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The Youth Experiences in Science Project (YES) from 4-H

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Ronald Skeete

The Youth Experiences in Science Project (YES) is a useful set of activities for afterschool programs whose needs match the program format. The activities included in this collection cover a wide variety of engaging and fun subjects. The science is incorporated into activities that include disciplines not typically associated with science, such as song, dance, poetry, and visual arts. They make the opportunity to “do science” feel lively and fun. The program also uses a model that draws on teen mentors to lead the activities with younger participants. By teaching teen leaders how to share explorations of science, YES helps them develop self-confidence and communication skills. Serving as mentors or role models, these teachers inspire the younger kids to appreciate and enjoy science.
Full Review:
Science can be a challenging subject for an afterschool programs. Afterschool instructors may not feel confident in their ability to teach it and participating students have been “turned off” by the way science is taught during the regular school day so they may be unenthusiastic about doing it after school. Program leaders often worry about the challenge of finding the time to assemble the materials necessary to do hands-on science that will be interesting and fun for their students. What’s more, the supplies can be costly and hard to find. The Youth Experiences in Science Project (YES) meets these challenges head-on and helps program instructors, leaders and participants overcome any reservations by providing ideas that make the science activities fun. YES offers engaging subject matter using easy-to-find materials and combines the science content with multiple disciplines, including song, dance, poetry, visual arts.

A key component of this program is its suggestion that teens serve as the instructors. Although these materials are designed for children five to eight years of age, their impact is enhanced because these teen instructors not only lead activities, but also become role models for the younger participants. Experience shows that teens can relate to younger children in diverse ways and that their energy can be contagious. The younger participants can learn science content and benefit from their relationship with the teen instructors. This chemistry makes the learning seem fun and “cool” and may improve program participation and attendance.

The comprehensive set of materials in YES binders provides details about everything needed to make the program a success—from recruiting teens for the program to guidelines for training them to lead the classroom sessions themselves. While the large binder is a bit cumbersome (and would probably work better as three bound books), the materials are presented in a readable and logical format. The layout includes a large font and pictures and the topics have names like, Wee-Cyclo-Saur-Us. They are very age appropriate for its target audience of five- to eight-year-olds. The training modules enable the teens to transform into engaging learning leaders (although you may choose to modify the language in the teen orientation and training section to make it a bit more familiar to teens).

“The Snail Trails: The Adventures of Helix Aspersa” is a great start for science exploration. A peculiar looking specimen for this age range, the snail is strong enough for children to touch and slow enough to truly be observed. The creative ideas in this unit match fun, non-threatening activities with learning—always a success! The Helix Aspersa song and dance will be a big winner, while Snail Van Gogh will definitely keep the kids’ attention while giving them clear observations to discuss. The races will also provide an experience to remember. Most required materials could be obtained for free, including items participants can likely find at home with ease. Most teens will require little support to lead these activities.

The “Collection Connection” builds on children’s love of collecting various things, from buttons to stamps, but especially marbles. Again this unit is well organized and user friendly. It’s probably one of the best introductions to the scientific method I’ve ever seen. It incorporates many tangible fun collections such as buttons (everybody has them), coins (everyone enjoys counting money), rocks (turning the participants into young archaeologists), and M&Ms (you can’t go wrong with children and candy). This unit also stands out because the collections outlined all allow for a concise yet easy to understand explanation of the classification concept. At this key age, this these materials will hone the observation skills of any child.

The “Wee-Cyclo-Saur-Us” unit brings to life one of the most important practices of the 21st century recycling. These materials are not only creative, but also address deeper scientific meanings than many materials for kids of this age. Building on the observation and classification skills developed in earlier units, this unit links the concept of recycling to dinosaurs. Needless to say, this unit will be another hit with this age group. The supply lists and activity booklet provide a tremendous resource for the teen instructors, allowing them to be thoroughly prepared. The facts in the margins of this section will produce great conversations that will lead to further discovery. The piñata activity will get messy, but the children will enjoy it.

These materials will be a good resource for any afterschool program that serves kids aged five to eight and has access to teens that want to serve as little mentors. The materials can be led by adults, but would lose some of its originality and spunk. Materials for the activities are all easy to obtain and readily available (and can even be a way to involve parents in the program). It is critical to note that if you implement YES with teen instructors, the program instructor must be aware that she or he has the additional responsibility to supervise and support the teens to help them lead the activities well and in a way that addresses the needs of their younger charges.