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Program Design, Development, and Quality

Evergreen Learning Principles for Afterschool Programs

instructor and 2 young women smiling behind laptops

The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project was designed to unify the field of afterschool and focus the movement on promoting young people’s learning. If afterschool programs are to achieve their full potential, they must be known as important places of learning that excite young people in the building of new skills, the discovery of new interests, and opportunities to achieve a sense of mastery.

Pedro Noguera Headshot“We spend so much time focused on ‘achievement’ and so little time focused on how to motivate students to learn.  The LIAS principles strike the right balance and make sense, and if applied with fidelity, could lead to real improvements in educational outcomes for kids.”

– Pedro Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education


Deborah Vandell Headshot“I think that the LIAS learning principles really get at the core of learning for students – starting in early childhood, going through to university.”

– Deborah Vandell, Founding Dean Emerita of Education at UCI


The LIAS learning principles are strongly supported by recent research on brain development, youth development, and the growing science of learning. Each of the learning principles cited below support each other and together provide an important framework for afterschool programming. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of COVID isolation.

1. Effective Learning is Active:
Learning and memory recall of new knowledge is strengthened through different exposures – seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. Afterschool learning should be the result of activities that involve young people in “doing” – activities that allow them to be physically active, stimulate their innate curiosity, and that are hands-on and project-based.

2. Effective Learning is Collaborative:
Knowledge should be socially centered, as collaborative learning provides the best means to explore new information, and how to learn as a team. This includes listening to others, supporting group learning goals, resolving differences and conflicts, and making room for each member to contribute his or her individual talents

Source: YMCA of Greater Long Beach

3. Effective Learning is Meaningful:
Young people are intrinsically motivated when they find their learning meaningful. This means having ownership over the learning topic and the means to assess their own progress. Motivation is increased when the learning is relevant to their own interests, experiences, and the real world in which they live. Rather than learning that is focused on academic subjects, young people in afterschool can apply their academic skills to their areas of interest and real- world problems.

4. Effective Learning Supports Mastery:
Young people tell us they are most engaged when they can learn new skills and the joy of mastery through the opportunity to learn and practice a full sequence of skills. This kind of engagement will allow them to become “really good at something.” Afterschool learning activities should be explicitly sequenced and designed to promote the layering of skills that allows participants to create a product or demonstrate mastery in a way they couldn’t do before. Programs often achieve this by designing activities that lead to a culminating event or product or utilizing apprenticeship models.

5. Effective Learning Expands Horizons:
Young people benefit by learning opportunities that take them beyond their experience and expand their horizons. Learning about new things and new places promotes a greater sense of potential of what they can achieve and brings a sense of excitement and discovery to the learning environment. Afterschool programs have the flexibility to go beyond the walls of their facilities. They can use the surrounding community as a classroom and bring in individuals and businesses that young people may not otherwise come into contact with. Expanding horizons also includes helping them to develop a global awareness, increasing their knowledge of other cultures and places, and the issues and problems we have in common across cultural and political divides.

For breakfast, I had green eggs and ham.

Author: Sam Piha, Temescal Associates

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