Learning doesn’t only happen in a classroom. Each year, millions of American children participate in after-school and summer camp programs that mix education with a healthy dose of fun. And while there’s always room for more programs that help kids love learning, the plethora of what’s already available can be overwhelming for parents trying to choose the right programs for their children.
“Multiple studies show that children who take part in quality after-school programs have better attendance, grades and behavior, and do better on tests compared to their peers who went home alone to an empty house,” says Dan O’Donnell, vice president of the Bricks 4 Kidz summer camp and after-school program. “Parents can help their children get a jump-start on life, and learn to love learning, by enrolling them in high-quality after-school programs.”
It’s important for parents to assess after-school or summer camp programs with a critical eye, and consider how successfully a program combines learning with fun and basic care. While many programs are effective at keeping kids safely occupied after school ends but before parents are done with work, not all emphasize educational material. Programs that stimulate a child’s interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects can be particularly valuable — possibly even inspiring an interest in a high-demand STEM career.
“We must prepare all students ... to be proficient in STEM subjects,” the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) writes in a 2010 report to President Obama. “And we must inspire all students to learn STEM and, in the process, motivate many of them to pursue STEM careers.”
An after-school program with a STEM emphasis can fulfill both the need to educate children and inspire a lifelong love of STEM subjects, experts agree. Parents seeking a STEM program for their children should look for one that:
-- Offers creative and engaging activities that are as fun and motivational as they are educational.
-- Encourages curiosity and creativity, which are building blocks of independent thinking.
-- Draws on the real-life expertise of people working in STEM fields. For example, engineers and architects designed Bricks 4 Kidz modules.
-- Uses familiar, loved learning tools, like LEGO bricks, to provide hands-on, interactive STEM lessons.
“It’s also important for a program’s lessons to be age-appropriate,” O’Donnell notes. “Children need STEM lessons at every age, which is why we offer programs for children ages 3 through 13. We use themed-based project kits to motivate children by reinforcing STEM principles, and at the same time boost self-esteem, improve fine motor-skills, and teach organization and how to follow directions. And we do it in such a way that kids have so much fun they don’t think of what they’re doing as work.”
To find a Bricks 4 Kidz program in your area, visit the interactive map at www.bricks4kidz.com/locations. You can learn more about the programs and search for a location by state or ZIP code.
“STEM education is most successful when students develop personal connections with the ideas and excitement of STEM fields,” according to the President’s Council report. “This can occur not only in the classroom, but also through individualized and group experiences outside the classroom ....”