Out of School Time Programs
Out of school time programs provide children with opportunities to get additional help with school subjects, to develop socially and emotionally, and to learn about new topics of interest to them. It involves tutoring or enrichment activities in various settings:
- Before and after school care
- Summer programs
In addition to the enrichment opportunities that out of school time programs offer, many parents need before and after school care or summer programs for their child (through the middle school years) to provide a safe environment that matches their work schedule.
There are many organizations that offer programs for children and youth. It is important to make sure that the program is a quality program that can meet the needs of the child. Visiting a program prior to enrolling a child provides the opportunity to see the staff in action with the children. Parents should observe a group of children to see what they are learning and doing during the program hours to determine whether the program will fit their child’s needs. Parents can ask about the kinds of projects, activities and/or themes that are done in the program. Parents should ask the staff whether children have choice in activities. There are three elements of a good program:
- Program content
The environment should be safe. All equipment should be appropriate to the space and children should be taught safety rules. Procedures should be in place for emergency situations and fire drills should be held routinely. Children should feel secure. Doors should be locked and a procedure should be in place for children to sign in and a procedure for leaving at the end of the program.
Children should feel secure to explore new ideas and test out interests (academic, arts, sports, music, social skills, etc.). The program should ensure that children feel accepted for who they are and have bully prevention strategies in place.
The area where the children and/or youth work should be safe with appropriate materials and equipment for the age of the child. The area should be attractive and engaging. The room should be colorful, have interesting areas in the room for students to work and be well organized. There should be a small adult-to-child ratio.
Staff should have clear goals for the program that meet the needs of the children, families and community. These should be clearly communicated to parents and children. The staff should demonstrate their commitment to taking the time and energy needed to promote the children’s learning and healthy development. Parents should see staff engaged with the children and observe that the staff is well prepared for the activities each day.
In addition, the staff should respond to the social, emotional and developmental needs of the children and youth. Parents should ask staff how they meet the individual needs of children. Professional development is important so that the staff continues to learn how to better meet the needs of the children and youth in the program. Parents should ask about the workshops and trainings staff have recently attended.
The program should fit the children’s physical, social and emotional development. The materials used, teaching strategies and activities should be appropriate for the child’s age and maturity. The program should help children be successful in school. This might mean help with reading or mathematics. The program might help children be successful in school by developing their social skills and helping them to become more comfortable participating in discussions and other activities. Program content should be relevant to the children’s lives and be interesting to them so that they become actively engaged in the learning activities.
Daily routines should be varied. For example, a program might have one day where children have a musical activity and another day they might be involved in performing a play. Parents should ask to see a weekly or monthly schedule to determine whether the program has various components.
Children should have some input to activities and some choice in what they will be doing. For example if the children have read a story they might have a choice between drawing a picture or writing about the story. Parents should ask the staff whether children have a choice.