Darren Brisbane returns to Amplify with another practical, thoughtful post addressing a major pain-point in outside school hours care (OSHC): how do you keep senior students occupied? With a leap in his service’s senior student numbers this year, Darren’s team had to get creative.
2018 has been an interesting year for Sherpa Kids St Paul’s. This is our fourth year of operation, and a significant number of children who started with us when we opened are still attending in Years 5 and 6.
Until this year, only a handful of Year 6 students attended across different days, and each had a keen interest in completing the apparent mountains of homework they were given each week or engrossing themselves in a book or apps on their iPads to pass the time.
Upsized seniors students
But apart from more senior primary children staying on for OSHC this year, we also enrolled a family who have five out of their seven children in Year 5 and 6 and this completely threw out our expected dynamic.
For the first time, the only order and success that seemed to be occurring anywhere in the program came in our Kindergarten program [link], and it was increasingly difficult to keep the kindergarteners in any way separate from the seniors because of the overwhelming desire for them to ‘help’.
…even though it’s often not cool, and they will grumble all the way, senior students want and deserve attention and personal development too. Child-sized plan
We needed a new strategy. It was around this time that we remembered we had a child-sized Sherpa Kids uniform shirt, and so we dusted it off, called all the senior students together, and showed them the shirt. Immediately every child wanted to wear it, and so began the discussion as to who should wear it when and what responsibilities they should have.
The seniors ran that meeting and drew up a roster on their own. They referenced roll sheets and interviewed other children to find out who attended on what days, and presented me with a plan for a ‘Sherpa Intern’ that just needed a little tweaking.
For the rest of Term 1 we had a rotation of senior students taking the reins and experiencing a day in the life of an educator. They seemed to settle into their own routine – help set up the room, read the Acknowledgement of Country, serve food, and help run the Kindergarten program. This rotation program was heavily documented and we set the seniors up with their own Kinderloop access so that they could write about their experiences.
Still not meeting senior students’ needs
Although Term 1 was a huge success, I found that it was still lacking as a program. The seniors had found some purpose in coming to OSHC, but only one of them at a time was ever fully engaged and occupied.
At the end of the term I sat with them and discussed their successes. I reviewed the notes they had written in the logbook, and I watched back over video logs that each child had made after their ‘shift’.
It became clear to me that while it had been normal in years past to assume that senior students were old enough to just manage themselves after school, the truth was that they seriously wanted to engage with our program – we just weren’t doing anything to meet their needs.
Giving up my office
I immediately booked myself into some specialised training. It was an engaging workshop, and I couldn’t believe how plainly the answer to my concerns was staring me right in the face all that time.
I returned to the service with a vision in mind for how it would all turn out. We called a meeting with the senior students, and established two seniors-only spaces, one indoors and one outdoors. The outdoor space would be their primary meeting space, and the indoor space involved sacrificing my office but it’s been worth it! They surrender the room when I ask them to, but otherwise they use it to hang out and relax.
VIDEO Age-appropriate extensions
I immediately began to research group games for older students. The first game I ever played with them was a game of potato tag – similar to hot potato, except you have to catch the person you want to pass the potato to. When time runs out the person holding the potato is eliminated.
Everything occurred exactly as I was told it would in training. They engaged with the novelty of the game with the ferocity of young, energetic pre-teens. As soon as the activity was completed the adrenaline surge ended and all 20 of them moved to the indoor space and collapsed into the lounges and beanbags, where they had a quiet afternoon from that point on.
A wild ride
It has been a wild ride since then.
Every day the senior students’ program runs – and if our educator team hasn’t planned something there is hell to pay!
The program is a balance of physical activity to burn off energy, cognitive tasks to get the students working as a team, and ethical and environmental activities.
As much as they grumbled about having to sit through a presentation on recycling by a Camden Council representative, I’ve never seen a group of students in my care engage so fully and passionately with a subject. This has evolved to initiatives like the students returning reusable bags to Woolworths and initiating a Return and Earn program for the purposes of donating to charity.
To the educators out there who are really struggling with senior students in their before and after school care settings, I implore you to consider their needs. A life of its own
The most rewarding thing of all is that this program has grown its own wings. I have on multiple occasions been asked by the senior students to stay out of a plan that they were putting together because they wanted sole credit for the work. I am only too happy to oblige.
In the space of just a school term, this group has come together so powerfully that interpersonal issues we had in younger years have disappeared. Maybe they learned how to make friends, or perhaps realised that the stigma surrounding certain members of the group was all just hype.
The ripple effect of catering specifically to the oldest among our group has seen much better engagement from the Year 1 to 4 students as well, because the loudest and most demanding members of our student body are no longer with the young ones during program time.
To the educators out there who are really struggling with senior students in their before and after school care settings, I implore you to consider their needs.
Think back to when you were a kid – what did you like to do when you were their age? The world is a different place to what it was back then, but children are still children and even though it’s often not cool and they will grumble all the way, they want and deserve attention and personal development too.
This is your opportunity to influence what life in high school and beyond will look like for them. Make it count.
Meet the author
Darren Brisbane is the Operations Manager for the south western Sydney based franchise, Sherpa Kids Narellan.He has been an OSHC educator and director for 11 years, including various for-profit and not-for-profit services in Sydney’s inner west, Queanbeyan, and now south-western Sydney.Diploma trained (OSHC), and WHS qualified (diploma), Darren also worked for several years in the youth development industry with tall ships, navy cadets and scouts.