Afterschool programs are very convenient for parents and guardians who work or have other obligations after school lets out. However, most afterschool programs aren’t just babysitters anymore. Programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, engaging, and well-rounded, and studies have begun to show that their impact on the lives of students is real.
One way to look at the various effects of afterschool programs is to consider psychologist Abraham Maslow’s (1943) famous “hierarchy of needs.” This model describes a particular order of needs that must each be met before reaching higher levels of fulfillment. If we consider afterschool programs as services to meet needs and (hopefully!) bring fulfillment to children, we’d best start at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and work our way up.
At the most basic levels of physical needs and safety, afterschool programs deliver. A nationwide questionnaire conducted by the Afterschool Alliance (2014) showed that 80% of parents wanted afterschool programs to provide physical exercise, and over 70% demanded healthy snack options. The same questionnaire - dubbed “America After 3 pm” - showed that over 80% of parents were ultimately satisfied with these offerings. The same set of surveys showed that 83% of parents felt that their students’ afterschool programs were helping to keep them away from crime, drug use, and other risky behaviors .
Once participants’ most basic needs are met, they can begin to develop the next levels of fulfillment: self-esteem, belonging, and community. A 2007 review by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning examined requirements and outcomes of 73 afterschool programs (Durlak and Weissberg, 2007). They found that participating in high-quality afterschool programs can boost self-esteem and confidence.
Moving up on Maslow’s hierarchy, “cognitive needs” are next; afterschool programs have been shown to help here, too. The 2014 “America After 3pm” survey showed that afterschool programs lead to not only higher test scores, but increased attendance (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). Furthermore, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2008) reports that students who participated in “high-quality afterschool programs showed significant gains in math test scores” .
At the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy lie the ultimate goals of “self actualization” and “transcendence” -- two topics to which schoolchildren aren’t giving much thought. However, before they can reach these lofty goals, their more basic needs of safety, self-esteem, and cognition must be satisfied. Increasing evidence is clear: afterschool programs help support this important development in the students who attend them.
Afterschool Alliance. (2014). America After 3pm: Afterschool Programs in Demand. Retrieved 04 August 2016 from http://afterschoolalliance.org/AA3PM/.
Afterschool Programs Make a Difference: Findings from the Harvard Family Research Project. (2008, August). SEDL Letter, XX(2). Retrieved August 04, 2016, from http://www.sedl.org/pubs/sedl-letter/v20n02/afterschool_findings.html
Durlak, J. A., & Weissberg, R. P. (2007). The Impact of After-School Programs That Promote Personal and Social Skills. Retrieved 04 August 2016 from http://www.uwex.edu/ces/4h/afterschool/partnerships/documents/ASP-Full.pdf.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review 50 (4) 370–96