All the new talent on BGCA’s Youth Development team is blowing me away, including today’s ClubX Blog debut author, Zakiya Powell, Director of Youth Development Innovation and Programs.
First day of school butterflies are not unusual. Especially amidst a global pandemic, recent school shootings, and the all too familiar summer ending blues. It is not surprising that children are experiencing feelings of anxiety when they think of going back to school. Whether kids are returning to a familiar space or starting at a new school, they will need empathy and support through the transition.
Going back into the highly structured school environment from summer break can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that it may take time for children to settle into a new grade, with new people and new surroundings. Let’s face it- back to school anxiety is real! Here are a few ways we can support youth during their back-to-school transition afterschool:
Keep the Connection. Summer recreation is all about discovery. Kids have the freedom to explore interests, try new things and meet new people. It is important that those new discoveries do not get lost and pushed to the side. Continue to feed newfound interests. Engage youth in opportunities throughout the school that foster the things they love! One of the great strengths of afterschool is that we can do just this, so keep your programming focused on fun and exploration.
Establish a Solid Routine. Although we all love the carefree days of summer. Kids thrive with structure and routine. How you schedule your Club programming can assist youth in establishing systems and routines in their everyday lives. Keep a consistent program schedule that is posted for all youth to see. That way they know what to expect. If something is going to change that schedule, be sure to let youth know as soon as possible. If you have young people who you know may be particularly affected by the change, pull them aside and give them space to react safely.
Be Consistent. Another way to provide consistency is through to provide supportive relationships where staff follow up with youth about things they have shared. Check-in with Club members. Ask questions, listen to their ideas, and engage in conversation that encourage youth to be themselves. Consider having all staff complete the Ask-Listen-Encourage Youth Work Methods training either in-person or on Spillett Leadership University.
Exchange Coping Mechanisms. Share tools and techniques that help to regulate strong emotions such as slow breathing, reflection exercises that focus on how you are feeling, or other positive activities you like to do (drawing, coloring, listening to music.) Don’t be afraid to share your own personal experiences, it will help youth identify with you and build a trusting relationship. Consider helping youth build their social-emotional skills through programming like SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness or the Emotional Wellness Teen Expansion Pack. Or, take a look at the Behavior Support Toolkit for some additional support around youth behaviors.
Focus on the Positives. Introduce youth to mindfulness activities by asking them to reflect on some of the great experiences of the summer and what they are looking to accomplish in the upcoming school year. Ask youth often what they are grateful for from that day or week. Set the tone with encouraging a positive mindset! Want more Reflection ideas? We’ve got a whole list in the Staff Practices tab of ClubPrograms.org.
According to the article 6 Ways to Help Your Children Transition Back-To-School, children experience new transitions all throughout the school day. Being aware of the transition that occurs from the school day to Clubs’ during afterschool time is crucial. As a kid, I remember wishing that I had the opportunity to experience a space where I could engage with my peers in a positive way. Going back-to-school after summer break was always tough for me. Although I enjoyed learning, school did not always feel like a safe, inclusive environment for me. There are so many children that feel that way. We may not have the power to change the anxiety club members are feeling but we can certainly provide them with resources that can support their back-to-school transition.
What are your best ways to support young people in their transition back to school? How do you train youth development professionals to use high-quality staff practices? Let us know! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.
About Zakiya Powell
Zakiya is excited to be one of the newest members of BGCA! She’s a mother of two and loves all things reading. She enjoys spending time with her family and listening to music, as well as dance and do silly activities with her children!