About Academic Enrichment Activities

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The Project

Learning Point Associates, under a grant from the C. S. Mott Foundation, has created the Academic Enrichment Project to help establish a framework for programs to plan their activities with intentionality. The project encourages program staff to incorporate high-quality components in their activities and to articulate the reasoning behind the activities they use. Designing activities with intentionality creates better, more focused programs for children and allows program staff to explain the value of the activities more fully to parents, administrators, and others.

The sections below describe what we mean by enrichment and explain what components should be present in a high-quality activity. We have also provided a staff development tool to help you begin a discussion with program staff about incorporating these concepts into your activities. In addition, you can submit an activity for consideration, provide us feedback, or send us a message with general questions or comments.

What Is an Enrichment Activity?

Through the course of our work collecting examples of academic enrichment activities, we've noticed some confusion on the part of many programs as to what exactly we mean when we refer to "enrichment." Many programs seem to separate the concepts of "academics" and "enrichment" to such a degree that our references to "academic enrichment activities" have been met with confusion. By way of explanation, the following are the three primary types of activities that we see in most afterschool programs:

Enrichment - Enrichment activities expand on students' learning in ways that differ from the methods used during the school day. They often are interactive and project-focused. They enhance a student's education by bringing new concepts to light or by using old concepts in new ways. These activities are fun for the student, but they also impart knowledge. They allow the participants to apply knowledge and skills stressed in school to real-life experiences.
Tutoring/Homework Help - These activities provide direct assistance with classroom work. Tutors or teachers help students complete their homework, prepare for tests, and work specifically on concepts covered during the school day.
Recreation - These activities are not academic in nature but rather allow students time to relax or play. Sports, games, and clubs fall into this category. Occasional academic aspects of recreation activities can be pointed out, but the primary lessons learned in recreational activities are in the areas of social skills, teamwork, leadership, competition, and discipline.
All three types of activities are important for children's development, but for the purposes of this project, we are focusing on just one: enrichment. Enrichment activities are characterized by a high degree of interaction, a project focus, and something else. The common theme is that academic concepts are taught through a fun, engaging activity rather than by direct instruction.

What Characterizes a High-Quality Activity?

We use four primary criteria to evaluate whether or not a particular activity is "high quality." High-quality activities have the following characteristics:

  • They exhibit well-integrated academic content.
  • They develop strong relationships between the participants and caring adults, older students, or peers.
  • They provide opportunities for authentic decision-making by the participants.
  • They allow the potential for student leadership in the activity.

Well-Integrated Academic Content
Recent trends in education have stressed the importance of including strong academic content in all aspects of the school day. This has particularly come to the fore with the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (more information on this legislation is available). Afterschool programming is no exception to this general trend. With the increased focus on incorporating academic content into afterschool, our project looks at how programs are best able to integrate academics (specifically literacy, math, and science) with fun, engaging content. We believe that one of the most important indicators of a high-quality activity is that the academic content is intrinsic to the activity, rather than merely added as an afterthought. Academics should be organically knit into the fabric of the activity, such that the learning occurs as a function of the process itself instead of as a tangential consideration. In our efforts to collect activities, several programs submitted activities in which the academic content of the activity was added on to the end of an activity that was already occurring (e.g., allowing students to play sports only if they write a report describing their favorite player). Though incentives of this sort may provide short-term motivation for students, there is a danger that children will come to see "academics" as something that serves as a barrier to fun, rather than something that can provide enjoyment on its own. For the purposes of this project, we believe that the learning should come from the activity, not be connected after-the-fact. Also, in order for the activity to be engaging, the academic content should be made relevant to the participants' experience, present and future. This connection is crucial for students to see, and afterschool programs can offer a great opportunity for students to see how the material they are learning in school can be applied in other settings. Academic content must also be age and ability appropriate. Take a quick quiz to test your thinking.

Strong Relationships Between the Participants and Adults, Older Students, or Peers
Social interactions among students and between students and adults are an important component of any afterschool program. These interactions can be the reason for many students to participate in afterschool programs in the first place, and the relationships fostered in the program can be the reason they keep coming back. It is important for programs to develop both relationships among students as well as relationships between the students and adults. The latter is particularly important because the motivation for many students' success can be linked to their desire to please an important adult. Such connections often work best if the activity is done in a collaborative style-that is, if students feel they are working with the adults rather than being instructed by them. For strong relationships to develop, the adult must be invested in each participant's growth, coming to the program on several occasions over the course of time, and taking an interest in students' progress. Adult leaders should have a desire to see the students succeed and should respond to student needs accordingly. These relationships must also be characterized by integrity. Students should be able to trust their leaders to be true to their words.

Opportunities for Authentic Decision-Making
Allowing students to make decisions about how an activity will proceed gives them ownership of the activity. For this to occur, the decisions made by participants must be "real" decisions. Real decisions are those that affect student experience and affect the outcome of the activity. The results of these decisions should be visible to the students and linked to the learning goals of the activity. For example, if a program were running a school store, students may be given the options of whether to have a sale, when to hold it, how much to cut prices, how to advertise, etc. Through making these decisions, the students feel that they have a stake in the outcome of the activity and they can see the consequences in terms of the change in the profit margin, sales numbers, and number of customers. These types of decisions affect student experience and the outcome of the activity. The decisions made by students should be age appropriate. Younger students may be able to feel some ownership of an activity by making choices from a limited set of options. However, as students get older, the decisions they make should become broader in both scope and depth.

Potential for Youth Leadership
While decision-making allows the students collectively to take ownership of an activity, providing opportunities for student leadership gives individual students responsibility for a particular piece of that activity. There are two primary ways that this occurs. First, students can be assigned (or can volunteer for) specific roles that are built in to the activity itself. Second, the adults in the program should be receptive to emerging student leadership about the course an activity may take. Creating these opportunities for leadership encourages students to take pride in their work and helps them to develop important skills for the future.

Staff Development Tool

Would you like to use this information to create high-quality academic enrichment activities in your program? We have created a downloadable staff development tool that can help you begin a conversation with your staff members around this topic.

Submit an Activity for Consideration

We are still collecting examples of academic enrichment activities. If you believe you have an activity that fits our criteria, please submit it via our online submission form.

Provide Feedback on this Project and Website

We want your input on whether the academic enrichment project is something you find valuable and informative. Please help us out by filling out our feedback form.

How to Contact Us

If you have any general questions or comments, please feel free to contact Cristine English at 800-356-2735 x6696 or fill out our online comment form.

 

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Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

The Academic Enrichment Project and this website are supported through the generosity of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Learning Point Associates