What To Look For in an After-School Program
Giving your child something productive to do in the hours after school but before dinner is a conundrum for every parent. The proliferation of activities to choose from can be dizzying. But after-school programs aren’t all about competition and achievement.
The best programs provide a safe environment for kids to be themselves, participate in activities they enjoy, and develop positive relationships with role model adults and peer friends. Know what to look for in an after-school program.
Visit and Assess
Don’t rely on glossy brochures or photos on websites. Contact programs and set up a time to visit and observe when they are in session.
Arranging a Visit
If a program doesn’t let you come and take a look, consider that a red flag. Some after-school programs run by the schools themselves may have concerns about student privacy; these are legitimate, but schools should be able to accommodate visitors with the permission of the parents of participating students.
When you go, look for:
- Caring, attentive staff
- A low staff: student ratio
- A clean, bright, safe, inviting environment
- Readily available academic support materials
- Quiet areas for kids to safely retreat, do homework, or take a break in view of adult supervision
- Kids having fun!
Structure and Security
The American Psychological Association reports that after-school programs with an “embedded curriculum” demonstrated the benefits of after-school programs, resulting in the best outcomes. These programs that taught life skills in addition to the rules and skills of any particular sport or activity created the most successful outcomes for kids.
Refuge, Respite, and Inclusion
After-school programs provide a sense of security to kids who don’t get that kind of support at home. Divorce, unemployment, or parents who are struggling economically can cause kids to develop low self-esteem, thinking these problems might somehow be their fault. A great after-school program successfully includes kids from diverse backgrounds with differing abilities who benefit from each other’s friendship and from the support of caring adult supervision. Coupled with the work you do at home to raise kind and gracious children, a good after-school program can reinforce values like compassion, sharing, and helpfulness.
Kids get antsy after a full day of school. They need age-appropriate physical activity to blow off steam. They need a nutritious after-school snack.
Once kids have had the chance to participate in recreational activities with a strong element of physical movement, programs should offer additional enrichment activities that enhance and supplement school curricula, developing observational, problem solving, and creative skills.
An Accommodating Schedule
Finally, an important aspect of what to look for in an after-school program is whether the program offers a schedule that will meet your family’s needs. Attending five days a week may be too much for your child, but three days a week might work well.
Find out about fees, transportation options (will school buses run after school to take participants home?), and whether the program will run on holidays, institute days, or before school.
After-school programs are more than “extra-curricular activities.” They are a chance for kids to boost their academic performance, gain support from adult mentors, and develop life skills that will prepare them for successful lives as adults.
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