Back to Afterschool: Why Informal Learning Afterschool

Do you have a maker space?

Do you provide STEM-based programs?

Do you work with community partners?

Do you have afterschool programs and services?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I have another question for you, “why?”

nina matthews photography why imageThe reason I ask is that a lot of times I hear library staff working for and with teens talk about the great programs they sponsor and develop with teens – robot making and coding and creative writing – but I don’t hear much about the why. And, it’s that why that is most important. I know it might not seem like it, but it is. Why? Because it’s the why that helps make sure that the programs are going to help teens grow up to be successful academically and in their personal lives. Because it’s the why that is what funders and elected officials and community members are going to want to know in order to decide if your program is worth funding or supporting in another way.

Consider these two ways of talking about what you make available for and with teens during afterschool time:

Here’s what’s on the calendar this month for and with teens in Anytown – building apps for your smartphone, printing action figures with 3D printers, and stop-motion video.

OR

At the Anytown library we strive to give teens opportunities to gain critical 21st century skills like design and critical thinking, leadership, collaboration, and decision-making. The way we do this is to sponsor programs where they get to design their own apps for their smartphones. In this workshop they do everything from planning the look and feel of the app, deciding who the audience is, and coding the app for different devices. We also give them the chance to design 3D action figures and print them out with our 3D printer. But, before they actually do that they learn the steps in the design process and have to go through several iterations of ideas and test out their plans with their peers. We also, work with teens on stop-motion video and in those projects they work in teams to design and develop their idea, test out their video with other teens, and write reviews of each others works.

See the difference?

Of course the first example is quick and easy and the second is definitely not a succinct elevator pitch. But, the second will actually show the impacts your afterschool programs strive to achieve. And it’s those impacts that stakeholders and decision-makers are going to be most interested in.

So, as you are planning and implementing your afterschool program of service this year – and even beyond that – for each project before you even get down to the nitty gritty of what the program will entail in terms of timing and staffing and supplies, etc. Ask yourself, “what are we trying to achieve for and with teens” through this program of service?” And, “How are we going to know if we have achieved (or are achieving) the why?”

Then, as you continue planning ask yourself regularly, “Is this going to help us meet the why of this afterschool program?” If not, then you’ll want to re-think. If so, then you get to keep going. And, then when the program is over, and even during it, you can continue to ask yourself, “Are we reaching the why?” And, “How can we tell we are reaching the why?” If you are reaching the why, that’s great. If not, it’s time to revise and re-think.

And, don’t forget that every time you talk about your teen services include the why of what you do. You’ll discover you change the conversation and it’s likely that those you talk with will actually start to think differently about what you do and how you help to improve the lives of teens in your community.

Learn more about developing outcomes – which is really what the why is all about – by checking out:

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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