Get Adobe Flash player
Children learn best when they are in an environment where they are physically safe and comfortable, know what to expect, and feel emotionally secure. A strong link exists between children’s experiences and surroundings and their overall brain development. For that reason and many more, chil- dren’s environments should be rich in resources and learning opportunities (Strong-Wilson and Ellis 2007). Achieving this goal goes beyond tangible phys- ical components to include how people, policies, and practices make children feel in the environment. When people walk through the door of a school-age environment, they form an impression of the program within a few minutes, if not seconds. What is in the environment signals the program’s level of com- mitment to providing the best place for children. In her book Child Care Design Guide, Anita Rui Olds, a well-known expert on children’s environments, recommends designing the environment for mir- acles, not minimums (2001). If we see each child as a miracle full of learning potential and needing our help, we are well on our way to creating an ideal school-age environment. For better or worse, your program transforms the characteristics that the children bring to it. Make your program the best it can be, and you will help transform children into the best they can be. All quality school-age programs have certain common threads regardless of the type of facility, size of space, number of children enrolled, shared or dedi- cated space, and location—inner-city, suburban, or rural. All these programs • offer a safe environment that fosters total child development, and employ an adequate number of qualified, well-trained staff; • are administered efficiently; • encourage staff-parent interaction; • balance activities to include structured and unstructured time, teacher-directed and child-initiated experiences, and a range of activities; • capitalize on the interests of the children and opportunities for informal, social learning; • use community resources as much as possible; • communicate clear, consistent expectations and limits to children; • provide indoor and outdoor space for active play and places for socialization and private time; • meet the individual needs of the children; • pursue the goals and mission of the program; and • keep within budget and staffing limitations. So how do you weave all these threads into your school-age program envi- ronment? How do you develop a program that wows everyone who walks through the door? Designing a quality school-age program is like putting COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL The Many Faces of School-Age Care • 15