Myth #1: The children are only here for 3 hours, so there’s no need to do lesson plans.
It’s important for staff to be regarded as professionals, no matter how long they care for the children. By creating lesson plans and providing purposeful and meaningful activities for the children to do, the staff are held accountable for the time they are with the children. Also, the activities the children are given should enrich their school-day learning. If staff take time to plan activities, it ensures that this takes place.
Myth #2: We don’t have enough money to provide quality programming.
There are many different options for tight budgets. One option is to request things from parents that they would normally throw away: clothes for dramatic play, paper towel rolls for art projects, dried leaves or pine cones for science, etc. Another option is to use websites like The Freecycle Network, where people offer things for free or Toys from Trash, which shows you how to make literally hundreds of toys from odds and ends. A third option is to check thrift stores, garage sales or library book sales. I have a huge collection of board games, most of which were acquired for less than $3.00 at thrift stores.
Myth #3: Why should we do read-aloud when the children can read to themselves?
Read-aloud is not just for children who can’t read independently. From ‘Just Plain Reading’: A Survey of What Makes Students Want to Read in Middle School Classrooms, children stated that they viewed “teacher read-alouds as scaffolds to understanding because the teacher helped to make the text more comprehensible or more interesting to them.” The benefits of reading to school-age children are not much different than those of reading to younger children. It helps all aspects of their literacy skills, from reading and writing to speaking and listening. In fact, children are often able to listen on a higher level than they are able to read, so listening to read-aloud increases understanding of vocabulary and language patterns.
Myth #4: The children have been in school all day and now they only want free time.
Children do need to be provided with structured activities. Don’t get me wrong: unstructured free play is very important in the school-age program, but there should be a balance. Case in point: when I ran a middle-school program, on Fridays they had free play the whole time. Without fail, each Friday after about 20 minutes, children were asking me to organize an activity for them. Something as simple as setting up a project, game or read-aloud as a choice during free time can satisfy this need.
Myth #5: We don’t have enough space to provide quality programming.
I have seen programs in school cafeterias, shared spaces and converted staff lounges that make the best of the space that they have, and do it well. It may require moving furniture to play gross motor games when it rains or putting up and taking down paintings every day from the walls or keeping age-appropriate materials on a rolling-cart that is stored in a closet.
When it’s all said and done, remember one thing: where the program takes place does not dictate its quality; it’s what takes place that does.