By this time of year, children have settled into their school routines. Yet, many parents still face the challenge of figuring out the best way for their children to spend their afterschool hours. In fact, according to the Afterschool Alliance, while more than 8.5 million children attend afterschool programs – 15 million are left unsupervised every day.
The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. present a tremendous opportunity to extend a child’s development. If you’re among the legions of parents who’ve seen school budget cuts eliminate important programs like sports, music and art, you might be heartened to learn that today’s afterschool programs address invaluable social-emotional skills as well as physical and academic needs, and foster a sense of belonging. For example, at the Y – which has become an afterschool destination for more than 580,000 kids nationwide annually – youth can participate in a variety of experiences to help further their development, from STEM activities to global citizenship programs to service based volunteer projects.
So, how do you select an afterschool program for your child? Here are a few questions to consider:
- Does the program foster achievement? Look for programs that appeal to children’s curious minds to get them excited about learning. A growing number include activities centered on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) or the arts. Through these types of programs, children learn self-expression, dialogue, and critical thinking.
- Does the program foster relationships? Social skills are vital to helping children build a sense of self and manage their emotions. Afterschool group activities should help teach your child how to work with others in a respectful and supportive environment.
- Does the program foster healthy habits? Your child’s health is important, too. Quality afterschool programs should follow a set of standards that ensure nutritious snacks and encourage at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. (Watching TV until 6 p.m. should be a concern!)
- Does the program make safety a priority? Safety and risk management should be top prioritiesin quality afterschool programs. Programs need to have procedures such as child abuse prevention, aquatic safety, emergency and crisis readiness, safe environments, transportation and trip safety in place. Additionally, a quality program should meet state and local licensing standards for safety.
- Does the program set high standards for staffing? Quality afterschool programs should have a team who are certified by the state and have undergone a background check. They should also be trained in basic youth development principles and developmentally appropriate practices.
As a parent you already know instinctively the types of environments that support your child’s development. Remember the last time you picked her up after her first day of camp, school, Sunday school? What did you ask? “What did you learn (achievement)?” “Did you make any new friends (relationships)?” “Do you want to go back (belonging)?”
Be bold and ask your afterschool provider to recommend programs that give you the answers you seek from these important questions.
For more information about afterschool programs in your area, visit www.ymca.net.
Jorge Perez is VP of Youth Development, Family Enrichment and Social Responsibility for YMCA of the USA, the national resource office for 2,700 Ys across the country. With an emphasis on social-emotional development and a cradle-to-career framework, Jorge oversees the implementation and scaling of programs that help youth succeed in school and life.