich their experiences and assist them in achieving academic success. The question of whether or not a program should offer tutoring and require children to complete their homework is often debated. Deciding how much time should be devoted to these areas involves looking at the community and determining the amount of help available to the children at home or elsewhere. If parents lack the skills to help the children, it might be in the children's best interest for the staff to provide such help in the late afternoon.
This afternoon schedule should take the children from where they are when they arrive by providing for the use of large and small muscles, by allowing time to socialize and by letting them create, explore and, most importantly, play.
Toward the end of the afternoon, it is helpful to engage the children in a quiet group activity or ritual such as having "tea time" together and sharing what happened during the day. This type of activity will help children through the next transition of the day: going home. Follow "tea time" with activities that allow children to quietly leave when parents arrive without spoiling the activity. Avoid showing movies or doing engaging activities. From the parents' perspective, there is nothing worse than having to spend a half hour at the end of a hectic day waiting for a movie or activity to be completed.
Vacations provide a wonderful opportunity to explore the world beyond the center and to introduce the children to historical and cultural sites in the area. It is also the time for longer-term, complex projects. Full-day programs should be exciting and fun. Often a day camp format is used with classes at a given time each day for a week. If you are close to a supervised swimming area, explore the possibility of taking the children daily or having them participate in town-sponsored swimming lessons.
To make full days more exciting and fun, plan theme days such as a water carnival or Olympics, and integrate trips into the schedule. Summer is a good time to plan and produce a play or talent show. These activities excite children and involve many tasks such as script writing, learning about make-up and constructing scenery, as well as performing.
Planning a daily schedule is important not only for your own sanity, but also to allow the children to know and understand a routine. It provides security and allows the children to know what choices are available and when. Knowing the daily schedule also allows staff to divide the task of planning for each activity.
Each activity in the daily schedule requires planning, even activities that appear to be unstructured. The staff person responsible for planning an activity should ask him/herself the following questions:
1. Who am I planning this activity for (i.e. which children are most likely to participate)? Review the domain of development chart.
2. What are the developmental needs for this group of children? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Review the domain of development chart.
3. Of all possible activities, what would be of greatest interest to this group of children at this time? Observe the children, ask the children, have the kids conduct a survey.
4. What space and materials will I need to do the activity? Are they available? Do I have to buy, reserve or prepare anything?
After you have answered these questions, organize the ideas into a written activity plan.
1. TITLE OF ACTIVITY: Tell people what is going to be done.
2. DOMAIN OF DEVELOPMENT:
- large muscle
- small muscle
- outside world
- behavioral expressions
- science and technology
- environment and global understanding
To ensure that all children have an opportunity to participate in the activities, you will need to think about ways to modify your original activity plan. By taking these extra few minutes, you will ensure that your activity gets as much mileage as it deserves.
Most activity plans can be easily modified to meet the needs of other children by changing the goals of the activity from process to product; self-absorption to awareness of others; external direction to inner direction; a free-wheeling "anything goes" orientation to an appreciation of the rules and regime of a discipline or organized sport. Use the information in the chart below for modifying your activity plans.
Whether your program is the sole user of space or you share space with other programs, you can develop an environment that allows for successful learning and activities. All sites should have the following learning/activity centers:
1. A quiet, soft area - designed for reading, quiet games, relaxing and privacy.
2. An open area for group or circle time - an area large enough to accommodate a large group of children. It may include a tape recorder or record player.
3. A floor area for large block building and imaginative play. This area can house unit or hollow blocks, and figures and vehicles that can be incorporated into block play.
4. An area for dress-up and dramatic play. School-age children are interested in what people do for a living. They enjoy trying on the clothes and equipment of workers they see in their community and trying out their skills. This area can be transformed into a post office, fire station, beauty parlor or grocery store by making available real-life items for each work setting in large labeled boxes that can be easily stored and reused.
5. An area for game-playing and manipulatives. A variety of table activity materials such as bristle blocks, flexible blocks, building blocks and connecto-rods, can be stored here. It is also wise to have open floor space so that small groups can play games. This area can become quite messy unless you provide adequate storage. Pieces of games and puzzles can be placed in zip-lock bags or plastic tubs with lids. The plastic bags can be hung from a string with clothespins. Always remember to label, label, label! Label the backs of puzzle pieces so that lost pieces can be easily returned to the right bag. Label the storage crate or shelf with a list of the materials that can be found there.
6. A hands-on science and nature area containing materials that require looking, probing, touching and all types of sensory exploration. Try to include a hand lens, plastic knives for cutting, microscope, science books and posters that can be used by the "scientist" to learn something new about an item of nature. Materials should be rotated frequently!
7. An arts and crafts area - preferably an uncarpeted area close to a sink for easy clean-up. Materials should be easily accessible to children who want to work by themselves with little supervision e.g. crayons, markers, glue, paste, tape, scissors, yarns, scrap paper, fabric material and soft clay. This area can also be used for special, planned activities that can be messy such as paper-mache projects, finger and foot painting, easel painting or tie-dying. Also consider having a project drying and storage area.
8. A cubbie area - where children can hang their hats and coats and store their belongings. Coat racks and storage crates work well.
9. A lockable storage area - an organized area where staff can assemble and store supplies and equipment required for activities, as well as a place for their own belongings. Also consider providing an area for food storage.
10. An information area - for parents and staff. This is the area for required postings such as the license, emergency medical procedures, procedures for care of a sick child, a fire marshall certificate and the snack menu. Sign-in sheets, newsletters and announcements can also be posted here.
11. Older children's area. If your program serves pre-teens, it is important to give them an area they can call their own. Ideally, the pre-teens should decorate, maintain and select equipment for this area. Other children can enter it only at the invitation of a pre-teen.
Centers that share space with other programs can, with a little imagination and ingenuity, set up an environment that will contain all of the spaces/areas listed here.
The key is to have plenty of movable storage units that allow equipment to be easily and safely wheeled in and out! Some ideas for storage are:
Some ways to define spaces/activity areas:
Parents are a valuable resource when it comes to planning developmentally appropriate activities for children. They can:
Although their home and work schedules may prevent them from volunteering a great deal of time and energy, most parents are looking for ways to become involved in their children's before/after school program. If you can think of small but essential ways for parents to help and inform them of the need, you should find more than enough willing volunteers.
Fink, David and Dale Borman, *School-Age Children with Special Needs: What They Do When School Is Out*, 1988, Exceptional Parent Press, 1170 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02134
*SPACES*, Cooperative Extension System, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
|YOUNG SCHOOL-AGE:||MIDDLE SCHOOL-AGE:||OLDER SCHOOL-AGE:|
|Experimentation is the key to successful activities. Let them use their bodies, ideas and materials in new and different ways. There is no right or wrong way.||Skill development is most important. Learning how to use "real" tools, equipment and materials is of great importance. They want time to practice new skills but don't want to get bogged down with rules.||Coordinating and combining well-learned skills and abilities into new routines and rule regulated activities is of interest to this group. This age child places great emphasis on precision and perfecting.|
|Experience and not a finished product is what is important to this age group.||Although interested in making and doing "real" things, they are not interested in making masterpieces or in perfecting skills.||Completed projects, finished products, works of art are core issues. They enjoy seeing other "artists" or "scientists" working and sharing "tips of the trade."|
|Incorporate fantasy, pretend and dramatic play in as many aspects of an activity as possible.||Need to use "real" toys in their play and are apt to include all sorts of sound effects while involved in play. They enjoy involving others in their play and are able to "go with the flow" of changing ideas and input.||The imagination is channeled into adult expressions such as making documentaries, poetry or short story writing. These children are ready to take a script and make it come alive via acting, directing and scenery construction.|
|Emphasize the use of the senses. Activities that require them to use their ears, eyes, nose, mouth and skin are right on target! Think about combining two or more senses.||Learning about how we sense rather than the actual sensations is more interesting. They enjoy models, diagrams and experiments involving the human body and its functions.||Emotional responses to sensory stimulation are very typical. They respond to the beauty of images, words, movements, etc. It is not unusual for them to "cry for no reason." Also be ready for experimental behavior to enhance sensory stimulation, i.e. drug and alcohol use.|
|Activities that reenact the routines and events of their known world (home and school) will be sought and enjoyed.||Who, What, When, Where and Why are the questions this group thinks are important. They are eager to translate newly-acquired information into stories, articles and trivia games to be shared with family and friends.||Global awareness and interest in people from around the world are of great interest.|
|Fostering friendship skills of sharing, helping, taking turns and working with another person are very appropriate.||Friendship groups are formed around common interests. It is not unusual for them to have "secret" handshakes, passwords and languages. Any activity that teaches a new or "out of the ordinary" skill will be a hit. Be ready for in/out group fighting and "pecking order" arguments.||Having a best friend and being part of a group are key concerns. They welcome opportunities that help them meet members of the opposite sex. They enjoy administering surveys and collecting data that puts them in touch with the ideas and attitudes of their contemporaries.|
|Finding appropriate ways of channeling emotions and their behavioral expression are necessary and important. Help children to use words rather than actions to express their feelings.||This group likes to think that they are really "cool" and don't have emotions! They will dare and double dare each other to prove their coolness. They need assistance in recognizing the appropriateness of feelings and in finding ways to verbally express concerns, fears and affections.||Finding different ways of expressing feelings and ideas is of great interest. Exposure to poetry, dance, art and communications training as alternate means of expression is a good idea.|
|Children learn who they are via what they can do! Help them see how far they have come since they were preschoolers, and show them what they have to look forward to as they continue to grow and learn.||These children need to learn about who they are and what they can do by interacting with their peers. They need to see that each person in their group has important information and experiences to share and that they can retain their identity while still being part of a group.||Interest in the physical self tends to be the primary focus of this age group. It is, however, important that they see themselves as being social, emotional and intellectual beings. Meeting men and women from a wide variety of careers and backgrounds is a great way of seeing the possibilities that reside within themselves.|
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