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How to make impactful summer learning experiences

By Carrie Ann Olson

The summer schedule for young people can be full of adventure, curiosity and exploration. On the other hand, the lack of structure can cause boredom and lack of motivation. Youth practitioners may find it hard to come up with appealing activities non-formal learning environments that foster education and career success, healthy relationships and engaged citizenship.

Recently my colleague Kate Walker blogged about research that shows how integrating specific strategies and practices into existing curriculum can support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

One of the key strategies is to design impactful learning experiences.  Programs that focus on specific skill development using sequenced and active learning strategies, as well as focused and explicit skill content, consistently succeed in promoting social emotional learning.  A new report by the Wallace Foundation  called Foundations for Youth Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, stresses that “Experiences must be both active and reflective. “ Adults can design moments of active developmental experiences for children by incorporating opportunities to:
  • Encounter – both novel situations and more capable peers and adults who serve as role models;
  • Tinker – i.e., test, discover, design, puzzle, build, experiment, create, play and imagine;
  • Choose – activities, companions, goals and ways of presenting oneself;
  • Practice  - and receive feedback that helps them develop competence; and
  • Contribute – to the world in ways that they find meaningful and that others value.
Youth workers also need to incorporate reflective development experiences that help youth make sense of their experiences and learning, including moments when they:
  • Describe and evaluate their lives, feelings, thoughts and experiences;
  • Connect new experiences and ideas to what they already know;
  • Envision themselves in the future, seeing both positive images of what they want to become and negative images of what they want to avoid becoming; and
  • Integrate the insights, skills or other lessons from an experience into a larger sense of  themselves.
One of my favorite opportunities of the summer – the state fair -- can provide a wonderful lab for active learning and reflection, especially if the activities are intentionally crafted for SEL.
What key components do you incorporate into your programming to support active and reflective learning?

-- Carrie Ann Olson
Extension educator & associate Extension professor

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