Why Enroll Your Child in After-School Activities?

By Nancy L. Deutsch, Ph.D.

Deutsch is an associate professor of Research, Statistics & Evaluation and Applied Developmental Science at UVA and is an affiliated faculty member with Youth-Nex. Her research examines the socio-ecological contexts of adolescent development, particularly issues related to identity. She has focused on the role of after-school programs and relationships with important adults.

This blog was originally published at www.infoaboutkids.org, as “After-school activities: Why are they important and what should you look for?”

As the school year begins, many parents are thinking not only about what classes their children will take in school, but also what their kids will do after school. After-school activities offer opportunities for kids to learn new skills, explore different areas of talent, deepen existing expertise, get support for areas they aren’t as strong in, make friends, and form relationships with supportive adults. Participation in structured after-school activities has also been linked to a number of positive outcomes. For working parents, after-school activities are often more than a luxury, they are necessary child care in those gap hours when children are out of school but parents are still at work. Research shows that there are risks of kids being unsupervised after school, so after-school activities are an important resource to parents seeking to make sure their kids are in a safe and structured place once they leave their classrooms.

So what does the landscape of after-school activities look like and how should you choose the right one for your kid?

After-school activities range from extra-curricular activities (school-based clubs or teams), to comprehensive after-school programs (school or community-based), to private lessons, faith-based groups, and specialized tutoring or mentoring programs targeted towards specific needs. Programs differ in their costs and offerings. Whereas both of these factors are important for families, the aspect of programs that affects kids the most is their quality.

Research suggests that participation in structured after-school programs and activities can have benefits for kids, including social skills, emotional development, and academics. But the quality of and the child’s engagement in a program both influence the impact it will have.

High quality programs provide a safe space with supportive relationships, appropriate structure, and positive expectations for behavior. But beyond that they also provide opportunities for belonging and skill building and give youth a place to express themselves, take on responsibilities, and tackle challenging tasks. Researchers studying after-school programs focused on social and personal skills found that programs with four features, called the “SAFE” features, had an impact on both social-emotional and academic outcomes. These programs had a (S)equenced set of activities, emphasized (A)ctive learning, had a component that (F)ocused on building social and emotional skills, and communicated in an (E)xplicit way about the skills they were trying to develop in youth. Other researchers have found that programs that allow youth to actively shape activities and take on meaningful roles in “real world” projects (including artistic performances and other types of public presentations) provide opportunity for youth to develop important social, emotional, and cognitive skills. The adult staff in such programs play an important role in creating opportunities for learning, setting expectations, serving as role models, and providing useful feedback and scaffolding.

So can there be too much of a good thing?

About a decade ago, the notion of the “over-scheduled child” took hold. Some people argued that children are too scheduled during the after-school hours, leading to undue pressure on kids, with potentially negative outcomes. In reality, very few kids participate in extremely high levels of after-school activities. Overall, kids average about 5 hours per week of scheduled after-school activities, and about 40% of kids don’t participate in any organized after-school activities. There does not appear to be evidence that more activities, in and of themselves, have a negative impact on kids. But of course it is important to be sensitive to your kid’s needs.

Whereas parents in some communities may be concerned about over-scheduling, parents in other communities are struggling to find high quality programs for their kids. Youth from lower income households participate in out-of-school activities at lower rates than their higher income peers and there is substantial unmet demand for high quality programs, especially among lower income families.

So, what are some things to keep in mind as you try to find the right after-school activities for your kids?

  • Stay focused on what your child likes to do. It is fine to suggest trying new activities to expose your child to a variety of interests. But your child’s enthusiasm for the activity is also important. Even if it is necessary for your child to participate in after-school programming every day, talk to them about what types of activities they find most engaging.
  • The after-school hours can be a great time for kids to explore different talents. As many schools have faced cuts in enrichment programs, after-school activities can offer your child the chance to demonstrate talents and learn skills they may not get to in school. This can be important not only for developing new interests, but also for kids to experience competence in different areas.
  • Be sensitive to your kid’s needs. Although there is no evidence to suggest that more activities are bad for kids, if your child is expressing a dislike of particular activities or a desire to do less, talk to them about what is motivating those feelings. Think about how you might be able to balance their activities in a way that gives them opportunities to develop skills and participate in activities they enjoy while also having some time for play and socializing in safe and structured environments.
  • Look for programs that offer sequenced, active, focused and explicit activities in safe spaces where youth have opportunities to shape and take on meaningful roles in activities. All of these are program features that research has linked to positive learning experiences and outcomes for kids.
  • Pay attention to the adults. Relationships with caring adults are associated with positive outcomes for kids. High quality after-school activities can be environments where kids can form relationships with adults who can supplement the support that you give your child. And good adult leaders translate to better experiences for kids.
  • If you have a limited budget, look into local community-based organizations that offer sliding scale fees for families, and often waive fees altogether for families that need it.

Proper citation link for this blog post originally published on infoaboutkids.org:
Deutsch, N.L. (2016, September 07). After-school activities: Why are they important and what should you look for? Retrieved from http://infoaboutkids.org/blog/after-school-activities-why-are-they-important-and-what-should-they-look-like/

Ethnicity and Health: How Can We Maximize Urban Green Space for Health Promotion?

by Jenny Roe, Ph.D. and Alice Roe
Originally published on The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) blog, here. [Jenny Roe, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Design and Health, School of Architecture, University of Virginia. Her recent talk, at our sponsored lecture series, can be found here.]


Access to parks and urban green space facilitates exposure to nature, exercise and social opportunities that have positive impacts on both physical and mental health. In the last decade, rates of migration have risen dramatically across the globe: by 2038, it’s expected that half of London’s residents will be of a black and minority ethnic origin (BME). Our cities, towns and communities are becoming increasingly multicultural and, yet there are inequalities. A recent report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission showed that in the UK, ethnic minorities are experiencing worse health outcomes. This is particularly the case for mental health: in 2012, the proportion of adults in England who were at risk of poor mental health was found to be higher among Pakistani/Bangladeshi and African/Caribbean/Black respondents than White respondents, and there were inequalities in accessing healthcare.

Hence, it is increasingly important that research reflects the diverse make-up of these populations. A new study has sought to better understand the differences in use and perception of urban green space among BME groups in the UK, and illustrated the need for park facilitators to accommodate the needs, attitudes and interests of our multicultural population.

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Restorative Practices and The 3 R’s – Restore, Rebuild, Reconnect

This month’s blog is by Mark Marini, known to most as “Muggsie,” an Intervention Specialist at Albemarle High School. For the past 19 years, he has worked diligently in education to support struggling learners, both with behaviors and academics, by working both with students and teachers. He fills many roles at Albemarle High including: Intervention Specialist, English teacher, Special Education teacher, Mediator, School Based Intervention Co-Chair, Response To Intervention Specialist, AVID English teacher, and lifelong learner. Check out his blog, On Education.

Youth-Nex had the pleasure of meeting Muggsie at this year’s conference, “Youth of Color Matter: Reducing Inequalities Through Positive Youth Development.” We are grateful for his and fellow educators’ participation at the event.

There are some children in the world who were just born to be good. My daughter, who is now nine, seems to be one of those children. When she was small, still crawling around, my wife and I remember her going past an electrical outlet in our house. She started to reach towards it, and my wife gently said, “No; don’t touch.” She looked at my wife, looked at the outlet, and kept crawling. Several days later, she was crawling past the same outlet, and she stopped. Pointed at it and said, “No.” Then she continued crawling. For the most part, my wife and I did not have to teach her good behavior. It is as if she was born with a gene that helps her to do the right thing. But that does not mean she always does.

“My experience is that Restorative Practices, if implemented with the required support and training, can have a great impact on a community. This could be a school, a neighborhood, or even a family. With time and dedication, the gains for our next generation are great. For, while resolving conflicts with Restorative Practices, we teach children how to resolve future conflicts on their own.”

SomeWalkingAwaytimes, she needs additional support. She has a younger brother who tests her and her ability to make the right choices. In those moments when she is tested, she needs support to know how to act, and how, if she has caused harm, to fix it.

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Down and Dirty – Impacting Youth Wellness

blog gardeningid

Students with onions from the garden project – a University-school partnership.

Eleanor V. Wilson, Associate Professor in the Curry School of Education, has been a faculty advisor for three “Wellness and Gardening” projects, all a part of a University-elementary school partnership which she says is having a cumulative impact on the community. Charlottesville’s Burnley Moran Elementary school and university students co-lead the work and “it is an example of not only school-university cooperation,” says Wilson, “but as examples of ways to incorporate principles of healthy living as a part of Positive Youth Development at the elementary school level.” Following is her summary of the projects.

Ellie Wilson_edit_4322 copyFor the past three years, U.Va. students have participated in projects initiated by a Charlottesville non-profit organization and then, a Community Based Undergraduate Grant, (funded by the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of Virginia) and followed by two Jefferson Public Citizens grants have collaborated to enrich the Charlottesville City Schools “City Schoolyard Garden Project.” Initiated in 2009, the City Schoolyard Garden (CSG) was a non-profit venture dedicated to cultivating academic achievement, health, environmental stewardship and community engagement through garden-based, experiential learning. A pilot garden program was founded at Buford Middle School and in 2011 the partnership was extended to all city elementary schools. Once this project was underway, University students became involved as partners in expanding the goal of creating healthy living habits for elementary school students. View video: “Wellness and Gardening.”  Continue reading

Inspiration Through the Humanities at Maximum Security Facility – Residents Relay Impact

U.Va. students with inmates at Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center

U.Va. students interact with incarcerated youth at Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center

Guest contributor, Rob Wolman is the teaching assistant and primary research assistant for the Books Behind Bars / Awakening Youth Project. Rob is a Montessori teacher and corporate trainer.

Related posts: Research, Seed Funded Research, Community

Awakening Youth Through the Humanities is an interdisciplinary, mixed-methods study that seeks to understand the outcomes of a U.Va. course called Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Leadership. In this course, undergraduates travel to a maximum security correctional facility to lead incarcerated youth in discussions and creative activities related to great works of Russian literature. The course brings college students and correctional center residents together in a community of learning that uses the power of literature to inform, transform, and build connections between people from widely diverse backgrounds. Continue reading

“Conflict and debate?! Okay, I’m listening!”

Laurie Jean, Adolescent Educator at SARA, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, gave us her thoughtful insights on the bullying prevention conference co-hosted by Youth-Nex, this summer. She was one of 500 teachers, law enforcement personnel and others, who attended the statewide event held at Charlottesville High School.

Bullying Prevention conference slide

Related posts can be found under Bullying.

Walking past tables covered in white paper and coffee urns, I expected little from yet another conference as I entered the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Arts Center. I rarely find much useful substance amid conferences’ broad, non-targeted material. As I settled into a folding seat in the back of the theater, a wave of empathy for my students came over me as I recalled many of the sensations of attending a mandatory high school assembly. Continue reading

Positive Mentor Relationships Predict Better Outcomes for Girls

By Angela Henneberger, YN researcher (PhD, Applied Developmental Science, ’12)

Group of YWLP girls

Related posts are available under Research and Community.

Nancy Deutsch has been Director of Research for the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) a combined group and one-on-one mentoring program for middle school girls, since 2004. She is interested in the contextual study of adolescents’ lives and identities.

In a recent paper on YWLP (Deutsch, Wiggins, Henneberger, & Lawrence), to be published in The Journal of Early Adolescence, she uses a mixed methods approach to examine group processes that contribute to mentees’ satisfaction with their one-and-one mentoring relationships and their mentoring groups. Interestingly, there were no differences between groups on girls’ reports of how satisfied they were with their experiences in their mentoring groups. Continue reading

‘City of Promise’ – Provides Enthusiasm, Valuable Data

By Maryfrances Porter, Associate Director for Program Evaluation and Community Consultation at Youth-Nex

Related posts will be available under Community.

Boy student works at a desk

We’ve been busy!

Over the last 4 weeks our hard-working Program Evaluation and Community Consultation team has partnered with neighbors from the City of Promise to conduct almost a hundred surveys with families there (Westhaven, 10th and Page, and Starr Hill neighborhoods). Continue reading

Youth-Nex JPC Team travels to NYC Research Institute

Sibley presents the work to the group.

Sibley presents the work to the group.

Related posts available under Research, and Community.

I had the privilege of spending the last week with a great group of undergraduate researchers and my colleagues at the Public Science Project for their annual Critical Participatory Action Research (PAR) Institute. Thanks to a grant from UVA’s Jefferson Public Citizens program, we were able to bring our community partner, Sibley Johns, director of Charlottesville’s Music Resource Center with us to brainstorm our youth PAR evaluation project that begins this summer.

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Community Works

By Maryfrances Porter, Associate Director for Program Evaluation and Community Consultation at Youth-Nex

Related posts will be available under Community

Maryfrances Porter

The YN Program Evaluation and Community Consultation arm of Youth-Nex has been very busy lately, especially in the area of consultation. Dr. Tolan partnered with Andy Block and Angela Ciolfi to make a presentation to juvenile court judges from around the state regarding what can be done from the bench to best help truant youth.

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