Non-formal education: children’s clubs, life skills, psychosocial activities

Non-formal educational activities give out-of-school children and youth access to structured learning, reinforce their self-esteem and help them find ways to contribute to their communities. Non-formal education activities can also be used to provide additional support to children who are in school. The short length of school days in most early emergency situations makes it difficult to add more subjects to the curriculum. An alternative that can reach some of the students is to offer extracurricular non-formal learning activities. Non-formal education can reinforce children’s self-esteem and help to find ways for them to contribute to their community.

To read about non formal education in action, click the picture below:

Onwards and Upwards, Jordan – World Relief

When should we use non-formal education programmes?

  • Even in the early stages of an emergency, non-formal education activities can be organised quickly to provide children with positive ways to spend their time until other, more formal, options are put into place
  • When children are out of school or there are topics or activities that would benefit their recovery which cannot be covered in formal education
  • When you have capacity to deliver regular work with children and have experience of working with children or young people


  • To provide emergency-affected out of school children and youth with educational activities that meet their needs and interests
  • To supplement formal schooling of emergency-affected children and youth with subjects relevant to their protection, wellbeing and psychosocial needs

How to set up a non-formal education programme

Identify gaps and needs

  • Which children are not able to access education, and which issues do children need support with?
  • Why are children out of school, and what times would they be available to attend non-formal education programmes, and how often?
  • Ensure that a non-formal education programme complements rather than competes with existing formal education provision and encourages access to formal education

Build on capacity and resources

  • Identify a safe physical space for activities which children can access safely
  • Identify volunteers and community members who are willing to be involved in non-formal education who have specific skills or knowledge to share
  • Links should always be made to connect with the formal education system, reinforcing learning and facilitating return to the classroom

Develop activities

  • Consult with children, youth, parents and community groups
  • Activities may include:
    • Literacy and numeracy classes
    • Homework support clubs
    • Cultural activities such as music, dance or drama
    • Sports practices and teams, with recognition of gender issues
    • Education regarding child rights
    • Subject-specific learning may include:
      • Health and hygiene education
      • Landmine safety HIV/AIDS awareness
      • Peace-building education and conflict resolution

Structured learning activities are typically led by adults or older adolescents from the community and follow a course of learning that is focused on a certain subject area or defined group of topics. Content may be drawn from the facilitator’s knowledge or may be based on a developed set of learning materials, similar to a school curriculum. In some situations, structured learning activities are already set up by communities but may benefit from external support. In others, new activities must be established.

Organised recreation is especially appropriate for children experiencing the immediate impact of an emergency as these activities can have a particularly healing effect, giving recognition to a child’s need for play and reinforcing the value of their traditions.

Child-led initiatives

In contrast to structured learning activities, children themselves take up the leadership of child-led initiatives, though support from an adult adviser may be needed. Children determine their own agenda for learning. These types of children’s groups can address a wide range of education-focused goals through their activities. Clubs might initiate recreation activities, community projects such as a library or cleaning up a school, or training sessions on children’s rights, conflict resolution and other pertinent topics. Peer education groups could choose a topic like HIV/AIDS and work with other children on the issue. These groups are self-governing, with children taking on leadership roles and a young adult or community member serving as an adviser.


  • Establish child-led activity clubs
  • Develop peer education teams
  • Offer training in leadership and participation for child leaders
  • Work with clubs to identify focus of activities – e.g. recreational, vocational, awareness-building


Ensure that all children are able to access programmes, and take account of any children who are not accessing the services – e.g. girls and boys, children with disabilities, particular age-groups of children, or children from different backgrounds. Take action to remove barriers to access.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Put in place ways to measure the effectiveness and impact of non-formal education programmes:

  • Are the non-formal activities reaching the intended target group of children/young people?
  • Do the children/young people that enrol attend throughout the programme? If so, why? If not, why not? What adjustments can be made to the programme to encourage attendance/completion?
  • Do the activities achieve their intended impact, such as:
    • Behaviour change (e.g. less aggression and anxiety among children, adoption of specific hygiene practices, etc.)

Tools and resources

Information on this page is primarily drawn from:

Some guides to materials that could be used as a non-formal education curriculum are:

Additional tools and resources for non-formal education are available here

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