After school, not afterthought
After-school program at library

when the school bell rings

The question of what to do with your children after school is the question of an entire generation of parents who are trying to balance work, life and the needs of their children.

After-school hours don't have to be a throwaway in terms of enrichment. It's possible to give your children high impact opportunities at a reasonable cost.

Many working parents with young children assume that daycare costs disappear when their kids are old enough to go to school. But unless you have a job you can leave at 3:00 p.m., you’ll have to consider which after-school activities you’d like your children to attend between the final bell and the time you drag yourself home from work. It may take some research, but the good news is that quality after-school programs abound as long as you know what you’re looking for.

Factors to consider

Before you dive into the yellow pages to find an after-school program, narrow your search by considering the following sources of referrals and suggestions.

  1. School counselor: The counselor at your child’s school is more than a mental and social health resource. He or she has a solid understanding of the after-school programs that are available inside and outside of the school’s walls, and can point you in the right direction.
  2. Teacher: Your child’s teacher will assess the educational and social strengths and weaknesses of her pupils throughout the year. Ask the teacher which components of your child’s education or life skills need some extra TLC, and find a program that addresses these issues. You may need to reach out to your child’s teacher from a previous grade level if you’re trying to make arrangements prior to the beginning of the school year.
  3. Your family’s values: Some families place a high value on structure, discipline and tutoring in an after-school program. Other families, however, firmly believe that after-school programs should have an emphasis on leisure and play. Talk to your partner to determine which types of activities your family supports in order to narrow your child's options.
  4. Your child: Last, but certainly not least, talk to your child about which activities he or she wants to enjoy after school this year. Since so many options exist, there’s no reason to enroll your kid in something they don’t support, unless you have a valid reason for doing so.

Finding quality care

If you’re not able to be home with your children after school, it’s very important to enroll your child in a quality after-school program. A child’s attendance in a high-quality after-school program is tied to an increase in test scores, a reduction in criminal activity and criminal victimization, and improved social skills. So how do you know if a program has a high level of quality? After you’ve narrowed down your options, ask the following questions of the programs you’re weighing.

  1. What is the adult-to-child ratio in the program? The lower the ratio, the more likely your child is to receive assistance with schoolwork and attention during play-time.
  2. What types of activities are incorporated into the program? A variety of activities, including physical education, arts, leisure activities and tutoring, will keep your child engaged in the program and prevent burnout.
  3. How is transportation managed between school and the center, if it is off-site? You’ll want to make sure you feel comfortable with transportation arrangements, and make sure your child is comfortable with them, too.
  4. What is the cost of the program? Off-site programs at specialty tutoring, daycare or after-school centers tend to be more expensive than the programs available at school or at a church. Programs available within your child’s school will often have a sliding-fee scale available if cost is an issue.
  5. What role does physical activity play in the programming? Children need to have opportunities to run around and play for their physical well-being. Make sure the program has physical education incorporated into their planned activities.
  6. What types of snacks are children given? Select a program that values the importance of healthy eating.

The research required to find a high-impact program that addresses your child’s needs will take some time. But once you narrow the field and select a program based upon your personal assessment, it’s likely that your child will thrive in a setting that tackles his or her challenges and interests.

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