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The years between 6 and 14-middle childhood and early adolescence-are a time of important developmental advances that establish childrens sense of identity these years, children make strides toward adulthood by becoming competent, independent, self-aware, and involved in the world beyond their families. Biological and cognitive changes transform children’s bodies and minds. Social relationships and roles change dramatically as children enter school, join programs, and become involved with peers and adults outside their families. During adolescence, children develop a sense of self-esteem and individuality, comparing themselves with their peers. They come to expect they will succeed or fail at different tasks. They may develop an orientation toward achievement that will color their response to school and other challenges for many years. In early adolescence, the tumultuous physical and social changes that accompany puberty, the desire for autonomy and distance from the family, and the transition from elementary school to middle school or junior high can all cause problems for young people. When adolescents are in settings (in school, at home, or in community programs) that are not attuned to their needs and emerging independence, they can lose confidence in themselves and slip into negative behavior patterns such as truancy and school dropout.

Children’s development during this period is driven by basic psychological needs to achieve competence, autonomy, and relatedness. They seek opportunities to master and demonstrate new skills, to make independent decisions and control their own behavior, and to form good social relationships with peers and adults outside the family. Each period is marked by basic biological and cognitive changes, as well as changes in the social surroundings where children’s daily lives unfold. Exercising their growing autonomy in school and organized programs, children learn about the world outside the family, match themselves against the expectations of others, compare their performance with that of their peers, and develop customary ways of responding to challenges and learning opportunities. Through these years, they forge a personal identity, a self-concept, and an orientation toward achievement that will play a significant role in shaping their success in school, work, and life. Although researchers and policymakers have focused on the school as the critical arena in which development occurs and children’s futures are sculpted, out-of-school programs offer alternative environments in which children can learn about themselves and their worlds, and can discover opportunities for carving their own versions of success.