Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Understanding Gender Identity: An Interview with a Child Development Specialist, Part 1

We are reposting this blog to acknowledge the last day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month. To read part 2 of this interview, click here.

By Sam Piha

There is a growing awareness in our society that gender is more than the sex that is assigned at birth. Gender identity is no longer an esoteric concept for child development experts. The importance of understanding gender identity is increasingly important for educators and leaders of youth programs. 

In a previous post, Understanding Gender Identity in Young People, we reviewed the terminology surrounding this topic. 

In this post, we interview Dr. Diane Ehrensaft to shed more light on this topic. She specializes in research, clinical work, and consultation related to gender-nonconforming children. Diane is an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco and a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area.   

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft

Q: Is gender inborn or learned? 

A: As implied in the title of my book, Gender Born, Gender Made, the answer is neither—it’s both. Each one of our genders includes a combination of nature, nurture, and culture. To really answer this question, of inborn or learned, we have to differentiate gender identity from gender expressions: gender identity is our inner sense of self as male, female, or other; gender expressions are the ways we show our gender to the world—our appearance, our activities, our words, our ways of relating to the world.  

Present research indicates that our gender identities have a strong constitutional loading, while our gender expressions have a stronger social, cultural loading, but that both gender identity and gender expressions can have elements of all three influences—nature, nurture, and culture.  

Regarding nature, the most important concept to mark is that gender does not lie between our legs; it lays in our brains and our minds, and the messages those brains and minds send to you inside about what your gender is are paramount.

Q: Developmentally, when does this happen? 

A: Our old developmental theories said one thing, newer developmental theories say another. I’m going to answer according to the new. By the second year of life a toddler can exhibit both understanding of the gender label given to the child by the outside world (i.e., They call me boy; they call me girl) and their own internal sense of their core gender which will either match that label (the cisgender child) or show the incipient signs of being opposed to that label, as when a toddler, upon developing language, says, Me not boy, me girl. From age two to six, we all learn what it means to be a boy or girl or other, in other words, how to “do” our gender. We learn this through observation, direct teaching or coaching, even gender policing, and through our close relationships with those around us.  

By age six, most children will have a fairly stable sense of their gender identity, but not all children do, and some children may go through several iterations throughout their childhood until they land on “the gender that is me.”  The most important element in this developmental process is that the adults around the child allow children the freedom to establish their own gender selves, rather than have it dictated by others. 

Notable is that in traditional gender theories it was expected that for a child to have successfully reached their developmental markers regarding gender identity, they must have a clear and stable sense of themselves as boy or girl by age 6, and that sense should match the sex assigned to them at birth. But if a child says, “Hey, you all have it wrong, I’m not the gender you think I am” that child is not acknowledged as capable of having a stable gender identity by age six. That child is told, “You are too young to know.” That child is a member of our youngest cohort of transgender people, and we have to ask the defenders of the traditional developmental theories—How come a cisgender child can know who they are by age six, but a transgender child cannot?

Q: What is gender fluidity? 

A: Gender fluidity is living outside binary gender boxes—male/female; boy/girl. It also indicates a flexibility and creativity in composing for oneself a gender mosaic, if you will, based on a potpourri of the social expressions of gender within one’s culture and also on an internal sense of self as neither male, female, but somewhere in between or all and any rather than either/or. A child can be gender fluid at any moment in time (think pink boys) or over time (ballerina for awhile, then Darth Vader, then a “gender hybrid”).


Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco and a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a private practice in Oakland, California.  She is Director of Mental Health of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center and chief psychologist at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center Clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. She specializes in research, clinical work, and consultation related to gender-nonconforming children, lecturing, publishing, and serving as an expert witness on both topics nationally and internationally.

Dr. Ehrensaft is author of Gender Born, Gender Made; Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates; Building a Home Within (co-edited with Toni Heineman); Spoiling Childhood; Parenting Together; and the new release, The Gender Creative Child.  Dr. Ehrensaft serves on the Board of Directors of Gender Spectrum, a national organization addressing the needs of gender-expansive children and their families. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Meet America's Newest Chess Master, 10-Year-Old Tanitoluwa Adewumi

Source: NPR/ HarperCollins

By Sam Piha

We posted a prior LIAS blog on Chess and Afterschool. For readers who were particularly interested in this topic, we wanted to introduce you to America’s newest chess master, 10-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi. After fleeing his home country of Nigeria, he arrived in America with his family and stayed in a homeless shelter. 

I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn. Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself."- Tanitoluwa Adewumi

He was recently interviewed by NPR. You can listen to the interview by clicking the image below. If you prefer to read his story, click here and here.

He's also written a book about his life called My Name Is Tani ... and I Believe in Miracles. The book has been optioned for a Trevor Noah-produced film adaptation with a script by The Pursuit of Happyness screenwriter, Steven Conrad. 

Teacher-turned-principal Salome Thomas-EL says chess can help students develop a slew of practical skills they can use for many years to come." 

Check out the full article, When Implementing Games In Your Classroom, Don’t Forget About Chess, on Edutopia here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

How Expanded Learning Programs and Schools Work Together to Support Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the American Institutes for Research (AIR), “COVID-19 created a host of new challenges for educators and exacerbated many pre-existing ones. Conversely, the pandemic also provided educators and policymakers with opportunities to innovate, become more adaptive, and learn best practices that will continue to be relevant long after the crisis has passed.”

In April 2021, AIR published an interview with Femi Vance, Ph.D., an AIR researcher, on how expanded learning programs and schools can work together to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are excerpts from the interview. The full interview is available here.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected expanded learning programs? And how have the programs helped students? 

Femi Vance
A: Expanded learning refers to the programs that operate outside of the normal class hours—before and after school, in the summer, and over holiday breaks. Such programs offer students a whole host of supports and learning opportunities: a safe and supportive learning environment, academic enrichment, caring adults, opportunities to build peer relationships, social and emotional support, and fun. These programs have quickly and creatively figured out how to keep serving families during the pandemic. According to the Afterschool Alliance, when the pandemic hit last year, 25% of programs nationwide closed; as of March 2021, only 3% are closed. 

In December 2020, California’s Afterschool Network (CAN) released a report on the state of afterschool programs. Remarkably, it showed that California’s expanded learning programs continue to serve students who have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Black and Latinx students, English language learners, and students who are living in poverty. That’s really important, because the evidence tells us that high-quality expanded learning programs lead to measurable positive outcomes for students, including improved school attendance and stronger social and emotional skills. 

During the pandemic, many expanded learning programs pivoted in all sorts of ways. For instance, they delivered meals to families who are struggling, and they helped families without internet obtain educational resources. In a few instances, expanded learning programs have been able to help social services connect with hard-to-reach families, because they can draw upon existing relationships. Some programs have kept their doors open, providing child care to the children of essential workers. In general, they’ve continued to offer emotional support and connection, which is essential in these socially distant times. 

Q: Why is it important for schools and districts to coordinate on expanded learning programs, and what are some takeaways from AIR’s work on how to strengthen those partnerships? 

A: I think a lot of educators don’t want to go back to the system we had before. There were major disparities in how students were being served, and the pandemic provides an opportunity to reimagine the system to eliminate those gaps. Many programs are really just starting to think about equity, but this requires intentionality: Equity has to be defined, and existing barriers have to be named and identified before they can be dismantled. 

Partnerships between schools and expanded learning programs have always been important; the pandemic has reinforced that point. We can leverage those partnerships to create a seamless learning experience from school to afterschool and also provide equitable learning opportunities. Implementing that kind of programming—one that meets the needs of each student—requires collaborative planning. That way, both partners can establish shared goals and make adjustments to achieve them. Our discussion tool offers guiding questions that can be used in collaborative meetings about whole child learning opportunities. Schools and expanded learning partners can use these questions to initiate conversations about a range of topics, including equity.  

Source: AIR

Q: Many children are returning or have returned to in-person schooling after learning elsewhere for some time. What supports will they need, and how can partnerships between schools and expanded learning programs help? 

A: We know from our analysis of re-opening plans that states are elevating the critical need to provide whole child supports to students, including social and emotional supports and mental health services. As I see it, supports for social and emotional learning and development are built into the fabric of expanded learning programs. As expanded learning programs and schools better integrate learning, as I described earlier, it would be great if that led to more active conversations about strengthening social and emotional learning and development across the school day and expanded learning programs. 

For mental health, expanded learning programs typically don’t have a mental health professional on site. But these programs can be a wonderful resource to make referrals to local free and low-cost mental health service providers. They also can serve as an early warning system for families whose children are experiencing mental health issues. This is important because the earlier that problems are identified and treated, the better the outcomes are likely to be. 

Q: What are some lessons learned for both California and other states as they address the current educational challenges the pandemic poses, but also anticipate new challenges after the pandemic ends? 

A: One very exciting lesson is that these innovative partnerships are possible, because they’re building on existing strengths and assets. The current structure is not necessarily optimized, but there are a lot of opportunities available. For example, the California governor’s 2021-2022 proposed budget allocates $4.55 billion for expanded learning time and academic interventions, which includes expanded learning programs. We’ve also seen California become more flexible on the grant requirements for these programs, and this has allowed programs to continue serving families in spite of the pandemic. 

Another major takeaway is that we should be thinking about how to help children succeed on every level, figuring out what families need and how we can provide it. That’s the approach expanded learning programs in California have taken during the pandemic, but it would also serve us well even when this moment passes. 

Lastly, we should continue to focus on equity. Even after the pandemic, we need to continue to ask ourselves: Who do we typically not hear from? How do we get them what they need? In other words, how can our partnerships continue to chip away at systemic inequities? 



Femi Vance, Ph.D. is a researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR). She researches and evaluates out-of-school time programs and provides technical assistance to youth development professionals. She strives to translate her research into practice via board service, training, and practical and relevant blog posts and guides. 

About AIR: Established in 1946, with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance to solve some of the most urgent challenges in the U.S. and around the world. We advance evidence in the areas of education, health, the workforce, human services, and international development to create a better, more equitable world. The AIR family of organizations now includes IMPAQ, Maher & Maher, and Kimetrica. For more information, visit

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A New Way to Subscribe to the LIAS Blog

At the end of June 2021, Feedburner, our subscription service for this blog, will come to an end. Beginning June 8, 2021, we will begin using Follow.It for our subscription services. Please check your email filters to ensure you receive our LIAS Blog notifications. 
If you'd like to subscribe, look for the above box on the right side of the blog posts, right under the blog archive. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please email Thank you for your continued support of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Blog. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell and the Longitudinal 26- Year Afterschool Study

​Ongoing research on out-of-school time programs is essential to help shape our practice and ensure ongoing support from policy makers. Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell, founding Dean Emerita of Education at the University of California Irvine, has been a leading researcher on expanded learning programs since 1985. Dr. Vandell appeared in our video on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Learning Principles and our documentary on the History of Afterschool in America. She also shared her thoughts in a plenary presentation and workshop at the How Kids Learn VIII conference and has been interviewed for past LIAS Blogs

In a recent article from the Mott Foundation she was interviewed about the release of a 26- year study on the impacts of early childhood and afterschool programs. “As one of the principal investigators with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, she has conducted an intensive study of the development of 1,300 people from birth to 26 years. This work is viewed by many social scientists as one of the most comprehensive studies of the short- and long-term effects of early care and afterschool education to date.”  

Below we quote some excerpts from the interview with Dr. Vandell published by the Mott Foundation. You can read the full Mott interview here.

Q: What has research on afterschool programs revealed since you first started working in this field? 

Deborah Lowe Vandell
Photo: Steve Zylius
A: Many researchers in both the United States and other countries are now studying afterschool programs and activities in childhood and adolescence. The good news is that our science has now substantially increased what we know about these important developmental contexts, and we are now much better situated to meet the needs of children and adolescents by providing accessible, affordable, high-quality afterschool learning opportunities. 

We’ve also identified many of the key ingredients needed for out-of-school time to have positive effects. This work has shown that consistent and sustained participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to positive academic and social outcomes for both children and adolescents. However, findings are less clear (and sometimes even negative) when participation is sporadic or activities are lower in quality, so we have to pay close attention to program quality and to participation over time. 

Q: Tell us about your latest study. What were the biggest questions? 

A: My latest study is one that circles back to that first afterschool study. This latest study looked at children’s early care and education and their organized afterschool activities in elementary school and asked how these two sets of experiences (early care and afterschool care) are related to children’s academic and social functioning in high school. 

In this study, my coauthors and I followed almost 1,000 children over time and asked if both early care and education (ECE) and afterschool organized activities during elementary school are related to how students are doing in high school — both academically and socially. We focused on ninth graders because the high school transition is challenging for many adolescents, and we wanted to know if children’s early care and afterschool activities in elementary school could help adolescents to meet these challenges. 

Q: What did you and your coauthors find?

A: We found that both early child care and out-of-school time during elementary school predicted higher academic achievement at age 15. 

Children who received higher quality ECE and who had sustained participation in afterschool organized activities demonstrated higher academic achievement in high school. These effects on academic achievement were additive — with the effects associated with afterschool programs building on or adding to the early care effects. Importantly, the effects associated with early care and afterschool care also were exactly the same size, indicating that both are good investments. 

In this paper, we also found that early care and out-of-school time were related to different aspects of behavioral development. Higher quality ECE predicted fewer behavioral problems in adolescence, whereas afterschool organized activities were linked to greater social confidence. 

We found that consistent participation in afterschool was important for building children’s social competence — including feeling more confident about meeting new people and interacting with peers and adults — which bodes well for students’ future success in school and in the workplace. These benefits were not associated with ECE experiences, suggesting that afterschool programs serve a unique role in this respect. 

Q: What makes this body of work unique and its findings important? 

A: There are several factors that make the study noteworthy, I think. The first is the effort to examine early care and education and out-of-school time in relation to later development. For the most part, these two important developmental contexts have been studied separately. 

Second, the study finds effects of these earlier experiences on longer term outcomes in adolescence. These effects, evident in the 15-year-olds, suggest that the benefits of early care and elementary school activities do not fade away, but persist over time. Now we are asking if the effects continue to be evident in adulthood. 

Third, the sample in this study was economically, geographically and ethnically diverse, suggesting that these findings on the benefits of afterschool programming have wide generalizability for children in the United States. 

This work is consistent with and extends prior research by showing that sustained participation in high- quality afterschool programs in elementary school is linked to positive academic and social outcomes in high school and that those effects persist. 

Q: What does the study imply for post-COVID-19 recovery? 

A: Researchers and educators are deeply concerned about the effects of COVID on children’s learning and development — and the impact of school closures, disruptions and trauma brought on by the pandemic. 

In one set of studies released by NWEA, a nonprofit research organization, researchers documented a significant widening of academic achievement gaps by income and race last spring, which was further exacerbated by school closings and disruptions this fall. Other researchers are reporting increases in students’ social-emotional problems as a result of the trauma and disruptions brought on by COVID. 

The work by NWEA and others is highlighting that children growing up in under-resourced families and communities are going to be in particular need of high-quality afterschool and summer programs. However, because of the financial disruptions being experienced by many low-income and working families — and because of the budget shortfalls facing many communities — children who most need high-quality afterschool programs will likely have less access to these programs and services. To address these serious issues, a coordinated response is going to be needed — one that brings together the resources of early childhood programs, afterschool programs and schools. 


President Biden's COVID Relief Bill contains billions of dollars for afterschool and summer learning programs. To learn more:

Youth Vote 2024: Benefits of Youth Civic Engagement

Source: By Sam Piha The 2024 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth. But these opportunities require i...