There are many features of out-of-school time environments that are SEL supportive. One such feature is the fostering of positive connections with our children and youth. Knowing that youth connectedness is a protective factor for thriving outcomes, as well as a strong SEL value of our field, it is a feature that we can and should continually address and assess.
Strong connections between children/youth and their caring adults leads to both positive short and long-term gains. Research shows that children and youth who have positive connections have greater likelihoods of achievement and lower likelihoods of engaging in risky behaviors, among many other positive correlating outcomes.
Positive connections:
  • build from trust and safety
  • require openness to being known and understood
  • contribute to the sense of self
  • add value to life
  • inspire esteem and independence
  • eventually create the ability and desire to think outside of one's self and to want to give and contribute to others
In this clip, "Making Sure Each Child is Known," from Edutopia, one middle school shows how they assess their student-teacher connections and discusses how they use the data they collect to inform their next steps with fostering connections with all their students:
When we recognize the key role and unique opportunity that out-of-school time environments play for children/youth in relationship building, it becomes clear that we, too, think about ways we can asses our programs for our connection practices, looking for our strengths and areas of need.
Consider how your program may assess it’s connection practices:
  • How might youth voice play a role in this assessment process? 
  • Do the youth report the same connectedness with their caring adults that the caring adults think they have with the youth?
For more information on the importance of connections for children and youth, read “Social Connections in Youth” from the University of Minnesota Extension. Go to:
Knowing our youth more deeply is one positive gain from intentionally setting about to foster strong connections with all youth in our programs. There are a variety of connection practices that we can use to foster strong connections. From assuring that every child has been engaged in positive greetings and valedictions upon arrival and departure, to intentionally creating opportunities to learn about each of them individually, the variety of practices implemented can help us connect with youth in ways that meet their varying needs as individuals. 
Consider the following sample “Connection Check” items: 
If you were going to assess the connections made between the caring adult(s) and the children/youth using this tool, what types of activities would you like to be implementing to help you be able to check of as many boxes as possible? Here is one getting to know you/connection practice that many adults who work with children have found helpful:
"I Wish My Teacher/Caring Adult Knew..."
Teacher Asks Young Students to Finish Sentence
Consider how you might ask the question, “I Wish My Teacher/Caring Adult Knew…” in your program!
This guide seeks to support afterschool programs with the development of policies that seek to include all children and youth. Research shows many positive outcomes from participation in afterschool programs that intentionally address growth in personal and social skills.
Social and Emotional Learning takes place in all contexts that children and youth participate: their homes, schools, out-of-school time environments, and communities. The field of afterschool’s commitment to Social and Emotional Learning can make a profound difference in the lives of the young people served, and in the adults who guide them.
Abigail J. Blodgett, NH ASMP & ECMP
Social and Emotional Learning Project Coordinator
ACROSS NH, a project of SERESC
165 South River Road, Unit F
Bedford, NH 03110
Art by Mercy, 12 years old
ACROSS NH is a project of the Southeastern Regional Education Service Center (SERESC) and is funded by the Bureau of Child Development and Head Start Collaboration. Our goal is to provide statewide technical assistance and professional development opportunities to afterschool providers to support their work in creating high quality, innovative programs for schoolage children.