This blog was featured on The Modern Parent, a segment of The Rhode Show. Click here to view this episode.
Choosing a before and after school program for your child can make or break your child’s school year. Although children are older and they are not in a program for a long period of time, it is still an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
To begin, it’s important to do your research!
• Use the internet to map out what programs are in the area, and more importantly, which programs transport to and from your school. There are lots of programs outside of your child’s school that will come, pick up your child, and provide them with an afternoon of learning and fun at their facility.
• Word of mouth. Talk to neighbors and friends. Ask their opinions on programs. Lots of children need to attend programs, and I’m sure local parents have great insight into programs that have worked well for them.
• Ask the school. Many schools keep a list of area programs for parents. Many secretaries are also the eyes and ears of their school. They may know a lot about a program by the way the teachers come to pick up the child. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
While researching, ask yourself some important questions:
• What do I want my child to get out of the program? It’s important to ask yourself what the perfect program would be providing for your child. Do you want homework help? A place to hang out and have fun? A place that provides structure like a school day? Figure out what is best and start there.
• What kind of program will my child want to attend? Especially as children get older, they should have a say in the program they will be going to. It’s much easier to get a child to their program in the morning if it’s a place they enjoy. They will want to go, and participate, and it will be much less of a struggle. Remember, for a child, the school day can be long enough. You want to add a program do it that they enjoy.
• What is the cost and what does the cost include? Two programs may cost the same amount, but one may include many additional meals, snacks, or programs. On the other hand, one might cost a few dollars more, but the quality of the program is worth the additional money.
One of the biggest tips for choosing a before and after school program is to tour the program! It is super important to tour the facility before you enroll in the program and see it in action. You will be able to get a glimpse into how the program is run, how the staff interacts with the children and how challenges might be handled. Many parents can get a feel for a program just from the tour themselves and the vibe they receive from the tour giver.
Just remember, there are definitely some red flags when touring a program. Look out for the following when checking out local before and after school programs:
• Lack of cleanliness. If you are touring a room and the children are not occupying it, it should be clean and put together.
• Safety procedures not being followed. If you see a safety issue during your tour, you should address it with the director right away.
• Unorganized chaos during the tour. Seeing many children running around with no planned activities for a long period of time does that you may want to take a second tour or ask some questions about what happens when it gets a little chaotic.
• High staff-child ratio and/or lack of teacher engagement. When you walk into a classroom it's important to note how many kids and how many staff are in the room and what the teachers are doing to engage the children.
• Mixed age groups. Children should be separated by age groups and young children should not be with older children, especially if they are under the age of kindergarten for safety reasons.
Nicole Chiello is the Director of The Children’s Workshop in Smithfield, RI. She recieved a BA in Elementary Education and Psychology from URI. Nicole has been with the team for four years. Before being a director, she was a school-age coordinator in Warwick, as well as a substitute for the Public Schools. Her favorite thing about working with children is the guarantee that every day is different!