Keeping kids safe, helping working families and inspiring learning are all part of 4-H afterschool activities.

Missouri Afterschool Network

Missouri 4-H is directing the efforts of the Missouri Afterschool Network, developed as a statewide partnership to support and coordinate high-quality afterschool programs.

The network provides opportunities to strengthen, expand and improve the work already initiated in existing afterschool programs as well as provide the tools, assistance and models needed for the emergent programs throughout Missouri.

National 4-H Afterschool

The national initiative that provides learning opportunities to school age youth in urban, suburban and rural communities across America

A Missouri 4-H project to assist schools and other community organizations to start and enhance learning about and with computers in a recreational setting.

Resources for all levels


The project model

The project focuses on a non-formal, recreation model for afterschool computer labs. The primary purpose of the model is to create a supervised and supportive environment that encourages young people to play computer games that have positive educational content. The model encourages the sites to add educational value to the games with discussions and additional activities. The computer game strategy is based on the strong interest most young people have with computer games. The educational strategies are the standard 4-H pedagogy of experiential learning within a youth development framework.

The 4-H/DESE Afterschool Computer Lab (ASCL) was started as a partnership between the University of Missouri 4-H program, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE) and local schools. DESE provided grants to 4-H to recruit and assist schools to develop computer-based afterschool programs for elementary through junior high school youth. The project resources and design has been extended to other community-based organizations. Later, partnerships extended to afterschool programs and young people serving organizations implementing labs in low-income communities.

Scope of the initial project and evaluation

Participating sites

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education funded 4-H proposals to facilitate the start-up of 10 sites in 1998, 20 sites in 1999, and 20 sites in 2000. In addition to the 50 proposed sites, 37 additional afterschool computer lab sites were either started or enhanced. The total number of afterschool computer lab sites was 87 at the time the program evaluation was conducted. Sixty-five of the labs were located in schools and 22 were located in non-school programs such as public housing, community centers and Boys and Girls clubs. The 87 sites were in 51 school districts in 40 counties and the city of St. Louis.

Demonstration of a low resource model

The initial 4-H/DESE after school computer lab project was designed as a demonstration model and was not meant to address program sustainability. The project was intended to demonstrate to local 4-H faculty, schoolteachers, administrators and parents a basic, low resource model for afterschool computer labs. Each local site adapted the basic model to meet local resources and needs. Standard support for local sites included six hours of training, a resource notebook, a set of software and a $500 mini-grant. Additional technical assistance was provided by 4-H for continued program development thorough grant writing opportunities, collaborative community efforts and educational programs.

Project training

Training was a train-the-trainer model targeted toward 4-H youth staff and site directors who would then train additional site staff. A major portion of the training was becoming familiar with the operation and educational value of popular children’s software. The training focused on teaching and learning software with an emphasis on discovery-based learning. A resource manual was the basis for much of the training. It included information and resources on the following topics:

  • Afterschool time and program research
  • 4-H/DESE project description
  • Youth development theory and practice
  • Learning with and about computers
  • Software for children
  • Teaching with computers
  • Adding educational value to computer games
  • Program planning and lab management
  • Support and resource development
  • 4-H program information

The role of competition in youth development is a “process which prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences which help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically and cognitively competent.” (National Youth Development Information Center(opens in new window))

Appropriate competition is in line with developmental level of the participants and creates opportunities for developing leadership, teamwork, character and life skills. Competition can be used for motivating, teaching and assessing progress. Young people generally enjoy friendly competitions and the desire to do well can be a strong motivation. The design and objectives of a competition can frame the content and put it into a context that helps young people to apply what they are learning. Show and sharing what is being learned is an effective measure of what is being learned. It is quite natural for all of us to measure ourselves against others but that should not be the primary focus. In educational events, participants should measure themselves against a set of standards and their own progress toward those standards.

Resources for all levels


Types of competitive events

All the following methods can be used in a range of settings from informal sharing to highly competitive events. Most can also be used with individuals and to build teamwork. Many of the events will also use elements of some of the other events. For example, presentations are often part of demonstrations, simulation contests and judging. Although frequently seen as separate activities, non-formal teaching and evaluation can be tightly intertwined. The very best evaluation methods are also effective teaching methods. The best ways to evaluate non-formal education are also important youth development methods.

  • Simulation contests - Computer simulations are models of the significant variables and relationships of complex activities or systems. Many of the most popular computer games are simulations. Typically simulation contests are team events with the participants developing a simulated activity and presenting or explaining the simulation.
  • Skill-a-thons - Skill-a-thons can be a single integrated activity, but they are usually multiple stations with planned activities or challenges. The participants demonstrate their skill and knowledge by completing the activities at each station. The event can focus on instruction or competition. The students can participate as individuals or as teams. The activities can be at various levels of difficulty appropriate to the level of the learners. The more advanced young people can help plan, set up and staff stations.
  • Demonstrations and presentations - Communication is a basic leadership and life skill. A demonstration teaches twice. Both the demonstrator and their audience learn from the demonstration. Informal, one-on-one sharing is the most basic form of demonstrating. Encourage participants to share their discoveries with each other. You can assess the learning by listening to the sharing.

    Participants can present a prepared demonstration to the group or other audience. Many local programs will plan opportunities for public demonstrations. Working demonstrations and team demonstrations are excellent for young people that are reluctant to talk in front of a group. Working demonstrations do not have a prepared “lesson.” The presenter demonstrates an activity or task and engages the audience in a discussion as the presenter works. A variation is audience to participation in the task or activity. Team demonstrations are very effective at teaching teamwork skills. Demonstrations can be organized into competitive public speaking type events.

  • Exhibits - Most 4-H projects are based on producing a product. Exhibiting the product and having it evaluated by a judge evaluates the learning. Exhibiting at the fair is one of the most popular images of 4-H. Conference judging is the most effective way to evaluate the learning and to add value to exhibiting. In addition to evaluating the product, the judge can ask the youth about the process.

    Computer products often use paper products like printouts and listings. By using notebooks or posters in an exhibit, the learner can also explain the product and its significance. Computer components made into an educational display can be an effective exhibit.

  • Judging - Another important life skill is decision-making. Judging helps develop skills at evaluating among options. A typical judging activity will present four items. that could be used for the same purpose. Participants rank the objects. For example, the students might rank four greeting cards created by a graphics program.

    Judging is most effective when the young judges give reasons for their rankings. There will probably be many “personal preference” reasons in informal judging situations. Help the participants define and focus on objective reasons. More formal judging activities will present choices that have objective ranking criteria. Build judging skills informally by asking project participants to compare, choose and explain why.

    Identification is another judging activity. About a dozen items are presented for the learner to identify. Identification activities are excellent for teaching about hardware components.

  • Quiz Bowl - Quiz Bowls test knowledge of facts. They tend to be more formal and are generally team events. They can be just for fun or very competitive. The format is generally similar to the TV quiz show, College Bowl. The TV quiz show, Jeopardy, is another popular format. Rapidly changing technology, multiple platforms and multiple ways to accomplish tasks can make question writing very problematic. Many 4-H programs will have quiz bowl buzzer equipment.

Project practices and activities

AmeriCorps*VISTA Project

The 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab VISTA program was a collaborative program sponsored by University of Missouri Extension and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through Missouri 4-H Youth Development Programs, AmeriCorps*VISTA members helped communities fight poverty. VISTA members worked in partnership with county Extension offices and community-based organizations, connecting youth to technology, and to their communities. During the three-year program, VISTA members assisted communities to establish, expand and sustain afterschool computer labs that provided upper elementary and middle school age students with a safe environment and adult supervision during after school hours.

Related resources

Brightening Horizons

This report (PDF) summarizes and interprets the results of computer skill assessments given to children at Missouri 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab sites during 2003-04. The computer skills assessment was originally developed by the Family & Community Resource Program (FCRP) for use at its project sites, and was previously approved by the University of Missouri Campus Institutional Review Board as a low-risk research instrument.

Project accomplishments

From 2002 to 2005, AmeriCorps*VISTAs acted as lab site coordinators in 17 low-income communities across the state of Missouri, introducing software and “value-added” activities, training staff and community volunteers to operate labs, and developing partnerships for ongoing training and computer technical support. They provided 19.9 member-years of service, started 12 new lab programs and expanded 18 existing lab programs, and reached a total of 4,367 young people. 229 volunteers contributed 2,560 hours of their time in computer labs, a figure valued at $38,690; during that period, $25,329 in in-kind donations and $38,875 in cash donations were received. An average of 255 young people regularly participated in labs every quarter, with an estimated 88 percent of participants coming from low-income households.

Impact summaries

Written by the VISTAs during the end of their terms of service, capture the essence of their projects. Within this section, you can find out about their project goals, significant accomplishments, the number of youth reached and contact information for those who wish to become involved.

Best Practices

During the three-year span of the Missouri 4-H ASCL VISTA project, it was noted that certain program practices contributed strongly to the success of afterschool computer lab programs. The following best practices were identified by monitoring computer labs in operation through the ASCL project, by distilling project documents such as site visit notes and progress reports, and by facilitating VISTA member discussions. These best practices are intended to assist any organization trying to establish an afterschool computer lab or seeking to incorporate technology into an afterschool setting; however, many of them are applicable to afterschool programs as a whole.

Best practices:

  • Invest in caring adults as well as children
  • Find a hook in order to recruit afterschool volunteers
  • Get youth hands-on involved with computers and games, and interacting with each other
  • Give experienced youth ownership by empowering them to take leadership roles in lab programs
  • Collaborate with other local and regional organizations to maximize impact
  • Recognize and engage the talents of youth as well as adults
  • Acknowledge, remain conscious of, and take advantage of the roles people play outside of your organization
  • Look at your computer lab program holistically; strengthen the weakest link
  • Bridge activities between the computer lab and the real world
  • Pool technology resources with other lab programs to share the costs (Example: Missouri 4-H statewide software and technology kit library)

Continuing project activities

The Missouri 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab (ASCL) project identified six primary ingredients as being essential to the success of a lab: a facility, computers, kids, software, technical support and educational support. Issues such as resource development, community involvement and support from organizations outside the local area also play a significant role.

The ASCL project can provide software, training and consultation to groups interested in starting, expanding, or enhancing lab programs. A number of software-based projects and contests have been developed during the course of the project. A wide variety of curricula are also available through the National 4-H Cooperative Curricula System.

The information below addresses a number of these issues. If you need further assistance, please contact state staff.

Software library

Starting an afterschool computer lab can be a challenging endeavor, but identifying age and content appropriate software for that lab can be even more time consuming! Purchasing software has its own drawbacks, as youth will eventually tire of playing the same games every day. A software library that multiple sites can access has the advantages of simplifying software selection by individual sites while allowing rotation of software when it is no longer being used.

The 4-H Center for Youth Development at the University of Missouri has a software library selected to be age and content appropriate for Missouri youth programs. If you are interested in checking out software, contact your local Extension 4-H youth specialist or the 4-H Center for Youth Development.

Software-based projects

Software-based projects are designed for leaders and members to work together to have fun and learn with the software. The 4-H software based projects, like Designing Your Own Space, start with fun and educational computer games and software tools. Learning and leading guides add off-computer and group activities to extend the learning.

Technology kits

Technology offers many different paths and opportunities for complex youth development; it also gives children more ways to participate in 4-H. Digital photography, digital audio or video, robotics, Web development and geospatial technology are only a few of the technology areas currently being explored by 4-H youth.

Missouri 4-H has a technology kit library that contains LEGO Mindstorms, robotics kits and K’Nex construction kits. Missouri 4-H clubs and affiliated programs can check out kits by contacting your local MU Extension 4-H youth specialist or the 4-H Center for Youth Development.


GPS stands for global positioning system is basically a “high-tech compass!” It can tell you what direction you’re pointed, tell you where you are on the earth, how fast you’re moving and how far you are from other locations.

GIS stands for geospatial information system and is a “high-tech map.” Unlike paper maps, a GIS can allow you to change the information shown as well as ask questions about the relationships between that information.

GPS receivers are fast becoming as common a tool in finding our way around our world as a paper map and a compass used to be, and GIS applications are changing the way we create maps and represent data about our environment. Beyond that level of usage is another realm where these technologies are simply the tools that allow us to visualize our world and solve the problems that face us. GIS is also one of the fastest growing technology-related career fields; from that standpoint, acquainting youth with the fundamentals of this technology area may prepare them for future success in this field.

Community mapping

Community Mapping is a process involving youth, citizens, community professionals and community decision-makers working together to learn and use geospatial tools such as GPS or GIS and data to address community and environmental issues. Community mapping provides a framework for teaching about, understanding and communicating a wide range of relevant topics.