When you think back on your early experiences in school, what do you recall about those after school hours?
Running errands with Mom? Getting shuffled between Grandma’s and the babysitters? A few hours of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS?
Instead, imagine that time exploring sensory bins, engaging in stories and creative play, and making joyful connections with peers. Sounds pretty good to us!
The stressors and needs of today’s families and the benefits of a well-designed after school program can make offering the right activities a true win-win-win. Parents and caregivers benefit from having a safe place for their kids, children get further opportunities for enrichment, and your ECE center is the source of that support.
Not sure where to start? We’re here to unpack all you need to know about an effective after school program.
Need a closer look at what a half-day preschool schedule vs. a full-day schedule actually looks like? Don’t miss our Guide to a Successful Full-day Preschool Program!
In the words of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), an effective after school child care program “offers academic and enrichment activities in the hours that follow the school day.”
We love this straightforward definition. It highlights that after school programs offer opportunities for the student, not just a babysitting service for the parents.
With that in mind, we like to think an effective after school program’s goal is to provide a safe place for students during after school hours that continues to nurture learning and child development.
After school child care requires a physically safe place for students. A space that is clean and set up to be child-friendly is critical (put the craft scissors away, folks).
Safety in an after school program also requires appropriate supervision of children. Especially if your center is caring for birth to three year-olds, they cannot be left unsupervised. There need to be an appropriate number of staff members giving children their attention for the entirety of your after school program.
Students also need to feel emotionally safe through consistent care. Reliable and responsive care teaches children to trust others and influences their social-emotional development.
Beyond just offering a physical space with reliable staff, the best after school programs know that kids never stop learning!
There are ample opportunities to offer activities that keep young learners engaged during after school hours. And the benefits have long-lasting impacts. An effective after school program instills the concept of lifelong learning early on.
Plus, after school programs indicate higher academic achievement in high school according to a study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Depending on where your after school participants come from – a different school or your own program – they may not always have opportunities for enrichment activities. Many preschools are half-day, so students are coming to you primed to learn through play, exploration, creation, music and more!
So you understand the goals of an after school program…but how do those goals translate into action?
We’ve got a five point checklist for you to get the ball rolling on your awesome after school program.
Want students to reap all the benefits of after school care? You’ll need great teachers and leaders in the room with your students!
Since children may be at after school care until the evenings, it’s important that your staff members are trained to prepare appropriate snacks, help with diapers or potty training and administer minor first aid.
Routines let students understand the expectations of the environment and influence cognitive, emotional, and social development. The NCSL highlights that “to fully realize all the positives of afterschool programming, students must receive a regular dosage, adequately trained staff, and high-quality programming.”
Practice regularity and become a trusted after school program (for children and parents!) by:
Social emotional learning (SEL) is a buzzword for a reason – it has a huge influence on how students process, reflect, regulate, and connect. Its need continues to grow, and an after school program is a perfect place for students to safely navigate developing their SEL skills.
Want the lowdown on all things SEL? Check out our handbook all about it, including 15 trusted SEL resources!
Child development is generally split up into cognitive, social, language and physical domains. The activities you offer can (and should!) provide ample opportunities for students to grow in all these areas.
If parents or caregivers aren’t able to be with their kids after school, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved! Staying in communication (and making it easy for parents) allows them to stay connected to their child’s day and helps them become part of your center’s community.
With MomentPath’s communication features, you can keep parents and staff in the loop easily. Update an End of Day email summary for a child or share a video of an awesome after school moment. Great communication shows not only how you care for their child, but helps parents feel how much you care.
If you’re building an after school program without considering what the needs of your community is, we recommend you hit the pause button.
What times are most of the parents in your community unavailable and in need of after school child care? Don’t assume everyone’s free at 6pm! Perhaps your center will have more success being open until 8pm.
Some other helpful insight to gather from your community:
Let these answers guide your program’s location, staff makeup, hours and mission. And if you’re lucky enough to have a preschool PTO on hand, don’t hesitate to get their input!
Once you know what community needs you’re filling with your after school program, there are some foundational steps you’ll need to attend to.
A key benefit of an after school program for your preschool or child care center? You are early learning experts!
As a trusted organization for learning and growing, today’s parents already know what you have to offer their children.
Keep that standard for excellence in your after school programming through:
Choosing the right child care management system for an after school program can make all your operational and customer service needs a breeze.
Utilize a system that:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 77.2% of mothers with children under age six worked full time and 95.3% of fathers with younger children worked full time in 2021.
It’s not too hard to read between the lines on this one: there’s a huge need for after school programming to meet the needs of working parents!
Parents could make a number of choices for their young learners during after school hours. Maybe they hire a babysitter or have a family member help out.
But the right after school program can offer so much to children. Extended development opportunities, trained ECE staff members and a reliable schedule in a safe environment give parents peace of mind and students meaningful learning opportunities.
At MomentPath, we believe every ECE organization is a crucial part of the community it serves. As they say, it takes a village. A high quality after school program makes that village stronger – for today and many years to come.