Research Says Afterschool Supports Social Emotional Learning
by School's Out Washington | | Posted under
By Elizabeth Devaney, Senior Researcher, American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Over the past 20 years, the afterschool field has been held accountable in varying ways – first on our ability to provide safe places for young people to spend time while their parents work, then on our success in helping to improve participants’ academic achievement as a supplement to the school day. Today, measuring success in afterschool programs is more nuanced and has been influenced by an increased recognition that the social and emotional competencies youth develop while in afterschool programs are also critical to their success in school and life. But how, and what does the research say?
There is indeed evidence that afterschool programs have had an impact on developing participants’ social and emotional competencies. Studies show that consistent participation in high quality afterschool programs can lead to a range of improvements in social and emotional competencies such as improved peer relationships, an improved sense of self-worth or self-confidence, more positive feelings and attitudes toward school, positive states of mind, and positive social behaviors or peer-to-peer social skills.[i]
But not all programs are created equal. These same studies found that high quality programs and regular and high youth participation were critical conditions for skill building. For example, Durlak and Weissberg found that only afterschool programs employing what they dubbed the S.A.F.E. features (for sequenced, active, focused, and explicit) had the kinds of positive outcomes described above[ii]. Other studies have shown that youth who participate at high levels are more likely to experience changes than those who participate at low levels[iii]. Given these two important features, afterschool programs may want to engage in some of all of the following:
- Provide professional development for staff on how to make program activities S.A.F.E. – that is, sequenced, active, focused and explicit.
- Participate in existing quality improvement activities or advocate for additional funding related to quality improvement – and then use that funding to create strong quality assessment and improvement practices.
- Conduct regular youth satisfaction surveys to gauge how engaged youth feel in the program. If engagement is low, implement strategies to foster a sense of belonging and fun in the program.
- Bolster youth participation by identifying what youth like and do not like about the program and making changes to match their needs and interests.
- Be intentional. Identify which skills the program targets. Make choices. Think about program activities. Decide on what few key social and emotional competencies the program truly targets and measure those – not the universe of social and emotional skills that exist.
Want to learn more about the research and the studies cited here? Download the research to practice brief Supporting Social and Emotional Development Through Quality After School Programs.
Wondering how your practice measures up? Download Social and Emotional Learning Practices: A Self-Reflection Tool for Afterschool Staff
Founded in 1946 as a not-for-profit organization, AIR is one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world. The Afterschool and Expanded Learning team at AIR has over a decade of experience in supporting the implementation of high-quality opportunities for young people, in evaluating afterschool initiatives using qualitative and quantitative techniques, and in supporting informed policy decisions. AIR’s team delivers expertise in continuous improvement system building and strives to provide practitioners with meaningful linkages between research and practice in afterschool learning.
[i] Fredericks, J.A., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Is extracurricular activity participation associated with beneficial outcomes? Concurrent and longitudinal relations. Developmental Psychology, 42, 698-713; Mahoney, J. L., Cairns, B. D., & Farmer, T. (2003). Promoting interpersonal competence and educational success through extracurricular activity participation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 409-418. Morrissey, K. M. & Werner-Wilson, R. J. (2005). The relationship between out-of-school activities and positive youth development: An investigation of the influences of communities and families. Adolescence, 40, 67-85; Pierce, K. M., Auger, A., & Vandell, D. L. (2013, April). Narrowing the achievement gap: Consistency and intensity of structured activities during elementary school. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Seattle, WA.; Vandell, D. (2012). California afterschool outcome measures project field test of the online toolbox: Final report to California Department of Education. Irvine, CA: University of California Irvine; Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P, & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294–309.
[ii] Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P, & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294–309.
[iii] Vandell, D. (2012). California afterschool outcome measures project field test of the online toolbox: Final report to California Department of Education. Irvine, CA: University of California Irvine
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