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Professional Development

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A Fresh Twist on Lesson Planning

Monday, 12 September 2016 11:51

When Jackie Cushman's daughter started kindergarten in fall 2014, she attended an afterschool program and came home every night with awesome projects and stories to share. Jackie noticed two things: first, her daughter would enthusiastically list facts about a new theme each week; second, her daughter was learning a lot by having a lot of fun.

"Of course, I complimented the coordinator constantly," Jackie said. "It's something as a parent you really appreciate, you know? I got to know her throughout the year, and I eventually asked her which curriculum she used....she looked at me with one eyebrow raised, and I realized she did the planning."

As a veteran working with kids and planning summer camp curricula, Jackie knew how many hours went into planning an hour or two of activities.

"I asked her how long she spent doing the planning," Jackie said. "She confirmed how laborious it was and stated she wasn't even paid for the time she spent doing the planning."

A few weeks later, Jackie found herself researching curricula similar to what her daughter was studying.

"I know out-of-school programs want their lessons to be educational, but also fun and interesting enough to keep the kids engaged after a long day at school."

And from there, the idea was born: Lesson Zest.

Lesson Zest is a website that provides hundreds of activity plans for out-of-school programs. Each activity includes instructions, photos, videos, fun facts, cost and difficulty ratings, material lists and much more. The only thing Lesson Zest doesn't provide is the material, which is generally cheap, easy to find and typically available to programs already. Additionally, the Lesson Zest team tests each activity to make sure it's achievable by kids with little help from adults.

"Sometimes, I actually compare Lesson Zest to Pinterest," Jackie said. "The pinners on Pinterest post the coolest activities for kids. Lesson Zest takes it a few steps further. We give instructions about how to do the activities, but also other valuable information practitioners need. Other websites might explain how, but we explain why, how long, how much, who and so on."

Practitioners can search Lesson Zest's database for hundreds of activities by topic, lesson type, cost and more. And it's easy to use from any computer, tablet or smartphone.

"I want Lesson Zest to be a helpful tool for afterschool programs," Jackie said. "I want to help make their jobs easier. Running an out-of-school program is so labor-intensive. People who work for these programs really care—they're so passionate about their kids. They're willing to spend their own time—unpaid—to do their very best for their kids. I hope Lesson Zest will help ease the process of planning and give them some valuable time back, whether it's to spend more time with their students or just more time to themselves or with their families."

For more information on Lesson Zest, watch this video, and visit lessonzest.com.

Photo courtesy of Jackie Cushman.