Over the course of a typical school year, there are around 525 hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. As an afterschool professional with more than 10 years of experience designing, implementing, and evaluating out-of-school time programs, I’ve seen the afterschool hours spent in many different ways.
I’ve seen youth participate in sports, church programs, tutoring, school-based programs, and, as the Senior VP of Programming and Evaluation at Girls on the Run International, I’ve seen girls transform through youth development programs.
These 525 precious hours represent tremendous opportunity to learn, to connect, to grow, and to be active. A recent external study of the Girls on the Run program showed us just how impactful a high-quality afterschool program can be.
Once you’ve determined the after school opportunities available to your child this year, here are some questions to consider to help your family take full advantage of this time based on what we learned from the study:
Does the program have specific goals?
And do those goals match what my child and I hope they’ll get out of the experience? It’s important to understand this before you begin to explore a program. Look for afterschool programs that have clear goals for participants, such as increased physical activity, enhanced life skills, or improvements in academic outcomes. A program is a good fit when there is overlap between your goals and the goals of the program.
Does the program have an intentional structure or curriculum?
A high-quality afterschool program will have both goals and a plan in place to ensure that participants reach them. Review program materials and talk with program staff to better understand what activities your child will participate in during the time they’re at the afterschool program and how those activities connect to the stated goals.
Who’s leading the program?
There’s no question that trained, supportive adults are critical to the out-of-school time experience. The ideal program will be staffed with adults who are intentional about building relationships with and among program participants, creating an inclusive environment, and focusing on personal improvement. Look for a program with small group sizes and low adult-to-child ratios to ensure that kids get what they need from program staff.
What are program participants working towards?
In high-quality programming, kids have the opportunity to set goals, apply effort over time, and complete something that matters to them. Culminating activities do not have to be elaborate – they just need to give kids something to work toward. For example, kids may write different stories over the course of a program that are compiled into a book to share.
How much fun will my child have?
Last, but certainly not least, afterschool programming should be fun! Kids are motivated by fun, and when you find a program that interests your child, they’ll be excited to participate. The best way to get a gauge for fun when considering an afterschool program is to visit. Are the kids engaged? Are they smiling when they talk to staff and to one another? Does the program include creative and fun elements? And most importantly, do kids say they are having fun?
Whether you have one afterschool program available to you or 10 different options, these are important questions to consider as we move into a new school year. Your child is going to be doing something for 525 hours after the bell rings. Make it count.