After school programs give students the chance to explore their interests, try something new, and build relationships with peers and adult mentors in a pressure-free environment. This list of after-school program curriculum ideas gives students from K-12 a chance to discover art, coding, game design, bird watching, graphic design, and more. Pick a curriculum or two, check out some tips for creating a successful after-school program, and you’re ready to launch!

Discover after-school program curriculum ideas

Here are some fun after-school program examples and ideas for kids in elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Curriculum for elementary school

These activities are great for engaging elementary school students in grades K-5. Whether your students are interested in art, coding, games, or storytelling, they will explore and learn something new – and have fun doing it!

1. Beginner Coding

Learn core coding concepts in the most popular platforms for kids and set a strong foundation. Students can enjoy learning to code using beginner-friendly, drag-and-drop programming with Scratch with an experienced live teacher. Learn how to make games and animations, and use core coding concepts like sequence, loops, and conditional statements. And then move on to Minecraft Modding Quest to create their own games and characters in a game they love.

Start free: Try out the interactive session Free Intro to Scratch Coding to see if entry level coding classes are a good fit for your student.

2. Digital Art

If your student likes to draw, design, and tell stories then an art-focused learning path could work for them. Learn to create animations in Scratch first, and then try out a new art activity each week with the Budding Artist class including mediums such as stop-motion animation, comics, emoji design, and more.

Start free: Try out the interactive session Free Intro to Scratch Coding to get started with creating animations right away.

3. Art Tango

If your student just loves to make art, Art Tango has lots of ideas for grades K-5. Each lesson lists simple instructions, materials, and examples of student artwork. There are 30 lessons for each grade level and each project builds on the last as a whole curriculum.

Start free: Lessons for grades K-5 are all free and listed in order on the Art Tango website.

Curriculum for middle school

Students in grades 5-8 will enjoy these activities that allow for deeper explorations of a topic. These online opportunities will be lots of fun for middle schoolers who are interested in learning to code, designing games, graphic design, or video production.

1. Girls Who Code Club

Girls can join a “sisterhood of supportive peers and role models using computer science to change the world” as they learn computer science, web development, Python, Scratch, and more. The Girls Who Code Club curriculum and facilitator guide is free to use for school districts, libraries, and other after-school programs. Apply here.

Start free: Girls Who Code at Home offers plenty of free downloadable lessons as well.

2. Game Creators

If your student is a gamer and wants to build their own games, this learning path would be perfect to explore after school. Create and modify games in Scratch, Minecraft, Roblox, and more to get a foundation in coding and game design.

Start free: Try out a session of Minecraft Redstone Engineering and learn how different power sources such as Redstone blocks, torches, and switches can be used to power blocks around them in different ways with a live expert instructor.

3. Art Minded

For your art-minded middle schooler who likes to tell stories, design, and make art try out the Art Minded learning pathway. Design games and animations with Scratch coding, apply color theory to design we see everyday, then learn graphic design and video editing with Canva and website design with WIX.

Start free: Start out designing games and animations right away with a free live interactive session Accelerated Scratch.

Curriculum for high school

High school students in particular are ready to apply their learning to real-world problems. With these computer science opportunities they can design games for social change, apply data science to their own data set, or develop a website.

1. Cloud Computing

In this learning path, students can learn the essentials of cloud computing used by every large online company using professional software engineering tools. Web development, app development, cloud computing, and Python for AI are all included in this curriculum track.

Start free: Try out a Free Intro to Python Programming session with a live teacher to get started.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Science

Students cover computational biology, data science, and machine learning in this advanced pathway. In addition to learning the basics of Python, and how to harness the power of ChatGPT to create cool projects, students learn how the future of medicine is being transformed by Nanobots and how to apply machine learning to create their own Python apps.

Start free: Try out a Free Intro to Python Programming session with a live teacher to get started.

What makes a successful after-school program?

After-school programs provide an opportunity for student enrichment, mentorship, and even refuge. Here are five tips for providing a consistent, fun, and supportive environment for kids.

  1. Provide Student Choice: During the school day, students don’t always have a say in which classes they will take. Survey students about their interests or let them choose from a variety of topics to maximize their engagement in the program.
  2. Build Relationships: Student relationships with instructors and facilitators are the foundation of a successful program, whether it is online or in-person. Take a mentorship approach when working with students - the social-emotional learning can take center stage when you don’t have to worry about teaching to a test.
  3. Set Clear Expectations: Communicate early and often to parents, students, and instructors. Set a clear schedule and sign up procedures, emergency procedures, and chain of contact for parents. Discuss behavior expectations with students and parents on the first day (and even before!).
  4. Keep It Consistent: Think about the flow of each day and create consistent routines and procedures for students and staff. What do they do when they arrive? What clean up do students need to help with before they leave? Make the program last as much of the year as makes sense for your situation. Research has shown that a longer sustained program has better outcomes for students.
  5. Support Your Staff: Take the time to train your staff on the behaviors they should model and how to give lots of positive feedback and praise to students. Provide time and support for developing staff knowledge further in both content and facilitation of their programs.

What are some fun after-school activities to do with students?

Here are some free bonus curriculum resources for students K-12 to explore art, computer science, and the natural world.

1. Art for Kids Hub

The Art for Kids Hub YouTube channel is free and packed with tons of step-by-step drawing lessons that students ages 5 and up love. The videos feature a kid drawing alongside an adult so lessons are accessible for both young and older students. The Art for Kids Hub Membership features ad-free videos in more categories and lesson plans to go with each project.

2. Bird Explorers

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has plenty of resources for grades K-12 exploring birds, ecology, and scientific investigation. Many resources are free and all are organized by grade bands. Try out the Beast Box to make beats while learning about animal habitats or download the BirdSleuth Explorer’s Guidebook to take on a nature walk with students and identify the birds in your neighborhood.

3. Google CS First

Google has created a library of 1-hour coding lessons and longer units that connect to many other subject areas such as ELA, social studies, and science. Each lesson includes videos and hands-on activities using Scratch coding. With a connection to Google Classroom you can easily track student progress throughout the units.

Plus, explore ideas for indoor activities, coding activities, and after-school activities for kids to do by themselves.

Try after-school program curriculum ideas

Students online and in-person gain a lot from choosing their own path for learning and trying something new with adult mentors. Hopefully some of these resources have provided inspiration for your next after-school program.

Written by Annie Schmitt, a Computer Science Teacher and Teaching Artist from Pennsylvania. She loves using art, technology, and science together to create exploratory hands-on learning experiences for students in grade K-12. As a Teaching Artist, she travels to schools and organizations in her state to teach children stop-motion animation, game design, and visual outdoor art. Annie has taught thousands of students from states all over the U.S. and countries around the world.