Choosing the Right After School Program

Updated on December 23, 2017
Michael-Duncan profile image

Michael is an avid content writer and researcher on various topical subjects including development and wellbeing.


Education is one of the most essential and important assets anyone can have and this does not just include academic education, but the development of other extra-curricular skills and development. Children do not need to simply sit around aimlessly or play video games, surf the net or consume junk food for most of their free time while their minds erase the lessons they have learnt. Currently, the number one concern for parents in the United States, even beyond smoking and drugs, is childhood obesity. According to the American Heart Association, a third of all children and teenagers are overweight. One cause of this is an imbalanced approach to the four dimensions of a child's development which we will examine later in this article.

After spending many hours in classroom instruction, a child needs a different type of learning. After school activities avail the opportunity for their minds and skills to be sharpened and prepared for life through non-academic interactions and experiences that help them grow into robust and effective members of society. This happens in conjunction with increase in their learning capabilities, development of social skills and other potentials which are essential for proper maturity. The more the child is exposed and molded beyond the textbook, the quicker they will mature in their personality, emotions, volition and intelligence. This makes the task of parenting easier because they begin to learn self-initiative and how to take personal responsibility at a very young age, instead of passively depending on guardians to do everything for them. It may be tough for them at the beginning, but it will be better for them in the end as well as for you as a parent.

The child receives the opportunity to engage in something they enjoy doing naturally
The child receives the opportunity to engage in something they enjoy doing naturally

Defining the Purpose

Numerous studies have shown that children involved in quality after-school programs, including those that offer homework assistance, have better grades, higher school attendance, better attitudes toward school, higher educational aspirations and less need for disciplinary action, stated Julie Berkhouse, the vice president of the JC Penney After-School Fund.

After the rigors of academics, it is least beneficial for a child to switch into a setting where they sit at home, bored and unengaged in any fruitful activity. This form of upbringing can potentially pave the way to much negative thinking and harmful habits in later teenage years, like connecting with the wrong peer group and engaging in deviant behaviour which compromises the child's future.It takes a single bad decision made in an unguarded moment of a youth's life to set in motion irreparable damage and a lifetime of regret. Prison systems are filled with inmates stemming from such backgrounds - incarcerated because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, during an instance of compromise in their youth. Whether it be a drug bust, an assault, a DUI or even an armed street robbery, a lot of them started off with parents who were well-meaning in their grooming efforts, but things still turned ugly, because of too many unsupervised and idle periods in the course of their childhood.

Research shows that more than 11 million children in the US are unsupervised after school. Destructive habits, deviant tendencies and antisocial behavior tend to develop due to too many unsupervised hours children spend by themselves either at home or in other places while the parents are busy with their lives. At the same time, research has also shown that crime often occurs during after school hours between 3 - 6 p.m., which is why it is all the more important to have children meaningfully engaged such that they do not fall prey or become victims.

An effective after school program presents an opportunity for them to socialize and engage in something that will empower them in their future vocations. As children, they gain additional mentorship, advice and coaching from sources aside from their parents and regular teachers, enabling them to have a balanced, all-rounded preparation for life. So the process has a two-fold benefit, in that it builds the child's personality and sense of responsibility in the society, while at the same time providing them opportunity to engage in something they enjoy doing naturally. The change for the better begins to take shape in their mind and character, without them even being aware of it.

The child whose life is a rotation between the classroom and the bedroom is not really developing in the right way in terms of the essential matters of life as it is. The key is to select an after school activity which is both fun and educational at the same time. They develop such competencies as sound judgment, sustained focus, practice, consistency, discipline, creativity and imagination. These programs also become outlets where the children can express themselves through art, craft, music, drama or other forms of talent-building activities. Textbook learning and traditional education is not enough, especially in the modern times we live in. Preparing a child for the challenges and vicissitudes of life demands a lot more.

Even if a child is naturally introverted, this is an ideal opportunity for them to begin stepping out of their shell and participating the socializing scene. Making this transition early in life will mean an easier adjustment when they move into high school and college where they will need to hold their own when exposed to so many personalities, viewpoints and behaviours all at once which significantly differ from what they were used to in their own private upbringing.

According to research, children who are engaged in such proper after school activities are less likely to be involved in delinquent behavior or suffer depression and burnout. The engagement also reduces the school drop-out rate. The programs open an alternative avenue for them to express themselves and socialize in a way they may not be comfortable doing around their own parents or teachers. The activities involved go a long way in shaping the personality and values of the child, and prevent harmful addictions to gadgets like TVs, videos and PCs.

They express their creativity, explore widely and connect with their meaningful work.
They express their creativity, explore widely and connect with their meaningful work.

Program Examples

There is a wide range of after school programs out there, all the way from those that nurture investigative skills which can be used in real crime detection and prevention, to others that engage in fisheries and sciences. There are Bible summer camps where kids can interact with their peers and learn how to develop their spiritual and social skills in a positive and moral environment. Depending on the age and natural gifts of the child, they could be involved in writing (poetry, prose, creative writing), problem-solving or comprehension. Other alternatives include enrolling the child in an art, music, technology or language school where they can engage in a specific field compatible with their natural talents.

Lori McWilliam Pickert, an educational consultant and author writes: Children, even when very young, have the capacity for inventive thought and decisive action. They have worthwhile ideas. They make perceptive connections. They’re individuals from the start: a unique bundle of interests, talents, and preferences. They have something to contribute. They want to be a part of things. It’s up to us to give them the opportunity to express their creativity, explore widely, and connect with their own meaningful work.

Ideally, the after school program should not be another extension of the academic sessions they have had all day, but instead give them a chance to put into action what they have learnt in theory. Keep in mind that the child will eventually specialize in life and will not be able to recall or apply much of the theoretical details they have learnt in school. The after school program on the other hand, can help build and prepare them for the specific areas where their unique talents will make a impact many years into the future. One of the purposes of the program is to reinforce and complement the intellectual and academic learning that is characteristic of the classroom education.

The four aspects of a child that need to be developed while on the journey toward adulthood are the physical, social, intellectual and emotional dimensions. During each phase of the child’s development, these aspects need to be dealt with separately. The after school program must be able to cater for the child's wellbeing in each of these areas adequately and in a manner that is fitting to the age and potential of the child. The following table gives a short summary of different ages and levels of involvement.

The child is at the initial Kindergarten stage of interaction and is getting acquainted with discipline. It is recommended to have one or two activity sessions per week.
This is Grade 1 stage where the child should be engaged in physical activities. Competitive sports should be avoided as the child is still too young to handle losses and wins. It is recommended to have 1-2 activity sessions per week.
This is Grade 2 stage and the child is able to explain what interests him or her. Place them in an environment where they can develop these interests, while providing ample time for them to be by themselves and unwind.
In Grade 3, it is recommended for them to join sports teams at this stage, enroll in an art, music or other program where they can develop their motor skills.
At Grade 4, the child’s homework should be balanced with the activities that have been selected in line with their talents.
In Grade 5, more supervision is required, because of the vibrant energy the child demonstrates, propelling them into trying many new things. This would be an ideal stage to begin steering them toward community based work or service.
In Middle School, the child needs to be more disassociated from TV and computer games and instead encouraged to be involved in activities that reinforce his learning, including membership in relevant clubs. After school activities upto a maximum of 20 hours a week are OK at this stage. However, be on the alert and sensitive to signs of pressure, overloading and burnout.
The program activity needs to match the talent and potential of the child
The program activity needs to match the talent and potential of the child

Factors to Consider

Participation: Avoid programs that tend to drive a child deeper into isolation rather than engage them meaningfully in interaction with others. It may be that the program relies too heavily on the use of electronics or other gadgets during the course of the program, at the expense of genuinely practical interactions. This is especially so if the child is already inclined toward feelings of loneliness or low self-worth, and looking down on themselves as not being as competent and intelligent as others. A healthy program is not a checklist of events to be passively attended. It fosters meaningful participation, encouraging the child to express himself or herself, without feeling they will be ridiculed or ostracized. Their opinions need to be respected and they should be listened to without prejudice. The ideal program should encourage collaboration and participation rather than competition and antagonism.

Relationships: Before you enroll your child, it is important to realize that one of the key factors that determine whether the program will be a successful undertaking, is the quality of relationships that exist or are being developed between the children and the adult workers in the program, be they trainers, instructors, coaches or mentors. These are going to be the direct socializing agents of your child in the context of the program, therefore right from the beginning, it is necessary to establish that the interaction is healthy enough and brings out the best in the life of the child. Avoid programs which, despite being informative and led by talented instructors, build walls and are not engaging enough. Also to be avoided, are programs which go to the other extreme and emphasize an unhealthy dependence. Use discretion in preventing your child from being led astray.

Regulations: Study the standards, guidelines as well as the practice of discipline involved. How is disciplinary action taken in the event of bullying, harassment, or other forms of misbehavior? Enquire from other parents concerning their experiences with the program and do your own personal research to see if everything checks out before you enroll the child. Check any online reviews concerning the program. Familiarize yourself thoroughly on the safety rules and regulations as well. There should be frequent evaluations done. Also, consider the route and the distance between the location and your home, especially If you are not personally picking the child and taking them yourself. Any likelihood of danger, should be taken care of before enrolling the child. Tour the facilities and see first-hand the approach they place on hygiene, general organization and their administration of the program activities.

Relevance: There is need for compatibility between the talents and potential of the child and the activities offered by the program. Once you have selected the appropriate program to enroll your child in, it is necessary to be continually checking on his or her progress and involving the mentor in making frequent evaluations of the development of the child. If at any point you sense it is no longer benefiting the child appropriately, do not hesitate to switch to something else more relevant to the needs of the child. I would not recommend programs that introduce kids to violence at such an early stage, for example those which emphasize the development of fighting skills and physical confrontation, since it may have the effect of conditioning them especially in the teenage years.

Originality: As noted before, the activities involved in the program should not have the same characteristics as the classroom experiences the child has just been through. They do not need to feel like they have replaced one school learning period for another. This is not to mean that educational after school activities should never be considered. These can still be taken into consideration especially if the child is lagging behind in terms of his or her academic performance in certain subjects where they need to improve on. However, after spending so many hours every day moving from one class to another, it is likely to experience strain and burnout from the time spent sitting down and studying. This may also lead to an increasing distaste toward school and academics in general. In contrast, a recreational program would challenge them in a different way and even wear them out physically to where they will be mentally refreshed and face their academics with renewed energy. Sometimes, this is the best antidote for poor academic performance.

The child may be drawn to digital gadgets more than anything else
The child may be drawn to digital gadgets more than anything else

Preparing Your Child

As highlighted before, it is necessary from the earliest stages to observe keenly what direction the child’s interests are inclined toward. This can be determined even in the developmental phases by simple steps like checking the type of toys they are most interested in playing with, and what begins to become their favorite pastimes. The child may be drawn to digital gadgets more than anything else, or perhaps a chessboard, specific colours, tunes or certain liquids. Out of what is available in the immediate environment, what sparks the interest of the child the most? Is he or she gravitating toward chess, chemistry, music or computers? Having established where the child's interests lie, it is possible later on to guide them in that direction when it comes to after school activities and continued education, be it in drama or sports like athletics, swimming, cycling or gymnastics.

Carrie Prudente, director of education programs for Boys & Girls Clubs of America stated: Research shows that without significant educational support, many young people are likely to accept low standards of academic achievement, leading to unrealized potential and locking them into limited opportunities for employment and life. Becoming a boy scout or girl guide at a young age, can foster the personal values and discipline necessary for them to develop strongly in life, while at the same time learning to take responsibility for themselves and for others. This helps them step out of their own private worlds and experience the realities of life in a broader context.

Do your own research into the best approach to provide for a child with the type of interests and abilities that yours has. Don't just rely on general information, teachers' recommendations or the input from other parents who have had kids with similar talents or endowments. Similarly, when preparing your child, take into account his or her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. If for example, the child is obese, it would be advisable to enroll them in a program that is activity-based. Depending on the skills of the child, they can be enrolled in a sports program like baseball, basketball, aerobics, ballet, tennis or swimming. An emotionally hypersensitive child may find it preferable to start off with a program that involves a small group where they will not feel overstretched.

Create an environment that enhances or helps cultivate the activities of the program that your child is involved in.
Create an environment that enhances or helps cultivate the activities of the program that your child is involved in.

A Fostered Environment

So what happens when after a while, the child no longer is interested with the program? For example, they may have started off with a lot of determination and interest in piano or guitar learning and now suddenly, they are no longer interested and have to be pushed to go for the next class. First of all, it is important as a parent to investigate and try find out the real reason without jumping into any conclusions. Enquire from the instructors and check with other parents and students concerning what is really going on with the program. Is it too inflexible, or are there too many strict rules to follow? Is the routine too demanding, boring or monotonous?

Check if the program would be something you would want to attend yourself and see if there is enough inspiration and motivation to enroll and participate. Have a dialogue session with the child to try and dig in and find out if there are any perceivable problems with the activities involved, the instructors or other students. Weigh in all the facts, compare notes and then exercise your judgement and intuition. It may be that the child is lonely, as they have not been able to connect and find any real friends within in the group. Do not force him or her into continuing in something they dislike – the program needs to involve something that is inspiring for them and they are enthusiastic about. If it does not meet the conditions, it is time to move on to another program which can.

Create an environment that enhances or helps cultivate the activities of the program that your child is involved in. It is necessary to make it easier for them to adjust to the program so that it does not feel like a huge challenge to them or a major shock that they need to comply with. Added to this, involve them in household duties, outdoor work, taking care of siblings, engaging with trusted neighbours, friends and relatives so that they are prepared for the time when they too will take responsibilities in future. These can also pass as complementary extracurricular activities!

Apart from the school textbooks, it is necessary to build a home library around the specific skills and abilities that the child has so that they are able to learn as much as they can and improve themselves. Remind them of the future value of developing themselves in this way. Establish a reward and appreciation system for performance in order to ensure the child remains motivated to continue with the program. Draw parallels between his experiences in the program, his academics and real-world experiences. You will be fostering the right atmosphere for the child to absorb, learn and move on to the next level.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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