"Hey, want to play the ship game?"
Three 8-year-old girls bound up onto the pile of rocks on the playground.
"This is going to be my cabin, and yours is over there."
"Who's going to be the driver?"
"Let's ask Ben!"
"Ben, will you sit right there and drive our ship?"
Ben Loder grins and sits down on a rock, steering an imaginary wheel with one hand and shading his eyes with the other. The girls collaborate on a narrative about their adventures at sea, leaping down into the imaginary foam to vanquish an imaginary villain and then scaling the rock again. Across the playground, a girl and a boy toss a football back and forth, performing dramatic aerial catches and laughing when they miss their mark.
Inside, small groups of children are following other interests: experimenting with color combinations in their spin-art paintings, dealing out cards for a strategy game, or building with K'Nex.
Children's needs in the after-school hours can be quite different from day to day, and even hour to hour. Sometimes they need to run as fast as they can across the field, and sometimes they want to curl up on the sofa with a book. Sometimes a cooking project sounds great, or maybe a science experiment. Our elementary after-school program is designed to meet children's individual needs in a healthy and balanced way.
We have two teachers with each group so that children can be in more than one area and pursue more than one interest. Teachers plan projects and provide materials for the children to work with, but children have the freedom to choose another activity, if they wish, as long as it is safe and constructive. Even children as old as 9 or 10, teetering on the edge of adolescence, still want to make up their own games and act out stories of their own devising. They don't know it, but they are practicing essential life skills: creative problem-solving, collaborative planning, give-and-take, active listening, and being a good friend.
Mix this with time to run and play in the fresh air, quiet time in the homework room to practice those spelling words, making their own pasta sauce with tomatoes from the garden, running their fingers over a topographical map to trace the line of the Rocky Mountains and building a robot from recycled cereal boxes. It all adds up to a happy, healthy afternoon.
On a day when school is closed, we have time to delve deeper into projects and ideas. We can take a walk in the woods to look for animal tracks, take a STEAM challenge together, write a new song, plan an activity to share with younger buddies or cook up our own holiday feast. The elementary child-care team is on when everyone else is off, and they make WMS a great place for kids from dawn to dusk.