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After School Programs

After school programs are designed to provide safety and educational opportunities for students. This article reviews the benefits of after school programs, as well as types of after school programs.

With many children living in families where no parent is able to be home with them when school is over, after school programs are important to children’s well being. After school programs can be run by schools or other organizations, but their goal is generally to provide a safe and educational environment for children after traditional school hours.

After school is a critical time for young people - it is when they are least likely to be supervised and most likely to become involved in dangerous behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, and crime. After school can also be a positive time when young people have the opportunity to enrich their learning or social experiences. After school programs can help reduce risky behaviors in youth and improve their positive achievements.

40% of students in kindergarten through 8th grade are in after school programs. Most of these students are in school or center based programs. Students with mothers who work full time are most likely to be in an after school program. Though students and families in other situations may also benefit from after school programs, for families with working parents they can be especially important in improving academic performance and preventing children from being involved in risky behavior.

Some of the benefits of good after school programs, and features that parents may want to look for, include:

  • Low child-to-adult ratio. In an educational setting this means that each child will get more personal attention, for instance in getting tutoring or help with homework. In programs that are centered more on non-school activities, this generally provides a safer environment with more adult supervision.
  • Educational activities. Many after school programs focus on tutoring, helping students with homework, or other school-related activities. Even those that have another focus can still incorporate learning, such as outdoors education or field trips to local sites like museums or parks. These types of activities can help children do better in school.
  • Reliability. This is an important consideration to most parents when looking for an after school program, especially if the parent works during the time the student will be at the program. Parents want to know that their child will be in a safe environment when the parent expects them to be there.
  • Transportation. Programs that are conducted at the child’s school eliminate the concern about getting the child to the program; the parent just has to get them home again afterwards. For programs that are farther away from the school, the parent often must arrange for transportation, though some programs may provide transportation to the after school program as part of their services.
  • Cost. Most after school programs have some cost to parents, though school and religious programs may be less expensive or provide some type of aid to parents. Parents may want to find out how the money is spent to be sure they are getting good value out of the program. Food, activities, utilities, and salary are some of the main expenses of after school programs.
  • Social interaction. Social interaction is an important benefit of after school programs. They often give students the chance to spend more time with friends. For religious or community programs, the students may get to interact with children from other schools who share some of their values or interests.
  • Physical activity. With the growing concern about American children not getting enough physical activity, especially activity outdoors, parents may want to make sure their child’s after school program will provide time for safe outdoor activities. This can include structured activities like sports, or unstructured time for children to play outdoors.
  • Nutrition. Most after school programs provide an afternoon snack for students, which parents may wish to make sure is healthy.

There are many types of after school programs. Some are mainly academic or social, while others involve students in sports, being outdoors, or the arts, or a combination of these activities. After school programs may be run by a:

  • Public school
  • Private school
  • Church or other religious organization
  • Community center
  • Local organization that focuses on children and their families
  • Day care facility

Parents who are interested in finding an after school program can start by talking to their child’s school, the parents of their child’s friends, and their associates at work or their place of worship. Word of mouth can be a helpful way to find a good after school program because it allows parents to find out what other people have liked or disliked about the program. Before enrolling their student, the parent and student should visit the after school program to make certain that they are both comfortable with the program and feel that it will be safe and meet the child and parent’s needs.

National Center for Educational Statistics, “After School Programs and Activities: 2005” [online]
National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, After School Programs Fact Sheet [online]