Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Out-of-School Time Services (PA-OST) 9: Programming and Activities

Program activities and instruction are designed to help children and youth explore interests, build skills, and experience success.
2020 Edition




Children and youth who participate in Out-of-School Time programs gain the personal, social, emotional, and educational assets needed to support healthy development, increase well-being, and facilitate a successful transition through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood.
Note: Different types of activities will be offered depending on the goals of the program and the ages and interests of program participants, but the expectations addressed in this core concept will typically apply regardless of the type of programming provided. See PA-OST 10 through PA-OST 15 for more information regarding expectations for specific types of activities. When programming does not fall within a category addressed in those core concepts, it will be covered only by the generally-applicable standards included in this core concept.
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions: exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement.
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented. 
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.

Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  

  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.  
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner.  
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.  
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed service delivery infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Sample programming/activity plans for each type of activity offered
  • Policy for serving children and youth with special needs
  • Procedures for serving children and youth with special needs
  • Policy regarding the use of technology
  • Curricula for previous six months
  • Programming/activity plans for previous six months
  • Daily schedules for past month
  • Documentation demonstrating that children and youth have been involved in developing/evaluating activities and initiatives
  • Training curricula and/or information on internet safety provided to children, youth, and personnel, if applicable
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Children, youth, and families
  • Review files of children and youth (e.g., regarding accommodations for special needs, and permission slips)
  • Observe program site and activities


PA-OST 9.01

Children and youth are engaged in activities that are: 
  1. designed to build specific skills and foster the development of positive interests;
  2. based on a curriculum that matches program goals; and
  3. guided by plans that address both the substance and logistics of activities (including learning goals, preparation, timing and transitions, materials, outcomes to look for, and strategies for accommodating the needs of children and youth with differing skills and abilities).


Agencies have the flexibility to determine the type and nature of the curricula they use, and are not required to utilize commercially-developed curricula. However, if staff are responsible for developing the curricula they should have the expertise and paid time they need to do so, as per PA-OST 2.
Examples: The skills to be developed will typically relate to both activity content (e.g., arts, health, literacy) and the interdisciplinary skills that are relevant across content areas, such as skills related to critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Out-of-school time programs offer an excellent opportunity to help children and youth develop these “21st century skills” that are so crucial to meeting the demands and challenges of today’s world. It is also important to note that helping children and youth learn to regulate their emotions and behavior, empathize with others, and strengthen their interpersonal skills, as addressed in PA-OST 5, will underlie and support their ability to develop these skills.


PA-OST 9.02

Personnel provide formal or informal instruction that: 
  1. helps children and youth understand the goals to be accomplished;
  2. includes models for children and youth to emulate; and
  3. clearly conveys information and directions related to the activity, including the time available for different tasks and any specific steps to be followed, as applicable.


When youth are the drivers of a project this standard may be implemented through a collaborative process that involves personnel and youth working together as partners.
Examples: Children and youth may need models related to both content topics and social-emotional skills, but the type of modeling provided may vary based upon the nature of the activities offered. For example, if youth are engaged in building a robot they might benefit from seeing: (1) the specific technology-related skills needed to build different components of the robot; (2) examples of both robot components and a completed robot; and (3) the self-regulatory skills that enable one to persist through challenging work. In contrast, personnel moderating a different type of activity might model different ways to use specific tools and how to cope with frustrations, but might not provide an example of a finished product so as not to constrain imagination and originality. In addition to conveying directions orally, it may often make sense for personnel to also write down instructions so that children and youth can remember what to do.


PA-OST 9.03

Programming is designed to meet the developmental needs of the children and youth the program is designed to serve.


Please note that this standard is intended to address the developmental needs of the general population the program is designed to serve (e.g., kindergarteners, middle schoolers, high schoolers), as opposed to the specific needs of individual children and youth. While the practices addressed in this core concept are important for children and youth of all ages, it is also important to consider the ages/developmental needs of children and youth when implementing these practices.
Examples: Programming can be designed to meet the developmental needs of older youth by, for example, providing opportunities to: (1) have extended interactions with peers, as addressed in PA-OST 5.04 and PA-OST 9.11; (2) make increasingly meaningful choices, as addressed in PA-OST 9.10 and PA-OST 9.17; (3) develop leadership skills, as addressed in PA-OST 9.10; (4) engage in increasingly complex forms of critical thinking and problem solving, as addressed in PA-OST 9.08; (5) provide input regarding program design and implementation, as addressed in PA-OST 9.17; and (6) gain exposure to the new ideas, people, and places that can help them explore their identities and possibilities for the future, as addressed in PA-OST 9.04 and PA-OST 9.15. Older youth may also be better served by programs offering an in-depth focus on a specific area of interest, rather than programs that provide a variety of different activity options (such as those more common for younger children).


PA-OST 9.04

The agency provides activities that: 
  1. engage children and youth in active learning experiences that facilitate learning by doing;
  2. reflect and support the interests, experiences, and cultures of children and youth;
  3. offer exposure to new ideas, people, and places;
  4. encourage creativity and innovation; and
  5. build upon one another to facilitate a step-by-step approach to learning, when possible.


Regarding element (e) of the standard, COA recognizes that it can be challenging to provide activities that build on each other in a sequential manner if daily attendance is not required. Accordingly, agencies that permit sporadic attendance should provide stand-alone activities, but ensure that the activities are thematically connected so that children and youth are exposed to related concepts over time.


PA-OST 9.05

Activities allow sufficient time for both guided and individual practice and skill building, and personnel: 
  1. have high expectations regarding what children and youth can accomplish;
  2. emphasize that learning is a process;
  3. encourage children and youth to try new skills and activities and persist through difficulties;
  4. reframe “failure” as an opportunity for learning and improvement; and
  5. emphasize that success is the result of hard work rather than innate ability.


PA-OST 9.06

Balancing respect for children and youth’s autonomy with the need to provide adequate support, personnel: 
  1. utilize questioning techniques designed to encourage independent thinking and dialogue;
  2. check in to assess understanding, needs, and progress and monitor the level of difficulty presented;
  3. provide balanced and realistic feedback designed to promote improvement;
  4. offer encouragement, assistance, and coaching to support and extend participation and learning, as needed and without taking control; and
  5. vary the approaches used to engage and support children and youth based on their differing personalities, temperaments, learning styles, needs, and abilities.
Examples: Personnel may provide support while respecting autonomy by, for example, asking open-ended questions designed to prompt deeper thinking; showing children and youth how and where to find answers to their questions; demonstrating how complex skills can be broken into smaller steps; and offering suggestions when children and youth face problems they cannot solve by themselves. Personnel may also use a variety of strategies to accommodate diverse needs and abilities, such as substituting equipment if children have difficulty with motor skills.


PA-OST 9.07

When children and youth have special needs, the agency:  
  1. makes reasonable, respectful accommodations to help them fully participate in the program;
  2. encourages collaboration among personnel, families, and other involved providers to promote consistency in meeting needs; and
  3. ensures they are grouped with peers of the same age range, even if their documented developmental level is different from their chronological age.


Agencies must make reasonable accommodations to their policies, procedures, and practices to support the participation of children and youth with disabilities. Accordingly, when children and youth have special needs agencies should: (1) partner with parents and other involved providers; (2) develop plans for accommodating needs; (3) implement identified accommodations; and (4) adjust plans and accommodations, as needed.
Examples: Appropriate accommodations can include, for example, modifying the physical environment, training personnel to meet needs, or partnering with specialists who can provide guidance or assist children with certain activities.
Note: See PA-OST 6 for more information about responding to special behavioral needs, and PA-OST 18 for more information about responding to special health needs.


PA-OST 9.08

Activities provide opportunities for children and youth to: 
  1. think deeply about different topics;
  2. synthesize and analyze information;
  3. discover patterns and relationships; and
  4. solve problems.


PA-OST 9.09

Activities provide opportunities for children and youth to: 
  1. communicate their thoughts and ideas; and
  2. contribute to dialogue and discussion.
Examples: While it is important that children and youth learn to share their ideas and contribute to discussions, some children (i.e. introverted children) may find it harder than others to speak up, and may benefit if personnel employ different strategies to help them. For example, when facilitating a group discussion personnel might give children time to process and compose their thoughts before asking them to share, rather than posing a question and then calling on the children who immediately raise their hands to respond. Personnel might also provide opportunities for children to share their thoughts and ideas in writing rather than orally.


PA-OST 9.10

Children and youth have opportunities to: 
  1. make meaningful choices and decisions; and
  2. assume an appropriate level of responsibility and leadership.
Examples: What constitutes a “meaningful choice” and “an appropriate level of responsibility and leadership” may vary based on the ages and developmental levels of children and youth. Meaningful choice for younger children may include having opportunities to choose among different activities, including selecting what they will do, how they will do it, and with whom. In contrast, older youth may participate in more focused programming and make choices and decisions within the context of one particular activity or project (e.g., deciding the focus of a project, deciding topics within a subject area, deciding group roles, or deciding how to present results). Similarly, while younger children may be responsible for fulfilling daily jobs (e.g., passing out materials, cleaning up activities, or serving food), older youth may assume more significant responsibilities, such as organizing or leading activities.

The needs of individual children and youth may also be relevant to consider. For example, an introverted child might be hesitant to take on a leadership role just for the sake of being a leader, but might be motivated to do so in order to accomplish a goal he is passionate about, and a child with a disability might be able to lead an activity for 15 minutes, but then need a five minute break.


PA-OST 9.11

Children and youth have opportunities to work together to achieve shared goals, and personnel facilitate successful collaboration by: 
  1. helping children and youth develop skills that support cooperative work;
  2. considering age, developmental level, and skill level when creating groups;
  3. establishing expectations for group norms and participation;
  4. utilizing collaborative learning structures designed to help all children and youth engage, participate, and learn, regardless of their temperaments, needs, or abilities;
  5. monitoring group activity, and providing feedback and assistance as needed; and
  6. encouraging group members to reflect on group functioning.
Examples: Skills needed to facilitate cooperative work include the interpersonal skills addressed in PA-OST 5.07, including treating others with equity and respect; understanding social norms and cues; listening actively and deeply, without interrupting; effectively conveying one’s point of view; and resolving conflicts and disagreements. Helping youth to develop empathy and self-regulatory skills, as addressed in PA-OST 5.05 and PA-OST 5.06, can also support their ability to collaborate successfully with others.


PA-OST 9.12

Children and youth have opportunities to participate in ongoing activities or projects that: 
  1. involve multiple steps and take place over time;
  2. include an in-depth focus on a particular topic or issue;
  3. enable children and youth to take an active role in setting goals, developing and implementing plans to achieve those goals, and modifying plans and goals, as needed; and
  4. culminate in a presentation or celebration that highlights the accomplishments of children and youth.
NA The agency does not require regular attendance and thus cannot engage children and youth in ongoing activities or projects.
Examples: The length of projects may vary, especially based on the ages and developmental levels of participating children and youth. Older youth will typically be able to engage in projects that are longer and more complex. Children and youth will ideally also play a role in deciding the focus of projects, though this may vary based on their ages and developmental levels, as well as the nature and design of the program.


PA-OST 9.13

Children and youth have opportunities to participate in projects or activities that are designed to encourage civic engagement and foster a generosity of spirit.
Examples: Implementation of this standard may overlap with PA-OST 8.04, regarding opportunities for children and youth to become involved with their communities (e.g., through community service or service learning projects). However, agencies can also foster civic engagement and generosity of spirit in other ways. For example, an agency might expand students’ understanding of civic engagement and citizenship through social studies, and might foster a generosity of spirit by supporting children and youth in reflecting upon how they treat others.


PA-OST 9.14

The agency maximizes opportunities to integrate content across topics and activity types.
Examples: Some agencies may run programs that are explicitly designed to integrate content across topics and activity types. For example, programs utilizing a STEAM approach will integrate the arts into science, technology, engineering, and math, and STREAM programs will integrate reading into science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Other agencies might implement this standard by, for example, establishing overarching themes that encompass the variety of activities provided, developing essential questions that are relevant across activity types, or conducting curriculum mapping to identify areas where there are opportunities to connect and integrate activity content.


PA-OST 9.15

Personnel support children and youth in processing and reflecting on their learning and progress by: 
  1. providing intentional opportunities for them to express and evaluate their thoughts and feelings about their learning and experiences at the program;
  2. encouraging them to assess their own strengths and progress and set goals for improvement;
  3. helping them make connections between their learning and experiences at the program and outside knowledge, interests, experiences, and goals; and
  4. providing input and perspective to help them interpret and reevaluate their experiences, as needed.
Examples: It may be valuable to provide opportunities for both individual and group processing and reflection.


PA-OST 9.16

Individual and group progress and accomplishments are recognized and celebrated both: 
  1. on an ongoing basis, throughout the course of children and youth’s involvement with the program; and
  2. through opportunities to showcase the completed work and achievements of children and youth.
Examples: Ongoing recognition may occur within the context of the feedback and processing addressed in OST 9.05 and OST 9.15.


PA-OST 9.17

In order to ensure that programming reflects the needs and interests of program participants, children and youth are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas regarding program activities, and are involved in developing and evaluating activities and initiatives.
Examples: The extent and nature of children and youths’ involvement may vary based on their ages and developmental levels. For example, while an agency serving younger children may informally assess their needs and interests, older children and youth may complete surveys and/or sit on planning committees. Older youth may also be able to play a larger role in determining the focus of projects and activities.

The needs of individual children and youth may also be relevant to consider when seeking input and involvement. For example, quiet or introverted children may be hesitant to share their thoughts without having time to prepare them, or may be more comfortable sharing their ideas privately or in writing. Similarly, children with disabilities or other special needs may require particular accommodations in order to effectively share their ideas and participate in planning or evaluating activities.


PA-OST 9.18

The agency develops and implements a policy regarding the use of technology that: 
  1. addresses both program and personal devices;
  2. balances concerns regarding the importance of limiting “screen time” with any program goals that are dependent upon the use of technology (e.g., STEM programming);
  3. ensures safety measures are in place when internet access is offered, including safety training and controls that block access to inappropriate content; and
  4. takes into account any policies or procedures regarding technology usage that are in place at the program’s host, if applicable.
Note: As noted in PA-OST 18.04, screen time that is not academic or educational in nature should typically be limited to 30 minutes per day.

Fundamental Practice

PA-OST 9.19

When children and youth have opportunities to go on field trips or participate in high-risk activities, the agency obtains written, signed permission slips from their parents or legal guardians.