Afterschool Focus: Social Studies in Afterschool—Raising the Next Generation of Citizens through 21st CCLC Programs

The social sciences are important but often-overlooked subjects in both school and afterschool. They include content areas such as civics, economics, geography, and history, with inquiry skills like constructing questions, gathering information and evaluating sources, communicating conclusions, and taking action integrated into the content areas.

This combination of content knowledge and inquiry skills helps students “explore the relationship between individuals and society, from friends and family to global networks.”1 Applications include knowledge of what drives economic growth and unemployment, how and why people vote, and how we interact with different institutions like the legal system, social services, our communities, and schools.

Within social studies, civic engagement, or working to make a difference in one’s community, state, or the world, is an area of focus for both the Illinois State Board of Education and the afterschool community.2 Through civic engagement, youth develop the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to bring about change in their world. Student civic engagement has been linked to positive short-term outcomes like improved academic achievement and behavior, as well as greater connection to community and overall wellbeing.3 Youth who are civically engaged are likely to remain engaged as adults. They are also less likely to be arrested and experience higher educational achievement, income level, and satisfaction with their lives.4

Despite the importance of civic engagement, there are often disparities along lines of income level, race, and ethnicity. These disparities are often the result of barriers to civic participation. Studies found that youth of color and from low-income families were less likely to have educational opportunities to learn about how laws are made, participate in service activities, or have the opportunity to participate in debates or panel discussions. Barriers to civic engagement also affect voting. After the 2016 election, for example, youth of color cited trouble locating and lack of transportation to polling places and problems with voter identification laws as reasons for not voting at higher rates than their white counterparts.5

Curricular priorities and time constraints can also impact students’ opportunities for civic education and social studies in general. Because accountability and assessment focus on English language arts, math, and science, educators often do not dedicate the same amount of instructional time to social studies. Similarly, it is tempting for afterschool professionals to think they do not have time to provide social studies enrichment; however, when 21st CCLC programs have strong community connections and offer opportunities for student leadership, they can foster social studies learning, civic engagement, and inquiry skills that can help students navigate civic life. Below are some strategies to increase social studies enrichment in your afterschool program. 

Next Steps for Afterschool Programs

Illinois Social Science Standards6

Illinois social science standards were adopted in 2016 and implemented in the 2017–18 school year. Grade level themes, recognizing emphasis on English and math in the classroom, mean that teachers often address time constraints by teaching thematic units.

Social Science K–12 Inquiry Skills

Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

  • Constructing Essential Questions
  • Constructing Supporting Questions
  • Determining Helpful Sources

Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence

  • Gathering and Evaluating Sources
  • Developing Claims and Using Evidence

Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action

  • Communicating Conclusions
  • Critiquing Conclusions
  • Taking Informed Action

Social Science K–12 Disciplinary Concepts

Economic and Financial Literacy

Elementary Themes

Recognizing that elementary teachers often introduce social studies content through thematic lessons, the Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force developed elementary social science standards on themes and aligned them with disciplinary concepts. 

Themes by Grade Level

  • Kindergarten: My Social World
  • First Grade: Living, Learning, and Working Together
  • Second Grade: Families, Neighborhoods, and Communities
  • Third Grade: Communities Near and Far
  • Fourth Grade: Our State, Our Nation
  • Fifth Grade: Our Nation, Our World 



Professional Learning

Social Studies Resources


Afterschool Alliance and Asia Society Center for Global Education. (2018, Nov.) Promoting civic engagement through afterschool programs. Issue Brief No. 73. Retrieved from

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. (2018). Why Youth Don’t Vote—Differences by Race and Education. Retrieved from

Chan, W.Y., Ou, S., & Reynolds, A. (2014). Adolescent civic engagement and adult outcomes: An examination among urban racial minorities. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 43, Issue 11. Retrieved from 

Davila, A. & Mora, M.T. (2007). Civic Engagement and high school academic progress: An analysis using NELS data. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Retrieved from

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (2017). Illinois social science standards. Retrieved from

Ludden, A.B. (2010). Engagement in school and community civic activities among rural adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 40, Issue 9. Retrieved from  

Society for Research in Child Development. (2018). Civic engagement in adolescence and young adulthood beneficial for adult development. Retrieved from (n.d.) Civic engagement. Retrieved from



1 ISBE, 2017.

2 ISBE, 2017;, n.d.; Afterschool Alliance and Asia Society Center for Global Education, 2018.

3 Ludden, 2010; Davila & Mora, 2007.

4 Chan, Ou, & Reynolds, 2014; Society for Research in Child Development, 2018.

5 The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2018.

6 ISBE, 2017.