School-Age child care providers often face unique challenges. During the school year, children can be in care for a very short period of time making it difficult to plan for them, many times programs have to share space with other programs requiring some to set-up and take down each day, staff may have to work long hours starting early in the morning and ending later in the evening, and school-age child care staff may find that classroom teachers won’t make the time and effort to communicate with them about the needs of children in their care. Having said that, though, quality school-age programs can excite children about learning, provide time to socialize with their friends, give them an opportunity to explore their own interests, help them learn new skills, provide them with needed exercise, and offer caring staff who will listen to them and help them deal with issues at home or in school. In short, quality school-age programs can be the highlight of a child’s day!
Although the School-Age Environment Rating Scale (updated version) is the least used of all the Environment Rating Scales in Iowa, over a three-year period I have seen enough programs to come to some generalizations about areas where program typically lose points at the good level of quality. I would like to share this information with those who would like or need more information about the SACERS-U in the event you work with a program preparing for an assessment or a program that wants to improve the care they provide school-age children.
- Materials should be age and developmentally appropriate. There are some materials such as blocks or some art materials that are appropriate for both school-age and preschool groups. But if a program shares space with a preschool, there should be materials appropriate for the ages of the children in the school-age group. For example, some primary age children will enjoy picture books, but others may enjoy chapter books like Junie B. Jones or the Magic Tree House series. A solution some programs have found is to have materials on carts that they bring out during the program day. More suggestions for appropriate materials can be found in specific activity items on the SACERS-U scale. Materials should be accessible for at least 30 minutes in a typical after-school program of three hours or more.
- A considerable amount of softness must also be accessible to the children and appropriate for their size. A small vinyl preschool chair or a blanket and a few pillow on a hard floor is not enough for a school-age child to escape the hardness of a typical classroom. But a couch in the music or listening area and bean bag chairs and several large pillow in the reading area would meet this requirement. It is also important to remember that many soft furnishings must be accessible for at least one third of the time they are in care, at the good level of quality.
- Two items address child-size seating. I am reminded of Goldilocks when I observe some school-agers in various seating arrangements. Sometimes it’s just not quite right. Programs that share space may have adult-size tables and chairs or preschool-sized seating arrangements. At the good level of quality, 75 percent of the tables and chairs must be child-size (feet touch the floor, sit waist high at the table, with legs resting comfortably under the table).
- Interactions are as important as materials and furnishings. Sometimes school-age providers want to give children enough time to relax, play and visit with their friends. This is certainly important, and it is important that the school-age child care program not replicate the school day. However, providers do have the opportunity to complement the school day. Staff can encourage children to use reading, writing and math in practical situations as children pursue their own interests. This practice helps children see that what they are learning in school applies to everyday situations. We must observe this if credit is to be given. Staff should also engage children in meaningful conversations – there should be several turns for the children and staff to talk. Open-ended questions (why or how) that require longer and more complex answers should also be asked.
- A variety of gross motor activities must be provided that stimulate a variety of skills. At the good level of quality, there must be five different skills made possible by stationary equipment and five different skills made possible by portable equipment. Also, keep in mind that outdoor play activities should occur daily, weather permitting. Surfacing in and around equipment requiring cushioning must also be adequate.
What challenges do you find school-age providers encounter? How do you help them overcome these challenges?
Harms, T., Jacobs, H. & Romano, D. (2014) School-Age Environment Rating Scale (updated). New York: Teachers College Press.