What is the best way to fill the child-care gap? We have rounded up several after-school options that will give you the peace of mind that your child is safe and happy as your finish off your work day.
School-based after-school programs
One of the most affordable and easy after-school care options takes place at your child’s school.
“Most schools offer a subsidized and structured care program where kids can go each day,” says Katie Bugbee, managing editor of Care.com. “They’ll do homework, play on the playground, put on shows with friends. This can be in the school cafeteria or gym — or even a neighborhood center.“
These programs start as soon as school is out and often go until 6 p.m., which make them ideal for working parents. Since this program takes place at your child’s school, you don’t have to worry about transportation and your child will be in a familiar location. Many of these programs are free or at a reduced rate, based on income. Talk to your school for specific details of what is offered.
Community or private after-school programs
“You can also look into a more privately funded option that runs a bus from the school, picking up numerous friends, but taking them off-site for the rest of the afternoon and focusing on a range of interests,” says Bugbee, who recommends checking with your local YMCA for this type of program.
Many local child-care centers or community centers will also offer this service, and they may offer longer hours than the school-based programs, which often end at 6 p.m. These programs are for kindergarten through high school and offer everything from homework help to crafts and games. Snacks are often provided, as well.
The cost may be more than school-based after-care programs, especially at a private day care, but your local YMCA may offer reduced fee programs.
A part-time nanny is another great option for working parents, as this caregiver can pick your child up from school and take care of him at home, as well as provide other services.
“This person could do everything from being a homework helper or teaching organization to studying strategies. Either way, you will want to create a quarterly schedule of expectations that might include dinner prep, homework help and play,” says Bugbee, who recommends checking out Care.com to help find a nanny that best fits their needs.
So, in addition to your children being in the comfort of their own home, the nanny can also take some things off your plate as far as housework.
Finding a trustworthy nanny doesn’t have to be a stressful situation either.
“The best way is by going through a reputable agency that thoroughly pre-screens candidates. When doing so, it's important to make sure to get full written copies of all background checks and reference checks,” says Nate Poupko, founder of Nannyreviews.com.
“If parents are doing the checks themselves, there are some points that should be kept in mind,” he says, referring to his checklist which includes making sure past families will vouch for her and that she is eligible to work in the U.S.
A care co-op is a great idea if you have families in the same boat as you who are looking for affordable quality care.
“Parents helping parents,” Bugbee says. “The idea of a co-op would be to share the care responsibly, either with other parents or their nannies. So maybe you find two other families who have kids with similar interests. Then each parent chooses a day where they are 'in charge' and they either shuttle the kids to their activities together, or have a play date at home.”
A teenage babysitter who can help out a few hours after school could be a great option for parents who want home-based after-school care, but are looking for a more affordable option than a nanny. Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba tells SheKnows that parents should consider a variety of factors before hiring a teenage babysitter.
“Parents should question whether the babysitter is reliable — and the process for selecting a babysitter can be similar to hiring a nanny,” she says. “Consider who is recommending the babysitter, whether they have a reference, do they know first aid and is there an existing relationship with the child or family. Knowing the babysitter's parents adds a liability factor.”
Dr. Borba recommends having the teen babysit a few times while you are home so you can observe the dynamic between her and the kids. “Be sure to lay out any rules, reminders and important information on Post-it Notes just in case,” she says.
Up next: More affordable after-school care options