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    • Identify examples of types of learning that takes place with school-age children.
    • Explore your own assumptions about how and what school-age children should learn.
    • Create experiences and activities that you can use with school-age children in your program.




    In your program, you likely work with school-age children and youth ranging from ages five to twelve. Developmentally appropriate practice reflects the idea that as a school-age staff member you must understand what skills are typical for children of certain ages, what is appropriate for an individual child, and what is valued by families and communities (NAEYC, 2009). It provides staff members with structured guidance on how to support the growth and development of children along with making learning meaningful and purposeful to their abilities. For example, what a young five or six year-old child learns about math or reading might be very different from what an eleven or twelve year-old child learns.

    It is necessary to make learning purposeful, meaningful, and based on a school-age child's abilities, development, and interests. You should understand what skills are typical for children of different ages, what is appropriate for an individual child, and what families and communities value (NAEYC, 2009). This knowledge will help you to make daily decisions about the learning experiences you offer the school-age children attending your program.

    In the following section you will learn about the skills and knowledge that school-age children typically acquire throughout elementary and middle school. You should use this knowledge to make daily decisions about the learning experiences you offer children.

    Experiences and Activities that Promote School-Age Children's Cognitive Development

    School-age children learn best when involved in daily experiences and interactions with adults and peers. Here are a few examples of ways children might learn important concepts:

    Reading & Writing

    One goal of teaching writing to school-age children and youth is to help them develop the skills and knowledge to effectively communicate information, ideas, and opinions to a variety of audiences. Learning to write, like reading, is a lifelong process. It is important for school-age children to learn critical writing skills.

    How do reading and writing complement each other? Let's look at a few examples (Onless, 2005).

    • When children write, they're encouraged to spell words as they sound them out. As they do this they actually learn about phonemic awareness - an important component of learning to read.
    • When school-age children learn about spelling they are also learning a lot about phonics. They come to understand the relationship between the sounds of letters and how those sounds should be translated into written language.
    • When school-age children are read to or read print books on their own, they start to understand the structure of stories. They can use these stories as models for their own writing. It also works the other way around. When school-age children practice writing stories, all of the different parts of a story come alive to students.

    How can you support the reading comprehension and writing skills of children and youth attending your program? Here are a variety of literacy activities that can easily be implemented in your specific program setting.

    • Reading Aloud: Research shows that younger children (and even older children!) benefit greatly from being read aloud to. When you read aloud to children you are modeling fluent and expressive reading, exposing students to new vocabulary, and creating a love of reading (Neuman, Copple, & Bredekamp, 2000). Older children might benefit from reading aloud with a partner. Partner reading not only helps students build fluency but also encourages students to work together (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborne, 2001).
    • Reader's Theater: Acting out a story gives children the opportunity to work together to bring a book to life. This is an engaging activity that helps children with fluency and builds their comprehension (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborne, 2001). One way to act out a story is through reader's theater. In reader's theater children and youth rehearse from scripts that have been created from books and perform a play for peers. Children can either play characters from the book or take the lead as narrator who shares important background knowledge.
    • Book Discussions or Literature Circles: Book circles, sometimes called literature circles, help children and youth think and talk about the books they have read with other peers. Book discussions help children develop opinions about what they have read (Peralta-Nash & Dutch, 2000). Leading a book circle in your program might be hard in the beginning, especially if you have never led a discussion group before. The following resource, "Literature Circles: Getting Started," provides some guidance on how to start a literature circle discussion, .
    • Engaging in creative writing activities: Research shows that school-age programs can do a lot to foster children's writing skills. You can implement a range of activities that help children practice the writing skills they learn in school and develop a love of writing. For younger children, simply allowing them to express themselves through writing can help them understand that writing has a real purpose (Graves, 1983). Older children might benefit from the following writing-focused activities: writing poems, writing letters to pen pals, writing autobiographies, writing songs, writing and then acting out plays, or writing book reports on a topic of interest.
    • Author's Chair : Author's chair gives school-age children an opportunity to share their writing with their peers once it has gone through the editing and revising stages of the writing process (Graves, 1983). A special time is created for writers to share their writing and receive positive feedback about their writing. To make author's chair special, you might want to designate a "special" chair for the author sharing his or her writing. The following link provides ideas for how to implement a successful author's chair:
    • Use of graphic organizers. One way to help students organize their thoughts about what they are reading or writing is through the use of graphic organizers. As you plan writing and reading activities for children and youth in your program, you might want to consider using graphic organizers as a way to help them think through activities. The following website provides a detailed explanation of graphic organizers and also provides sample templates.


    There are many ways to create fun and engaging math related learning experiences. You can help children become confident and successful mathematicians by implementing these activities in your program.

    • Make math visual and hands-on. Many school-age children have difficulties picturing numbers and calculations in their mind. For these children, math is an abstract concept. Your school-age program can help children visualize math problems by incorporating hands-on activities (Spear-Swerling, 2006). For young children, addition and subtraction problems can be simplified by counting actual objects. For example, children can practice geometry by using toothpicks and marshmallows to create different types of shapes and angles. Older children can practice mathematical concepts by designing towers using building blocks or Legos.
    • Create engaging opportunities for learning. If an activity relates to children's lives, interests, or hobbies, then their level of participation and effort will increase. There are countless ways to incorporate math skills in any activity. Sports, board games, video games, arts, and sciences all incorporate aspects of math. One example you can include in your program is having children take a poll, or asking their peers and family members what their favorite animal is or favorite food. Then, children can create their own graphs to show the results of their poll.
    • Incorporate technology. Many children and adolescents are motivated by technology. Technology-based mathematics activities can include educational computer games and learning programs, using cameras to take pictures of geometric shapes in real world settings, using calculation devices to assist with problem solving, using stop-watches to calculate time challenges, or using online programs to measure distances and landforms. Since mathematics is present in most daily activities, your school-age program can easily combine technology and math to create motivated learners.

    Science and Exploration

    Young children are natural explorers who use all of their senses to investigate their surroundings. Their curiosity leads them to uncover new information and challenges on a daily basis. The enthusiasm and energy that children bring to new experiences provides a wealth of opportunities for learning. Teaching children thinking skills is one of the major challenges in education. Giving children practice with independent thinking builds their problem solving abilities. When children learn strategies to work their way through one type of problem, it is likely that they will be able to transfer their problem solving process to new types of problems (Mayer & Wittrock, 2012).

    Opportunities for exploration and problem solving are right at your fingertips. A fallen bird's nest, the illumination of lightning bugs, the presence of pollution and litter, or preparing and eating ethnic foods are just a few examples of science and social studies topics that can be used for deeper exploration. All it takes is a walk around the block or a trip to a local park to help children make new discoveries.

    Social Studies

    Your school-age program can make social studies come alive by creating opportunities for experiential learning. Experiential learning simply means to learn by doing. Experiential learning is a highly successful teaching strategy that enables children to learn and retain information through experiences tied to their learning. When engaged in experiential learning, children draw on all of their senses. They read and listen to information to develop background knowledge. They see artifacts or visuals related to their topic. They take on roles to experience the subject they study (Diem, 2004).

    Any social studies topic can be taught through experiential learning. For example, children studying Ancient Egypt can work in teams to build monuments or create ships to sail the Nile. Children can practice being archeologists by digging to discover hidden treasures in the sand table or outside. Older children can learn about Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and practice writing notes in the ancient language. Creativity is important for designing engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for school-age children.

    Children can also learn about the experiences, contributions, and cultural practices of diverse people and places by reading stories. Carefully selected books, and read-aloud opportunities where children and youth are encouraged to reflect and discuss different characters' experiences supports the development of empathy and an inclusive environment. Such experiences also contribute to children's growing understanding of history, equality, and diversity. The Explore activity in Lesson 4 of this course provides a guide for evaluating the kinds of books provided in your program. With older school-agers or youth in your program, you could examine together the subtle and not-so-subtle biases that are often embedded within books or other forms of media (video games or movies) and reflect on the assumptions people may form about different groups of people based on the way they are presented. Incorporate social-emotional learning concepts, such as kindness to others and awareness of differences, to support overall cognitive and academic skill development.

    Addressing the Needs of Diverse Learners and Families

    Look around your classroom while school-age children and youth are engaging in interactions and working. You will probably notice a range of skills and abilities. Some school-age children seem to thrive even without much support from you. Other school-age children seem to need your help very frequently. There may even be children who you are not quite sure how to help. These children may struggle to reach learning goals.

    It is so important to develop meaningful learning experiences for all school-age children. This includes children with special learning needs. All children need a strong developmentally appropriate curriculum, a supportive environment, and nurturing relationships with adults. For some children, though, this is not enough for them to succeed. Some children need special accommodations. As a school-age staff member, you can plan accommodations to help a particular child.

    Children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) have a specific program to help them meet personal goals. You should read the IEP to learn about the child's goals, services, accommodations, and modifications. Just as each child is different, each IEP is different. In general, these children will need accommodations, different ways to access the activities, or changes or adaptations to the curricula, the classroom, and the daily activities.

    Children who speak another language and are learning English are often called English language learners (ELL) or dual language learners (DLL). It might be hard for some of these children to do all classroom activities easily. Children learning English in your program will probably be at very different levels. Some might hear quite a bit of English in their home, while others may hear none. This means that some children might need more help than others. You can help children who are learning English by (a) including multicultural activities, (b) giving them special supports, and (c) making these children feel included in all activities.

    What does it look like to help all children learn? It is characterized by flexibility and a variety of changes.

    Changes to Curricula

    Think about whether your experiences and activities include the right kind of goals and instruction for a child. If not, you can make some changes to how information is presented. For example, some children who have difficulty with reading comprehension may need to have an abridged version of a book while other children can read the book in its entirety. Children with weak vocabulary skills might benefit from vocabulary instruction before reading a new book. School-age children can use a concept map where they write the vocabulary word, write the definition, identify an example and non-example, and draw a picture of the vocabulary word.

    Changes to the Environment

    You might have to change your program environment to meet the needs of some children. For instance, a school-age child can sit on an exercise ball while reading a book or working on a project. Other changes for your activities might include setting up different centers, providing children individual self-monitoring charts, or playing music to keep students focused. For instance, your program can set up different centers (e.g., reading center, mathematics center, exploration center, writing center) and children can move around to the different centers working on different activities. In one center, children may listen to a book while following along with the book in front of them and in another center, the children may play a game to reinforce different math concepts. If there are different tasks children need to complete, they can each be provided with a list of the different activities and use this to self-monitor their progress in completing the different activities. One more example of changing the environment is to include music. Classical music can be very calming for students while they work and can help them to stay focused on their work.

    Changes During Activities

    Children with special learning needs might find some activities very challenging. For example, a school-age child who is learning how to add and subtract may have difficulty quickly completing addition and subtraction problems. There are many different ways to support the child in completing such assignments. One way to help the child is providing him or her with fewer problems. A different way to help the child would be providing him or her with manipulatives (e.g., blocks, number lines) to use while completing the assignment. The help that you give a child probably will change over time as he or she gets better at doing an activity. Think about fading help so that the child learns to do the activity on his or her own.

    Reflecting on Culture

    Culture influences how all of us view the world and the people around us. Every time we enter the classroom, we bring our own culture in with us. This culture influences the way we think and act. Understanding our own individual culture can increase our confidence and ability to work with others around us. Culture affects every part of our life. Look at the role culture plays in your interactions with others. Think about the ways your history and values affect your teaching. Do you expect family members to attend meetings and help with the class? Do you expect children to be toilet trained at a certain age? When do you think children should feed and dress themselves? These questions can be influenced by our culture and upbringing.

    Children and youth enter our programs with unique backgrounds and experiences. Knowing children's backgrounds and preferences is the heart of developmentally appropriate practice. You can use this information to send the message, "You belong here." By acknowledging the cultures and traditions of the children, family members, and staff in your own classroom you can make embracing culture more relevant for the children of your classroom. By doing that, you also help promote a sense of belonging and community.

    Many children will enter your classroom with a first language other than English. It is important to recognize, respect, and reinforce home language use (NAEYC, 1995). Here are a couple of ways to make a child comfortable in the classroom:

    • Hire a staff member who speaks the child's home language.
    • Use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as you may have to change your classroom environment to meet the needs of all children. There are many ways you can communicate with children, including speech, pictures, music, and multimedia. Children can express what they know in multiple ways, too. This might be through music, dance, drawing, technology, and so on. Lesson 5 in this course provides extensive information about working with diverse learners and their families.


    Addressing the Needs of All Learners

    Watch this video to learn how a staff member supports a school-age child.


    In the experiences you provide, you can:

    • Provide a variety of enriching developmentally appropriate activities.
    • Provide plenty of opportunities to engage in active, project-based learning.
    • Provide school-age children with a balance of routine and choice in the activities planned.
    • Take field trips to the library or organize a book fair.
    • Create activities where school-age children talk, think, write about, or act out positive values they believe are important.
    • Create opportunities for school-age children to volunteer.
    • Invite guest speakers that have contributed positively to the community.
    • Hold children accountable for their actions.
    • Offer developmentally appropriate activities that are challenging to their age level but which still allow them to feel successful.
    • Provide opportunities for journal writing about personal issues and or topics that are important to school-age children.
    • Invite speakers to share their inspirational life stories with school-age children.
    • Use dramatic plays to create scripts where children can imagine what their positive future looks like. 

    Using technology is an important way school-age children learn, and families may seek your input on ways they can utilize technology at home. Below are some recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other research-based information you can share with program families:

    • Encourage children and families to eliminate background television and media use when doing homework.
    • Establish healthy “sleep hygiene” or bedtime habits for children and youth of all ages. Viewing electronic devices close to bedtime can affect the quality and amount of sleep, as well as the ease of falling asleep.
    • Families can engage with their children by asking them to show how they are using technology and media at school and in your program. 



    It’s important to think about how to encourage all learners’ cognitive development. In this activity, think about how your curriculum can support the needs of all school-age children. Read and respond to the Thinking about the Curriculum Cycle activity. In each scenario, note a strength, a need, and experiences or supports that could promote cognitive development. Share your responses with a coach, trainer, or administrator.



    Turn school-age children’s daily experiences into teachable moments! Be creative in providing children with opportunities for exploration and discovery. Also keep in mind that the World Wide Web is a valuable resource for children and teachers. There are many free activity plans, interactive learning modules, and educational games available on the internet. Explore the resources in this section to support school-age children’s learning and growth.


    Developmentally appropriate practice“An approach to teaching grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education” (NAEYC, 2009).
    Problem solvingThe ability to apply mathematics to real world situations to solve for an unknown number.
    AdaptationsChanges to instruction provided to a child based on his or her needs.




    Finish this statement: Experiential learning means…


    True or False? Research shows that younger school-age children benefit greatly from being read aloud to, while older school-age children do not.


    Kelly is a new staff member working in your school-age program. She wants ideas about how to help children with the writing process. Which of the following suggestions would help Kelly reach her goal?

    References & Resources

    AAP Council on Communication and Media. (2016). Media Use in School-Age Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 138(5). 

    AAP Council on Communication and Media. (2016). Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics, 138(5).

    American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018). Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from

    Armbruster, B., Lehr, F., & Osborn, J. (2001). Put reading first: The research building blocks for teaching children to read . Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement. National Institute for Literacy. Retrieved from

    Child Trends. (2019). Parental Expectations Increase Kids’ Stress. Retrieved from

    Graves, D. (1983). Writing: teaching and children at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

    Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D'Aoust, C., McArthur, C., McCutchen ., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Educational Sciences. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

    Gurganus, S. P. (2007). Math Instruction for Students with Learning Problems (1st ed.), Boston, MA. Pearson Education, Inc.

    Halpern, R. (2003). Supporting the literacy development of low-income children in afterschool programs . New York, NY: The Robert Bowne Foundation. Retrieved from:

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 (3rd Ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

    National Council of Teachers in English. 10 myths about learning to write. Urbana, Illinois: Author

    National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Standards and Focal Points. Reston, Virginia.

    National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel . Washington DC: National Institute for Literacy.

    Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (2005). Literacy in after-school programs: A Literature review . Portland, Oregon: Author.

    Neuman, S.B., Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2000). Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

    Olness, R. (2005). Using literature to enhance writing instruction. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

    Peralta-Nash, C., & Dutch, J. A. (April 2000). Literature circles: creating an environment for choice. Primary Voices K-6, 8 (4), 29-37.