NCREL: North Central Regional Education Laboratory
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Juanita Lightfoot is the lead teacher for Kids' Involvement Network (KIN). We asked her to talk about the needs KIN is meeting, as well as the challenges she faced.

When KIN began at Thousand Oaks, our goal was to offer an alternative to after-school day care that was fun, but also provided academic enrichment. Families have any number of after-school options in this area, and with both parents working, they also have a real need. We wanted to combine the care that children this age need with enrichment activities that really cultivate a love of learning.

Our biggest challenge was finding space without imposing on an already busy school staff. We've been amazed by what can be done with one gym, a lot of creativity, and a commitment to having a great program. Of course, we're also hoping to use computer labs and other spaces next year.

The space we do have -- the gym and surrounding school grounds -- allows us to do hands-on enrichment activities that reinforce theories talked about in the classroom. When we study astronomy, we get into a dark tent with a flashlight and a perforated tin can that children can look through to see stars on the ceiling, talk about the formations, and try to determine how a particular constellation got named. Right now, we're studying "Things in My Garden," so we're planting flowers that attract butterflies, building our own ant farms with empty bottles and sand, watching worms convert newspaper scraps into compost for soil, and bringing in a beekeeper.

We've seen children really blossom. Even students who were very shy have become more assertive and willing to share their opinions. Teachers notice more hands raised, more contributions. Students seem more confident with facts. Best of all, they're very inquisitive. They always want to see what's under the next rock, what's around the next corner.