About Academic Enrichment in Afterschool


The best afterschool programs do two things: they engage students in fun activities that create a desire to learn, and they build on what students are learning during the school day to extend the knowledge they already have.
Academic Enrichment in Afterschool (00:39)
Goals for Afterschool Learning

How can you ensure that you are making the most of the afterschool hours and increasing students' desire to learn? Research indicates that students get the most out of afterschool programs that:

  • Develop thoughtful, fun, accessible, activities
  • Survey and build on students' interests
  • Motivate and engage all students to participate
  • Connect to grade-level benchmarks, standards, and the school-day curriculum to increase achievement
  • Provide real-world activities that connect to the broader community
  • Provide effective tutoring and differentiated instruction for all skill levels
  • Integrate technology
  • Provide homework help
  • Plan activities that engage students and enhance skills across the curriculum
  • Provide staff training and professional development


Afterschool is the perfect time to integrate speaking, listening, reading, and writing—building students' competence in all four literacy skills. Students can choose lively, interactive, and fun activities that engage all facets of language communication.
About Literacy in Afterschool (0:22)
Why Is Literacy Important?

Literacy includes speaking, listening, reading, and writing—the essential communication skills students need to succeed, both in school and the world beyond. Students gain confidence as they build competence in communication and critical thinking.

Early elementary students engage in speaking, listening, and writing activities to build fundamental reading skills. Upper elementary students use their literacy skills to learn. They solve math problems, conduct science projects, and explore the social sciences. Without fundamental literacy skills, students will struggle throughout their school years.

This toolkit provides innovative and research-based activities that will increase student motivation in language-based subjects. Sharing stories aloud, discussing favorite books, writing to pen pals, and acting out stories will engage students in academically enriching literacy activities.

Key Elements for Afterschool Literacy Planning

Research indicates that afterschool literacy activities benefit students most when staff:

  • target texts and integrate skills;
  • identify standards, assess needs, and define goals;
  • incorporate real-world activities;
  • consider student choice, grade, age, and skills;
  • assess student progress; and
  • provide ongoing staff training.
Target Texts, Integrate Skills

Create an engaging environment of texts—magazines, picture books, fiction, and non-fiction—that speaks to student interests and culture. The National Reading Panel identifies five early literacy skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. A balance of listening, speaking, reading, and writing about rich and intriguing texts will provide students with opportunities to practice these specific skills.

Identify Standards, Assess Needs, Define Goals

Each state establishes standards for literacy instruction at various grade levels, targeting skills and content to improve academic outcomes. Observing student needs and consulting with school-day teachers will help you understand state standards and identify appropriate learning goals for your student population. To see state standards for English Language Arts, go to http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/.

Incorporate Real-World Activities

Explore the world beyond the classroom with literacy activities. Engage reluctant readers with directions for cooking, carpentry, or games. Talk and write about their experiences after field trips or during science experiments. Interview community members about themes like work, family traditions, or history, and create books that tell their stories. Afterschool programs can help literacy feel less like a requirement and more connected to ideas and experiences that are useful in real life.

Consider Student Choice, Grade, Age, and Skills

Ask students about their favorite books and topics, and what interests them and why. Consult with classroom teachers and librarians to identify texts that correspond to grade, age, and skill levels appropriately. Use this research to plan fun and engaging activities that will reinforce school-day curriculum and goals.

Assess Student Progress

Frequent informal assessment—when staff and students share feedback about progress—will lead to growth in literacy skills. Establish learning goals that address student needs. Use journals, rubrics, displays, performances, and informal notes to frame positive discussions about how students use different learning strategies; how instructors can encourage positive risk-taking; what skills and strengths students are developing; and in which areas they can improve.

Afterschool evaluation plans also identify outcomes for formal assessment, requiring periodic data collection and annual reports; they may specify school attendance, student motivation, self-esteem, or behavior improvements without identifying achievement in academic subjects. Nevertheless, research indicates that positive literacy experiences will contribute to improvements in academic outcomes. If improved literacy is a targeted evaluation outcome, recurring formal assessments from the school or district can often provide relevant and informative data for reports.

Provide Ongoing Staff Training

Afterschool staff bring a wide range of backgrounds, training, and experience. Initial and ongoing training will get your staff on the same page about children's literacy development. Engage a district reading specialist, school-day teacher, or your most qualified staff member to provide training in basic literacy strategies, grade-level development, enrichment activities, and tutoring strategies for struggling readers.

Evidence: What Works in Afterschool

Literacy in Afterschool Programs: Literature Review (PDF) discusses evidence from studies that identify successful literacy practices and outcomes in afterschool programs.

English Language Learners: Literature Review (PDF) discusses evidence from studies that identify promising practices for improving the English literacy of children with other home languages.


From simple addition and subtraction to algebra and geometry, math skills are central to students' success, both in school and in the world beyond the classroom. The afterschool environment is ideal for providing activities that bring these math concepts to life.
About Math in Afterschool (0:43)
Embedding Math Content in Afterschool

How can afterschool programs bring math to life? Small-group and hands-on activities that are the hallmark of many afterschool programs also lend themselves to teaching and learning math concepts. For example, cooking activities can boost students' understanding of measurement, treasure hunts and mapping extend geometry skills, and activities using predictions can build students' sense of data and probability.

The practices and sample lessons in this site are built on youth development principles and research on effective mathematics instruction. This combined approach provides specific guidance for embedding mathematics into fun and engaging afterschool activities. At their core, these materials are designed to illustrate techniques and activities that capitalize on powerful student thinking. They are designed to leverage student curiosity to make mathematics problem solving in afterschool both fun and relevant.

Three key ideas are central to ensuring that each practice reveals important mathematics content, processes, and concepts: 1) Encourage problem solving; 2) develop and support math talk; and 3) emphasize working together. These key ideas are transformed into specific guidance within each of the practices and sample lessons.

Key Ideas for Supporting Mathematics Learning

Key Idea #1: Encourage Problem Solving

Problem solving involves engaging students and helping them use what they know about math facts, skills, and strategies to figure out the solution to a given problem. Research indicates that good problem solving is fostered by problems that are interesting to students and that encourage them to ask questions and use their critical thinking skills. Problem solving is enhanced when students discuss a problem together and when instructors use guiding questions that encourage them to discover a strategy or solution on their own. Afterschool activities lend themselves to problem solving because math learning can be incorporated into fun, hands-on activities that students already enjoy, and ultimately increase their enthusiasm for learning math.

Key Idea #2: Develop and Support Math Talk

When students talk about math, they are actively engaged in the learning process. Math talk helps them to clarify their thinking, construct their own meaning, analyze and interpret mathematical ideas, develop reasoning and reflective skills, make connections to what they already know, become aware of areas in which they need further clarification or explanation, and stimulate interest and curiosity. Students engaged in math talk might put ideas into their own words, explain their reasoning, present methods for finding solutions, or ask questions to clarify meaning.

Afterschool programs can increase mathematics achievement by combining social and academic enrichment. By communicating mathematically with others, students learn how to pose questions and develop respect for different ideas and ways of approaching problems. Encouraging and supporting mathematical communication also helps afterschool instructors monitor students' learning, identify misconceptions, and provide useful feedback.

Key Idea #3: Emphasize Working Together

Small-group work is a powerful way to support problem solving and math learning. When students are seated in groups of two, three, or four they are encouraged to collaborate; they can face each other when they talk and see each other's work. Having students work together ensures that they all contribute and participate in the small-group tasks. The role of the instructor is to facilitate learning, ask good questions, guide thinking around strategies, and help students understand that there is more than one way to approach a math problem.

Afterschool programs can increase student achievement and the desire to learn by combining social and academic enrichment. When students work together to discuss concepts, compare ideas, justify methods, and articulate thinking, they become motivated to learn mathematics. Research indicates that working together to solve problems often supports higher levels of performance than working independently.


We encourage you to consider math standards as a resource and inspiration for your lesson planning. These standards are not focused specifically on the afterschool setting, but they do offer ideas and context that can support afterschool planning. Here is a link to your state standards.


How can you extend science knowledge and skills in afterschool? Through fun, hands-on, innovative activities that explore science through inquiry-based learning and real-world problems and projects.
About Science in Afterschool (0:41)
Principles of Quality Afterschool Science

The most effective afterschool science programs incorporate the following eight principles. Quality afterschool science programs and enrichment:

  • are for all students;
  • are intentional and standards-based;
  • are active, interesting, and relevant to students;
  • reflect current research and practices;
  • are age-level appropriate;
  • integrate skills from different subjects;
  • incorporate staff training in science teaching; and
  • are based on ongoing assessment of student needs and progress.

Getting Started: Implementation Considerations

Before you begin any practice, consider your program, the background of your staff, and how you can enhance the science content knowledge and teach strategies of your staff.

Considerations for Programming

The best afterschool science programs provide instructors with professional development learning experiences to better understand and teach science through inquiry. Professional development is available through regional and national afterschool training events. Consider online courses or inviting master teachers from a local high school, university, or community college to mentor afterschool instructors as they implement science programs.

Considerations for Curriculum

Always begin by connecting with the school-day teacher to learn more about specific grade-level skills and standards in science. Every state has science standards that school-day teachers and afterschool staff should be familiar with. For more information on each state's science standards, see the Resources section. School-day teachers can also help in selecting age-appropriate materials and books.

Considerations for the Afterschool Environment

Research shows that children excel when they are in a safe and respectful environment that honors the culture, race, and ability of all students. Visual displays, texts, and other materials should represent the children in the class, and portray men and women from a variety of cultures in science careers.

Safety is always a consideration for any science program, and afterschool science is no exception. Students should always have adequate adult supervision—a good rule of thumb is 1 adult for 5 to 10 children. When working on projects outside of the school, pair up students and always have them within your sight. Remind students to wash their hands before their fingers end up in their mouths or eyes and to always use eye protection. Safety goggles or spectacles are available from any science materials vendor. Most importantly, anticipate the worst that could happen and plan for it. Have a first-aid kit available and follow center guidelines for emergencies. For more information on safety, look for safety reference books from the National Science Teachers Association.

Storage and Materials Management

Consider your storage needs. Large, clear plastic storage boxes, with contents clearly labeled, and an up-to-date inventory can help organize equipment for all afterschool staff to use. Carts are also useful in transporting science materials. Trays and baskets are useful in organizing all materials needed by a set of students. Instructors can make students responsible for collecting and returning supplies. One way to organize students is to assign them to cooperative groups and assign rotating roles such as materials gatherer, chief investigator, recorder, and timekeeper and safety inspector. All students should have the opportunity to experience each of these roles over time. The roles are described below.

  • Materials Gatherer—is responsible for obtaining and returning materials to a central location.
  • Chief Investigator—is responsible for leading and conducting the investigation, manipulating the equipment, or assigning others to do so.
  • Recorder—is responsible for creating or completing data charts and sharing the information with everyone in the group.
  • Timekeeper and Safety Inspector—is responsible for keeping track of the time and making sure everyone is using time wisely so that investigations can be completed in the time allowed. This person may also be responsible for helping to ensure that the group wears goggles and adheres to the safety instructions given by the instructor.

Finally, have fun! The afterschool environment lends itself to discovery through hands-on activities that extend science learning. Make the most of the afterschool hours and the resources available to you.


The arts combine learning with fun afterschool activities that engage students. In working with dance, music, theatre, and visual arts, students explore, apply, and understand the meaning of the arts in their own lives.
About Arts in Afterschool (0:32)
What Research Says About the Arts in Afterschool
  • The arts develop the mind by giving it opportunities to learn to think in special ways.
  • The arts play an important social function in the expression of culture, past or present.
  • The arts have the potential to build self-confidence in ways that may increase students' interest in other academic areas.
  • The skills learned through the arts are transferable to other areas of life.
  • The arts make us feel alive.
Principles of Quality Afterschool Arts

The most effective arts programs incorporate the following principles in their activities and work with students. These programs:

  • are intentional and standards based;
  • are age-appropriate and engage students' interests;
  • develop skills and vocabulary;
  • are taught by trained staff or in partnership with an artist or arts organization;
  • make time and space available for sustained, real-world, hands-on work;
  • make connections to other subjects;
  • utilize a process of creating, presenting, and reflecting;
  • include public demonstrations of work that engage families and community;
  • are supported by ongoing planning, assessment, and resource development.
Putting Arts Programs into Action

Whether you already have an arts program in place or are just thinking about starting one, consider the following questions:

  • Who are our students? What are they like? What are they interested in?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What resources and materials do we need?
  • What resources do we have in our community?
  • How can we collaborate or partner with local organizations to teach the arts?
  • How can we develop academic skills while addressing art-based goals?
  • How can we ensure students' safety in arts activities?
  • What kind of short- or long-term outcomes do we want?
  • How will we measure those outcomes?
  • How do we provide for professional development to enhance teaching in the arts?
Step by Step

Begin by identifying students' interests and potential activities. Then, determine who can lead these activities, whether it is a current staff member or a local artist. Make the most of local arts organizations and resources, from individual artists to museums and performance centers. Staff can learn from local artists or through professional development training; local artists may need tips on classroom management.

Be sure to connect with school-day teachers to find out what skills students are learning, and how to build on them. Familiarize yourself with the National Standards in the Arts, identify learning goals, and set short- and long-term program goals. You can start here through this link to your state standards.

Finally, measure your success. Keep a log of outcomes based on attendance, participation, parent and student responses, and student work.


To live, learn, and work successfully in an increasingly complex and information-rich society, today's students must be able to use technology effectively and think creatively. Afterschool programs are ideal for introducing exciting technology-enriched activities that promote learning, communication, and life skills.
About Technology in Afterschool (0:15)
Use of Technology in Afterschool

Here are four great reasons to integrate technology in your afterschool program:

  • Students love to use computers. Offering exciting, technology-enriched activities can spark their imagination and enthusiasm.
  • Technology-enriched activities provide strong opportunities to reinforce reading, literacy, math, arts, and science skills.
  • Offering creative technology activities for students can be a strong marketing tool for your afterschool program.
  • Studies show that parents consistently name access to technology and computer literacy as high priorities for their children.
Principles of Quality Technology Activities in Afterschool Settings

These guiding principles can help you plan, implement, and assess your technology efforts in your afterschool program. Afterschool technology-enriched activities should:

  • facilitate learning, communication, creativity, and self-expression;
  • promote student-centered activities where the students become involved in determining the course of their own learning;
  • motivate and engage students in authentic, real-world, relevant activities;
  • promote opportunities for communication and collaboration in project-based and inquiry-based activities;
  • support activities that promote problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills;
  • support different learning styles; and
  • be safe, operational, and accessible to all.
Choosing the Right Technology Tools for Your Program

The most common technology tools found in afterschool settings are computers, printers, digital cameras, scientific instruments, the Internet, digital video recorders, GPS handhelds, and various types of related software. Learning to use these tools helps students engage and thrive in the ever-changing world of technology.

Technology use in afterschool programs must be carried out in a way that focuses on teaching and learning. That is, technology use needs to be "intentional" and not "unsupervised play." With such an array of technology choices, it is essential that afterschool decision-makers have a basic understanding of how different technology tools and applications support different instructional purposes. In short, you should match the tools and strategies to the goal that’s being accomplished. For more information about the broad categories of educational uses of technology and how they support different types of learning, see Type I and II Educational Technology Applications (PDF).

Additional information and a discussion of research findings can be found in the Literature Review (PDF).

For additional guidance on designing and managing a technology program, copyright and fair use issues, and safety on the Internet, see the Resources page in each of the Technology practices.


We encourage you to consider both technology standards and relevant content standards as a resource and inspiration for your lesson planning. These standards are not focused specifically on the afterschool setting but they do offer ideas and context that can support afterschool planning. Here is a link to your state standards.

Hardware and Computer Software Considerations

Note that you don't need a lot of equipment to get started. A computer or two, a digital camera, and access to the Internet can provide opportunities for lots of projects. Keep in mind that the focus of the activity is not the technology itself but an interesting project or problem with technology serving as a tool. You can add more tools as your projects progress.

Learn from others. Visit other afterschool programs to gain ideas and insights. Staying up to date on technology, or working regularly with people who do, will be a strong plus for your program.

Resources for Instructors


Although there are multiple reasons to include homework in afterschool programs, perhaps the most compelling reason is that homework help can increase student achievement. In fact, research suggests that when students have the homework support they need, they are more likely to do better in school.
About Homework in Afterschool (0:40)
Why Homework in Afterschool Is Important

Homework gives students opportunities to practice and review what they are learning, prepare for new material, and apply learning to new situations. In addition, homework can help students develop good study habits and demonstrate that learning can occur anywhere—not just in the classroom. Effective homework help can foster independent, life-long learning.

Afterschool programs can play an important role in supporting academic achievement. Programs can designate time and create optimal space for homework completion. Program staff can actively assist students in developing organizational, time-management, and study skills that help students complete their homework and encourage their overall academic success.

Principles of Quality Homework Help

In consideration of best policies and practices for homework time, six principles of quality guide the development of the homework content included in this toolkit. These principles state that quality homework programming is:

  • for all children;
  • intentional;
  • an active process;
  • age-level appropriate;
  • supported by well-trained staff; and
  • informed by ongoing needs and progress.
About the Homework Help Tools

Homework help is an important part of many afterschool programs. This portion of the toolkit includes content that afterschool staff and program leaders can use to develop and maintain effective practices aimed at improving academic outcomes for students.

Each Homework practice has specific tools and worksheets. Below are some general planning documents to help you get started:
Conversation Starter on Homework Help (PDF)
Professional Development Plan (PDF)
Self-Assessment of Effectiveness Qualities During Homework Time (PDF)
Intentional Homework Activities (PDF)

How to Use the Tools

The materials in the Homework toolkit can be used in many ways. Practices can be used for self-study or staff training. Use the tools to create, evaluate, and refine practices for your program. Toolkit trainings on a local, state, regional, or national level are also available through the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning. See the training section of the Web site for more information.

Using the Homework Tools Across Subject Areas

Since homework cuts across all subject areas, these practices were designed to work in conjunction with the other content areas throughout the Afterschool Training Toolkit (Literacy, Math, Science, Arts, and Technology). As a part of academic homework support, many afterschool programs offer tutoring and mentoring services. Practices on tutoring are also available as part of the Literacy, Math, and Science toolkits.