By: Sam Piha
When I managed afterschool programs in the SF Bay area, we learned that many of the kids we served had never been on the bay, seen the ocean, planted a seed and experienced it grow into a real plant, walked in a forest or camped outside overnight. Many had never been beyond their neighborhood, owned a swimsuit or knew how to swim. Was this an equity issue? Yes.
In response, we conducted nature outings, camping trips, and swimming lessons. We even purchased swimsuits for those that didn’t have them. Because one of our lead agencies was the YMCA, we had resources for this. But every afterschool program can contribute by incorporating nature into their program.
Recent studies focus not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places. - Richard Louv
In two previous blog posts, we reviewed the power of nature in afterschool programs. Richard Louv, author and Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network, has written a lot about the intersection between access to nature and development. He was recently interviewed by the Greater Good Science Center. We share an excerpt and link to the full interview below.
Q: How will this trend impact pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in kids?
RL: If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?
Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world. What happens if that personal experience virtually disappears?
Q: Are there particular kinds of experiences in nature that seem to have the most impact on kids?
RL: The quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience with nature is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy? These types of activities can help kids learn to have confidence in themselves and power to make independent decisions.
One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development. Without independent play, the critical cognitive skill called executive function is at risk. Executive function is a complex process, but at its core is the ability to exert self-control, to control and direct emotion and behavior. Children develop executive function in large part through make-believe play. The function is aptly named: When you make up your own world, you’re the executive. A child’s executive function, as it turns out, is a better predictor of success in school than IQ.
See full interview here.
Richard also gave us permission to share some of his interview with youth development guru, Karen Pittman.
RL: Did you have experiences in nature that helped form who you are today? As a child or an adult?
KP: I grew up in a working class, urban neighborhood in a family that emphasized the value of sending children outdoors to play. We did not, however, do any organized outdoor activities beyond family picnics. So it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized that you could walk the length of Washington D.C. through Rock Creek Park, or stand on the waterfront of the Potomac River. Learning this was liberating. To this day, I seek nature to calm, inspire, reflect, and marvel at the intricacy of life.
RL: How does a lack of access to nature factor into the challenges that youth face?
KP: The Chicago Consortium for School Research defines successful young adults as those who have an integrated identity, a sense of agency, and a range of competencies. Getting to these end states requires young people to have access to safe, supportive, relationship-rich opportunities to act and reflect while being challenged to learn and master new things.
Nature is an ideal setting for young people to learn new content, try new things, apply their skills in different ways and fail safely. Nature is a new environment for many young people – one that they haven’t explored. One of the challenges many young people face is that they don’t have comfortable opportunities to be in a group of young people in which they won’t be immediately judged for what they don’t know.
We learned, at High Scope Camp, the importance of challenging groups to learn and do things that none, or few, youth had done (e.g. folk dancing). These are “clean slate” learning opportunities in which some will shine, some will struggle, but it is not clear who will fall into which camp. Beyond exploration, nature also provides young people with ample opportunities to have a sense of agency, to achieve mastery and to flesh out and expand their sense of identity.
RL: Can you share any stories about the benefits of nature for opportunity youth?
KP: I believe that there are studies on the importance of programs like the Fresh Air Fund. But I’ll quickly share a High Scope story. The camp was billed as an educational camp for teenagers. Their jobs, for about 4 hours a day, were to participate in one or two short exploratory classes and longer workshop experience that culminated in a product or presentation. The setting for all of this learning, however, was several hundred acres that included trails, a small lake, and a working farm. In addition, all youth participated in overnight camping or canoeing trips. These were powerful experiences for all of the young people.
But for young people from more distressed communities or stressful situations, the main impact was that they had the experience of learning that nature can be a safe place. One that, unlike their communities, has challenges that you can predict and prepare for. Then, as noted, the second important learning for these young people is that they could become leaders in a broader learning setting in which academics is not the main measure of success.
See full interview here.
There are many resources and articles on development and nature as well as program ideas. Many can be found by doing a web search of “nature and children”. There are also resources listed in the full interviews cited above. We also urge readers to take a look at the Children & Nature website.
Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book, "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.
Karen J. Pittman is president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan “action tank” that combines thought leadership on youth development, youth policy, cross-system/cross-sector partnerships and developmental youth practice with on-the-ground training, technical assistance and support. Karen is a respected sociologist and leader in youth development. Prior to co-founding the Forum in 1998, she launched adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives at the Children’s Defense Fund, started the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, and served as senior vice president at the International Youth Foundation. Karen was involved in the founding of America’s Promise and directed the President’s Crime Prevention Council during the William Clinton administration.
By Sam Piha
We are committed to speaking out on the youth impacts of immigration policies, sustained funding for afterschool, access to mindfulness training and playful learning opportunities afterschool. Below, we offer some additional resources on these topics.
IMMIGRATION AND TERROR
In the wake of the horrible tragedy in El Paso, Texas, and the ICE raids in Mississippi that have come crashing down on a nation already awash in rising racial tension and vilification of immigrant families, we…are now more than ever focused on being a safe harbor for all of our children and families. -Denver School Superintendent Susana Cordova (Cordova’s full statement is available in several languages.)
We do know that some school districts have addressed these issues regarding immigrant youth. But what about afterschool programs? According to the Afterschool Alliance, “In communities across the country, anxiety and concern are growing among immigrant children and families in response to new immigration policies and efforts currently underway. Afterschool programs can play an important role in creating a safe and welcoming environment for immigrant students and families and cultivating a sense of belonging and overall wellbeing.” The Afterschool Alliance hosted a webinar with speakers from the National Immigration Law Center and Legal Services for Children.
The Alliance is also in conversations with the American Constitutional Society for Law & Policy on hosting another webinar next month on the topic of the ICE raids. We will share more information once we know more.
FUTURE SUPPORT FOR AFTERSCHOOL
We know that funding for afterschool is not guaranteed. Thus, it is important that we advocate every year. One way is participation in the yearly Lights On Afterschool events.
Join more than 8,000 communities and 1 million Americans in celebrating afterschool programs for this year's Lights On Afterschool! This nationwide event, organized by the Afterschool Alliance, calls attention to the importance of afterschool programs and the resources required to keep the lights on and the doors open. To learn more about Lights On Afterschool, register an event, access event planning tools, or to find out what’s going on in your area, visit afterschoolalliance.org. -Youth Service America
Why not invite a policymaker to visit your program? By engaging them, you begin to build a relationship and educate them about the importance of your program and the issues that matter to you.
Check out Youth Service America’s site on GYSD Advocacy / Public Official Engagement Tools. This page will help you engage public leaders. Voices for National Service has tips for Hosting a Successful Site Visit. The Afterschool Alliance outlines five simple steps to set up a site visit and also provides these three case studies.
Too often we have avoided the “F” word, FUN, in afterschool programs. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) dedicated an issue of Afterschool Today to playful learning. In 2019, The Genius of Play spread its message to afterschool professionals and parents through a new partnership with NAA.
For years we have been promoting the value of teaching mindfulness. We thought you might enjoy this brief radio interview with a school volunteer that teaches mindfulness to young people in an Oakland school.
By Sam Piha
Daniel Summerhill is an Oakland native and a poet, spoken word artist and college professor. He recently led a ten-week writing workshop for young black men in Oakland which explored what it means to be young and black in today’s day and age. A collection of their work from that workshop was recently published in the new book Black Joy: An Anthology of Black Boy Poems.
I first heard Daniel Summerhill interviewed on KALW radio. Listen here. You can also view some of Daniel’s spoken word/poetry on his YouTube channel.
We thought that Daniel could help us in better understanding the intersection of equity and literacy. This post includes his responses to our interview questions.
Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it.
Q: There are many people that believe that young people of color and those from low-income communities are not interested in writing or reading. Do you think this is a result of a “bias” issue? Would you also include this in a discussion of equity?
A: Absolutely. That notion is simply not true. In my experience as both a product of a low-income upbringing and my time teaching, I have found that young folks of color don’t have access to a catalog of genres/titles. Just as there is no one size fits all model for pedagogy, there is no one size fits all model for reading and writing. I wasn’t exposed to Shakespeare as a child, and honestly, I don’t know that I would have been interested if I had been. I was much more interested in Hip Hop Culture because that’s what I related to.
Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it. That is what I discovered once I reached high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like to read, it was that I didn’t like to read things that made me feel “othered" or “separate” or “inferior.” It is all about finding what piece of reading interests you. The writing comes naturally after you find the right book.
Q: How did you get involved in writing? Was there an adult that encouraged you?
A: I began writing in middle school. The first person who served as a catalyst for the poetry already inside me was my oldest sister, Tenesha Smith. She is a poet as well. When I was just 12 years old, I found a journal of poems she had written while she was in high school. All it took was for me to recognize what words were capable of. In particular, she wrote a poem called Wishing Upon a 747. In the hood, stars aren’t visible, so her poem, a play on the Wishing on a Star idiom, showed me that I could also use my culture and my discourse to share that story, that vantage point.
Once I got to High School, I had an English teacher named Mr. Ross. We did a unit on poetry. We wrote poems and then we shared them with the class, mine was received well. The next day after class, he pulled me to the side, bought me a brand-new journal, and wrote in it: “so much talent, never waste it.” Til this day, I still have that journal and I have been looking for Mr. Ross to let him know the effect that day had on my career.
Q: Was there a time or event that got you interested in reading? Was there an adult that encouraged you?
A: During the same time Mr. Ross bought my journal, he also bought me my first book. It was called The White Boy Shuffle, by Paul Beatty. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to any young person (high School). Him buying me a book based on what he knew about me helped me realize that there was a world of writing separate from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies.
When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.
Q: We have found that young people greatly enjoy reading, being read to, and express themselves through writing be it through journaling or poetry/spoken word. Can you comment?
A: Human beings by nature are empathic. We want to connect and to be understood and heard. For a young person, this is true even more as they are discovering their voice. It is up to adults to provide a scaffold or framework in which they can discover their voice. Poetry, reading, writing is a multifunctional way to accomplish this. Not only are they improving their literacy skills, but they are also learning how to critically think, how to articulate, how to convey information, how to rebel, how to advocate, and how to safely release emotions. All it takes is encouragement, a pen and a paper. Poetry in particular, is universally economical that way.
Q: Can you provide any advice on how to engage young people in out-of-school in reading or writing, especially those who are turned off by school?
A: If a student is turned off by school, it usually isn’t the student’s fault. It is because adults haven’t found the right method/environment of teaching for that young person. As we all know, there are a slew of different pedagogical methods, and many ways kids learn. Again, human beings are wired to learn. Whether it be in a classroom or in the streets, learning is inevitable. The key to fostering a safe and successful environment is discovering the student’s interest and the ways that they learn. This goes for outside of school as well. “What activity can you engage them in that will aid in their development?” is the question you should ask.
Q: We have found that older youth enjoy books that are read aloud- something rarely done in after school programs. Do you have book recommendations for young people of color?
A: Chike and the River, Everyday Use by Alice Walker and One Friday Morning by Langston Hughes. Also, check out some poetry collections. They are awesome to read out loud. Some good ones are Joshua Bennett’s’ The Sobbing School and Dreaming in Kreyol by Danielle Collins.
Q: Do you have any book recommendations that young people may enjoy reading alone?
A: It is sometimes challenging for young people of color to retain information when it comes to narrative. I have used short stories to combat this. Lost in the City, a collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones is a brilliant collection to tap into. Best of all, it is a collection of short stories through the lenses of young people. All American Boys is another favorite of mine, by a good friend Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. Anything by Chinua Achebe.
Hailing from Oakland, CA, Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.
Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association.
By Sam Piha
As our young people are returning to classrooms and afterschool programs, our country is gripped by confusion, fear, and anger that is a result of hate speech, mass shootings and deportations. This is particularly true for communities of color and other marginalized groups. It is important that afterschool program leaders think about how they will respond and support their young people in light of this crisis.
My family is documented and we’re residents, but regardless of that fact, we’re just scared. We’re afraid that something can go down. Personally, I didn’t want to go to school. Anywhere I go, I feel threatened.
The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence (AzCASE) offers the following tips for afterschool providers:
We would add that it is important for program participants have a regular opportunity, such as a sharing circle, for young people to express their thoughts and concerns - not just when there is a local or national crisis.
It is important that adults and youth do not fall into hopelessness. To avoid this, it is suggested that we find ways to take action for change. Below are some leading organizations, assembled by Youth Service America, that will help you take action:
• March for Our Lives
• Everytown for Gun Safety
• Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence
• The Brady Campaign
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO ICE RAIDS?
We are currently researching how expanded learning programs should respond to ICE raids that impact their participants. We do know that some school districts have addressed this and if your program is school-based, you should seek advice from your school district host. Below are some recommendations from Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), who developed a 10-step guide to help schools and educators support children affected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids:
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.