OST Programs - Where the Magic Happens!

Children learning to work together on a soccer team.

Kids in the midst of a gardening activity stopping to examine grasshoppers in the garden.

Youth learning about and solving real-world problems.

These are the types of engaging experiences we provide through OST programs every day that can help the students magically translate what they are learning in school to their lives beyond. The strengths of youth development programming in OST programs are varied and unique but have the ability to positively affect the lives of the youth we work with if we keep some key elements in mind.

Higher Order Thinking Skills

OST programs can take the basics a step further and help kids learn how to apply academic skills in more fluid, flexible situations. Youth need to learn how to work collaboratively, be creative, and think critically in order to succeed in our new global society.

Program Example: Emma was a 5th grade student who has a passion for theater. In our OST program, with support from her parents and three OST program staff, she took the lead with a group of 2nd-3rd-grade students and directed a musical that culminated in a public performance. With support from three caring adults, she learned how to be a leader of a group of students (and the difficulty that can come with that!), how to problem solve, and how to take responsibility for something from beginning to end.

Youth Voice and Choice

Youth often don’t have the opportunity to choose what they are studying during school hours but we in OST are able to provide them that opportunity. Youth often have passions that reach beyond the school walls. Allowing them to pursue their passions makes learning engaging and can help them see how the skills they are learning in school can be applied to their lives.

Program Example: A group of 4th-5th graders was given the challenge of creating a family-friendly brochure about their community for kids and families who might visit. They worked with the Convention and Tourism Bureau to design a brochure with 13 different locations that they identified as family destinations in their city. They traveled to each location, took notes/pictures, and prepared information which the Convention and Tourism Bureau then finalized into a brochure and printed to have on hand in their Visitor’s Center. Because the kids planned each location, they had buy-in, making this project truly their project.

Real World Problem Solving

Youth are not always asked for their ideas but when we do ask, they often have great ideas! Putting a real-world problem in front of kids and facilitating them working together to find a solution is a great way to engage kids in quality programming in OST.

Program Example: The students at Elliott wanted to solve the problem of hunger in their neighborhood. A group of 4th-5thgraders thought it would be a great idea to plant fruit trees in the neighborhood instead of other types of trees. They researched the lifespan of fruit trees, how to take care of them, and the average yield of the trees. They presented their findings to members of the City Council, the mayor, and the Director of Urban Development. These students had a real experience with coming up with creative ideas to solve a problem and working through the channels of government to present their solution to those who could go on to make a difference.

So, are you creating the magic your kids want in after school?

One further note for the Directors reading this blog, we have the power to use these same strategies to help our college-aged staff. By helping them gain higher order thinking skills, use their own voice and choice in program decisions, and by letting them solve the real problems that arise, we are training them to move further in their careers. Some of my greatest successes come from my former staff that are moving on to great things after college. I have three former staff who work as teachers in my building (and two who work as paraprofessionals), two who are pursuing their interests in Project Based Learning in other venues, and many others who have gone on to be teachers in other schools or school districts or staff members at other youth-serving organizations. These individuals are also important for us to develop and we can use the same strategies that we would use with our program youth.