Choosing an After-School Program

Working parents desperately need child care between 2 and 6 p.m. Increasingly, schools are offering a place for kids to socialize, learn and play after school. The challenge is to make these after-school programs different enough so that kids don't feel like they've been in school for 10 hours or more each day.

If your community's school system doesn't offer after-school programs, or if the program in your area doesn't suit your child's needs, there are hundreds of independent programs that offer children opportunities for fun and learning after school. While the great number and variety of these enrichment programs give parents and their children many choices, it can also make picking one all the more difficult.

Start by considering your child's interests and visiting several places to get an idea of how the program works and how the staff, children and parents interact. Be a vigilant investigator by asking the following questions:

  • What is the teacher-to-student ratio? How much individual attention will your child receive?

  • Who are the teachers? Are they professionals who can teach your child a specific skill? What are their qualifications? How do they interact with the children in the program? It is also nice to know if the teachers are parents themselves.

  • Do staff members enjoy what they're doing? If the staff isn't friendly and enthusiastic, it is unlikely that your child will be happy there.

  • Is there a mix of ages? How wide is the age range? If a program caters to 9-year-olds as well as 12-year-olds, will the 9-year-olds be left behind or the 12-year-olds be held back?

  • What are the environment and facilities like? Is the program run in a clean, well-lit, safe atmosphere?

  • What are the rules regarding the pick-up of children? Is there flexibility?

  • What is the philosophy of the program? Is it casual and fun or more regimented and academic-oriented? Does it match your child's needs or interests? Decide if you want a focused environment that teaches one skill, or one that offers a variety of experiences and exposes your child to many different possibilities.

Focused Enrichment

Some of the focused enrichment programs include:

Straight Talk About Schools Podcasts

Award-winning teacher, education writer and author of the new book Straight Talk About Schools Today, Judy Molland shares some practical advice for parents on how to help their children be successful in school.

Balancing Academics and Extracurricular Activities

  • Art Classes (age 2 and up)

  • Computer (age 3 and up)

  • Dance (age 3 and up)

  • Drama/Theater (age 7 and up)

  • Foreign Language (age 3 and up)

  • Gymnastics (1 year old and up)

  • Martial Arts (6 and up)

  • Music (18 months and up)

  • Play and Movement (8 months to 10 years)

  • Skating (age 3 and up)

  • Swimming (age 4 and up)

  • Study Skills (age 5 and up)

Volunteering After-School Time

If you're stumped about an appropriate after-school activity for an older child, ask if he or she is interested in community service. If so, discuss your child' interests and develop a list of possible organizations. Here are some questions your child might want to ask about a potential volunteer site:

  • Is there a job description?

  • Will I have an interview?

  • Where will I be working?

  • Will there be a supervisor available if I have concerns or need help?

  • Is there any flexibility in my volunteering schedule? Who will keep track of my hours?

  • What should I do if I can't come in on a particular day?