Afterschool Focus: The Arts in Afterschool

“We don’t have time to offer arts activities.” We’ve all heard this statement, and some of us may have even said it ourselves. Instead of seeing art as something that takes time away from academic enrichment, try using the arts to reinforce it. You will likely find students to be enthusiastic participants in music, theater, and visual arts projects related to core content areas like English language arts, math, and science, and you will also be using research-based strategies that can help them learn.

The following ideas and suggestions come from SEDL’s Afterschool Training Toolkit for the Arts and related resources. Whether you are launching an arts program or simply need new ideas, we hope you will take some time to explore these resources.

What Research Says About the Arts in Afterschool

  • The arts develop the mind by giving it opportunities to learn to think in special ways.
  • The arts play an important social function in the expression of culture, past or present.
  • The arts have the potential to build self-confidence in ways that may increase students’ interest in other academic areas.
  • The skills learned through the arts are transferable to other areas of life.
  • The arts make us feel alive.

Principles of Quality Afterschool Arts

The most effective arts programs incorporate the following principles in their activities and work with students. These programs:

  • are intentional and standards based;
  • are age-appropriate and engage students’ interests;
  • develop skills and vocabulary;
  • are taught by trained staff or in partnership with an artist or arts organization;
  • make time and space available for sustained, real-world, hands-on work;
  • make connections to other subjects;
  • utilize a process of creating, presenting, and reflecting;
  • include public demonstrations of work that engage families and community;
  • are supported by ongoing planning, assessment, and resource development.

Putting Arts Programs into Action

Whether you already have an arts program in place or are just thinking about starting one, consider the following questions:

  • Who are our students?
  • What are they like?
  • What are they interested in?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • What resources and materials do we need?
  • What resources do we have in our community?
  • How can we collaborate or partner with local organizations to teach the arts?
  • How can we develop academic skills while addressing art-based goals?
  • How can we ensure students’ safety in arts activities?
  • What kind of short- or long-term outcomes do we want?
  • How will we measure those outcomes?
  • How do we provide for professional development to enhance teaching in the arts?

Step by Step

Begin by identifying students’ interests and potential activities. Then, determine who can lead these activities, whether it is a current staff member or a local artist. Make the most of local arts organizations and resources, from individual artists to museums and performance centers. Staff can learn from local artists or through professional development training; keep in mind local artists may need tips on classroom management.

Be sure to connect with school-day teachers to find out what skills students are learning, and how to build on them. Familiarize yourself with the National Standards for Arts Education, identify learning goals, and set short- and long-term program goals.

Finally, remember to measure your success. Keep a log of outcomes based on attendance, participation, parent and student responses, and student work.


National Center for Quality Afterschool at SEDL. (2008). Afterschool training toolkit. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from

Stiegelbauer, S. (2008). The arts and afterschool programs: A research synthesis. Austin, TX: SEDL. Retrieved from

The case for the arts in afterschool. (2008, July). Afterwords. Retrieved from