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Professional Development

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8 Ways You Can Bring Literacy into Your Afterschool Program

Many of us are aware that daily reading and literacy activity can enhance vocabulary, increase comprehension and develop an understanding about story structure, among other skills.

While young people practice these skills throughout the school day, afterschool programs can provide an environment and opportunities to complement these reading and writing practices. The afterschool environment is a great place for young people to explore their reading and writing interests, cultivating an enjoyment of literacy for life. Whether you've already established literacy practices or are just getting started, here are eight guidelines for bringing literacy into your program.

1. Daily choice. Make literacy a choice for young people on a daily basis. Develop routines that encourage young people to read at their leisure or participate in a planned read-aloud. Incorporate a writing activity into the daily plan, such as writing a book review, creating a word puzzle or composing instructions for a building project. The possibilities are endless.

2. Space. Create a dedicated space for young people to read and participate in literacy activities when they choose. This space should be near other quiet activities. Place a rug in this space as well as soft, comfortable seating options such as pillows and beanbag chairs. Be sure your library and writing supplies are easily accessible within this space.

3. Writing materials. Having a selection of writing supplies is key to encouraging writing practice. Include a variety of paper and writing utensils. If possible, incorporate technology options as part of your writing materials. Have word games such as Scrabble® and Boggle® as well as reference materials such as a dictionary, a thesaurus or grade-level spelling lists on hand to enhance vocabulary development.

4. Literature selections. Provide a variety of genres including science fiction, comedy, poetry, mystery, fairy tales, historical fiction, nonfiction, autobiography and biography. Also include a variety of literary formats in addition to books, such as magazines, newspapers, graphic novels, audio books and electronic readers. Contact your school or public librarian for recommendations on high-quality and inclusive literature selections. Be sure to incorporate literature for all age groups and reading levels.

5. Youth voice. Encourage young people to express their voice in daily literacy plans. Invite young people to assist in creating daily writing activities and selecting literature that incorporates a range of interests. Keep literature selections fresh and inviting for youth by rotating a set of books in and out of your library on a monthly basis.

6. School connection. Learn about the reading programs or events taking place at students' schools. Partner with schools to discuss ways these programs and events can extend into the afterschool program. Invite school staff to visit and participate in the afterschool literacy activities by leading a writing activity or being a guest reader.

7. Motivation. One of the best ways to keep young people motivated to participate in literacy activity is to ensure reading and writing experiences are fun and tap into their interests. Other ways to keep youth motivated include setting a reading goal, either individual goals or a group goal, and celebrate achievement of the goal, showcasing young people's writing activities through presentations and displays, and providing opportunities for older youth to mentor younger youth.

8. Evaluation. Develop a method for program leaders and youth to evaluate the literacy environment and activities on a regular basis. Survey youth regarding their response to the literature selections, the comfort of the literacy environment, their response to writing activities and access to writing supplies. Invite young people to assist in determining a plan for making improvements based upon their feedback.

Contributed by Sara Van Dyke, NAA Special Programs Consultant.