I’ve used the phrase “the perfect afterschool class” over years to refer to offerings that challenge students to use and develop skills they learned during the school day, but do so without piling on more work. When they take a cooking class, for example, they read recipes, engage in procedural thinking, work out fractions in scaling the amounts of various ingredients up or down, and gauge how adventurous they feel about tasting a new food for the first time. In each of these ways, they are applying things they know in a real-world situation.
But in cooking class, they shouldn’t feel they are being tested or graded or judged. They should just feel smart and competent and emboldened and like they understand a little better why the adults include stuff like fractions in their daytime studies.
In reality there isn’t any such thing as a perfect afterschool class and even the simplest offerings can be great in their own way. Kickball doesn’t utilize a lot of academic skill, but taking part, being present with classmates, cheering them on, taking turns…those are important skills to develop as well.
And sometimes what is most valuable is the children basking in the feeling (whether they recognize this or not) that they are doing something that they want to do. They are spending time with friends and teachers who have all each independently chosen to be there. It’s easy to forget how programmed children’s lives can be. (Maybe because we as adults have accepted that as our lot!) Choosing and deciding are skills, too, and they are developed with practice.
So perhaps the perfect afterschool class is any one of a dozen that children can choose from. Maybe children choosing a class is what makes it perfect.