Most after school programs include all elementary grades. Covering such a wide age range is often challenging when it comes to planning activities and keeping the kids interested. Here are some tips for managing the varying ages in the typical after school program.
One option is to place kids into smaller groups rather than having one large group with all of the program participants. If you have the staff for it, break the kids into classroom-sized groups of 20 to 25 students. You can still have some variation in grades, but you can keep the kids a little closer in age. For example, you might have the kindergarten, first and second grade students in one room. The third, fourth and fifth graders might go in another classroom.
An easy solution for meeting the needs and interests of varying ages is by using hands-on activities. When you set out an open-ended project, the kids can interact with the materials at their own level. For example, if you do a crayon resist art project, younger kids might make some scribbles with the crayon and go right to the watercolor painting. Older kids might take more time planning and drawing with the crayon before moving on to the painting step. If you do a science project, older kids might think of different variations or different ideas to test.
Instead of focusing on the differences in the ages, encourage the kids to interact more. If you segregate all of the time, the kids learn they should stick to kids their own age. If you specifically plan activities that mix the grades, it just becomes part of the program.
Older kids can become mentors for their younger program counterparts. You might pair older and younger kids for activities so the older child can help with the difficult parts. Teach the older kids how to help without doing everything for the younger kids.
You might also pair the kids up for academic support. A fifth grader can help a first grader read a book, for example. Or an older student might be able to explain how to do a problem on a younger child’s homework. Again, the older kids might need some help learning how to help with the homework rather than just give answers.
Offering a variety of activities is another way to address different age groups. A learning center approach is one way to do that. Have several activity options out at once. The kids can choose what they want to do with their time. This allows each child to do something that matches her ability and interests.