Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State

NJSACC: The Network for New Jersey's Afterschool Communities encourages afterschool programs to take advantage of all that the Garden State has to offer and get their children outside to explore the flora and fauna, animals and landscapes of New Jersey.

About Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State:

Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State is an event in its third year that helps to bring children in afterschool programs outside and connect them with their communities through meaningful and fun activities throughout the year.

To get kids outdoors more, NJSACC has created a resource booklet for providers that list easy, inexpensive activities that can connect children with nature in categories like Trees and Leaves and Nature Art. There are lists of field trips and enrichment program resources for providers as well as nature fun facts and nature experiments that can be done in only a few minutes.

A highlight of Celebrate Afterschool! is a weeklong community celebration of children and nature. NJSACC asks Afterschool programs across the state spend the week of May 9-13, 2011 outside and reaching out to local leaders, businesses, families and friends to build support for high quality afterschool programs in New Jersey and doing nature based outdoor activities.

Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State Shines a Spotlight on Quality Afterschool

Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State is also a tool to build lasting public support for affordable, high-quality afterschool programs across New Jersey. Led by a public-private partnership, the events that Celebrate Afterschool help to build public awareness and support; offers guidance for parents, providers and advocates; strengthens relationships with policymakers, funders, and practitioners to share best practices.

Since the inception of Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State, providers are doing more activities that connect children with nature and many programs have signed on to Celebrate Afterschool! joining in the weeklong Celebration with activities in their communities.

NJSACC developed an Event Planning kit to guide afterschool programs on how to Celebrate Afterschool with a sample Press release and invitation letters for community leaders and celebration ideas.

The Benefits of Outdoor and Nature Play in Afterschool Programs

"In Afterschool, we have the children from 3:00 to 6:00 PM, prime time for outdoor play and we have a captive audience that we can explore the fascinating wonder of nature," says Diane Genco, Executive Director of NJSACC.

Afterschool programs expand children's connection with nature because quality programs bring children outside to play on a daily basis. Given more time than in-school recess, the lengthened outdoor play time during afterschool programs can promote exercise, expression and exploration. It doesn't matter if the program is in the city, country or suburb; when outside, children can benefit simply from the sunshine, fresh air, bright colors of nature and the fluffs of clouds.

Nature exploration and outdoor play benefit children in many ways, including promoting physical and cognitive development, promoting positive behavior and education. Nature play assists in developing children's visual-spatial skills, improves powers of observation and creativity and helps to improve concentration.

Celebrate Afterschool allows providers of afterschool programs to give their students a more nuanced afterschool experience at little to no cost. But the effect of Celebrate Afterschool is much broader than that.

"The activities and energy behind Celebrate afterschool strengthens afterschool programs, their programming and the expansion of activities they can offer their children. Programs enthusiastic participation has helped shine the spotlight on the need for Afterschool in every New Jersey Community"

"At this time of limited resources, this was a win-win to raise awareness of quality afterschool in our state. By not asking for dollars, we looked at ways to make low cost partnerships to utilize resources that were not being tapped into to. New Jersey has more outdoors than anything else."

Starting Steps for programs to Celebrate Afterschool! Outdoors in the Garden State:

  • Reach out. By simply contacting outdoor programs, other Afterschool providers, and more, you are making a connection. Building relationships is key to the success of Celebrate Afterschool and will only further your mission.
  • Ask questions. If you are unsure of all the outdoor activities possible in your area, ask! This kind of activity is extremely valuable to communities and building a sense of community pride. Go to your local college, state park department, Land Grant University, etc. and ask them for more information.
  • Network. Networking and social media as two excellent ways to get in touch with the right people and make things happen. Create a Facebook group or fan page, and see where it goes.

Contact Sarah Cruz for more information or support to implement activities or plan an event to highlight your program.

Also check out our blog: Full STEM Ahead (www.fullstemahead.org) for regular postings about programs getting kids outdoors for nature experiences, ideas and resources.