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Childcare watching hours: where is your child after 3 p.m.?

In 60% of American families with school-age children, both parents work outside of the home, leaving many scrambling for child care between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.

By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff

One quarter of all school-age kids care for themselves after school, a big change since the days of Ozzie and Harriet when the majority of moms worked in the home.

In fact, the disconnect between parental job constraints and school hours has given rise to its own special brand of anxiety: Parental After-School Stress.

Parental After-School Stress

In 2004, Drs. Rosalind Barnett and Karen Gareis of Brandeis University found that working parents frequently worry about their children between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., especially if they have precarious after-school arrangements, such as having older children caring for their younger siblings. This phenomenon, which they dubbed Parental After-School Stress, is further aggravated by long commutes and inflexible work hours.

One sure way to alleviate Parental After-School Stress is to offer parents quality after-school programs. Good programs keep younger kids safe and older kids out of trouble. They also motivate and engage children who might otherwise be tempted to watch too much television, or who might remain inactive and isolated during the after-school hours.

Ten Qualities of Great After-School Programs

How do you know if an after-school program is adequate, good or great? Many organizations, such as Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs, the National Afterschool Association and the YMCA, have guidelines for assessing after-school programs. GreatSchools has compiled this list of assessments from guidelines provided by these and other groups.

1. A staff trained in child development.

The staff should be of an appropriate age and be trained in child development, early childhood education or recreation.

2. Lots of healthy snacks and drinks.

Look for fresh fruit and vegetables, a low ratio of chips and cookies, and an interesting variety of food options.

3. A variety of activities.

There should be a wide array of activities, such as sports, cooking, crafts, field trips and homework help.

4. A planned and balanced schedule.

The daily schedule should be balanced, planned in advance and available to parents. Each day should include some indoor time and some outdoor time, with a balance of quiet and active time. Furthermore, there should be a balance between child-initiated (free-time) and staff-initiated activities.

5. A polite and friendly staff.

Watch the staff interactions with the children. The staff should be polite and friendly to both children and parents, and should interact frequently with the kids.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/18/2009:
"Our children need more than a one size fits all. As parents we need options. Our school district didn't inform us parents that months ago they decided to give two award winning after school programs to the YMCA. Had they communicated with us as much then as they are now (efforts to appease us) we could have raised the funds necessary to retain the programs for another school year. They deliberatly kept us in the dark so that they could continue with a plan that would save them money. Unfortunately, there's also a conflict of interest. Some who sit on the school board also sit on the board at the YMCA. Problem. We want our story to be heard. The programs in place are working. Our children need that in tact. What the YMCA should do is vamp up it's babysitting programs on site after school and let DASH and STRETCH continue serving our children in ways no other program has. "
09/4/2007:
"In our case the more relevant question is, 'Who takes care of your child after 11:30am?'. I'm not sure how 'normal' this is, but our daughter's kindergarten only runs from 8:10am to 11:30am, M-F. After that she's in one of the county's daycare programs, from 11:30am to 6:30pm each weekday. So this means our little 5-yr old girl is in this public run facility for 35 hours a week! So, since our daughter is currently at daycare for 35 hours a week versus just 16.5 hours for kindergarten (yes, you added correctly - that's longer than the average adult's work week), obviously we're more concerned about the quality of her daycare right now than that of her kindergarten. But to our dismay, the facility fails on all 10 criteria in your checklist. So, coupled with the fact my husband and I battle highway traffic for up to 1.5 hours every afternoon to pick up our child, Parental-After-School-Stress is our daily reality right now. So for anyone in a similar situation, I have a few feelings I'd like to share with you about this. First, please, I beg you parents who are offering advice here on how we simply need to 'realign our values,' 'sacrifice a bit more financially,' or 'curb our enthusiasm for consumer gadgets like fat TVs and boats', to restrain yourselves. (One gentleman even prefaced his critique by saying 'It would be easy for me to make 'holier-that-thou' observations about others', but Sir, you then went ahead and did precisely that!) Your over-simplified remedies and judgements are hurtful and offensive to families who genuinely do not have stay-at-home options -- for reasons you may never have experienced or may never understand. Second, my husband and I are determined to fight our feelings of hopelessness and guilt, and we hope that you do too. First of all, we're not going to let ourselves underestimate the influence we're having on our child by providing her a loving, secure, and structured home environment. Second, we're treating the situation just one day at a time: we'll pull our daugther out early from daycare on days when we can, but when that's not feasible, we'll use our lunch hours and any spare time (such as now) to plan ways we can help improve the quality of the daycare. For example, this article has strengthened my resolve to rally support from like-minded parents, draw attention from the school, PTA, local community, council, and even corporations to the daycare facility's needs, in a non-criticalm, helpful manner. And I'll look into funding from Prop 49 too! So thank you for the inspiration GreatSchools. I hope my thoughts have contributed something positive to this important subject."
01/10/2007:
">From North Carolina on 1/10.07: I have a professional degree but chose to stay at home with our 3 kids, mainly because I felt the need to be home with them to help with homework, project, sports practices, etc. While I did work when they were young, I found working once they were school age to be harder. Why? The lack of affordable and quality after school care. Your article is right on point!"
01/9/2007:
"Thank You man from Georgia ( 1/8/2007). My wife passed away 4 years ago at the young age of 40 leaving me to care for our 4 children. I received a very modest monthly income after her death so I felt the need to keep working. Well after I lost two jobs because my children needed me more (p/u sick child at school, doctor or dentist appt., children streesing over moms death etc..)I decided to turn in my pride, which amounted to material possessions and what others thought of me, and become a (gulp) HouseDad. I might add this is probably the hardest 'job' I have ever had with the lowest pay but the greatest reward. The stability and security it offers my children is more than any money in the world can buy. So hats off to all parents who make the sacrifice in the name of your children. It is the greatest investment you will ever make!!! "
01/9/2007:
"MY SON HAS BEEN IN THE AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAM FOR 6YRS. HE IS NOW IN THE 5TH GRADE, BEING A NURSE WITH OCC. LONG HOURS, I DON'T KNOW WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT THE AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM. I HOPE WHEN MY SON GOES TO JUNIOR HIGH THAT SUCH A PROGRAM WILL BE OFFERED. HE THINKS HE'S TOO OLD FOR A NURSERY BUT HE IS TOO YOUNG TO BE LEFT ALONE AT HOME. MY THANKS GOES OUT TO THOSE WHO MAKE THIS PROGRAM POSSIBLE. "
01/9/2007:
"I wholeheartedly agree with the respondant from Georgia! I am a stay at home mom with 3 kids in school. I have frequently had to respond to puzzled looks and inquirys about when I am going to start working... We do choose to live a more modest lifestyle in order for me to be here for them. I am glad though, that programs are available for those in single parent homes, and if my husband were to lose his job, I would be forced to look for alternatives as well. Thanks for the encouagement!"
01/8/2007:
"Who watches the kids at my house - me, the dad. We have the luxury of not needing two incomes any more, so I stay at home. It would be easy for me to make 'holier-that-thou' observations about others, but I recognize that everyone's situation is different. Without being too harsh, I would only suggest that intact, two parent households, where both parents work, should have an honest conversation about their financial wants and needs. The most important thing we can do is raise our children ourselves. Is staying at home always goodness and bliss, hell no. However, I find much greater enjoyment in knowing how and what my children are doing, as opposed to the pleasure of the extra big screen tv/boat/bike /car/lake house we could buy if I was still working. Make my mark in life? Sure, with two kids who are capable of living in this crazy world when they grow up. What more could any man, or any parent, want."
01/4/2007:
"Iam glad this article came up. My wife, myself and our two little kids(5 and 2) recently moved to Hamilton, NJ. YMCA who controls the After School Programs in the schools keeps telling us there is no space for our 5yr old. I work till 6pm and my wife starts from 12 to 9pm so just imagine the kind of situation we are in. Sometimes, we feel we made the wrong choice of buying a home in Hamilton."
01/3/2007:
"I really do believe that there is a problem with the hours of 3-6 p.m. in the evening due to working parents and this was a very interesting article to read. This issue needs to be addressed. Thank you for the thought."
12/20/2006:
"I can definitely appreciate the acknowledgement of Parental After School Stress (PASS); I am a sufferer of this disorder. I am a single parent earning a well above average income, but must do so in order to care for three children alone. This means that I have increased responsibility, travel, and sometimes, extended hours. There are no middle school programs in my area (my oldest is in college, and my middle son is on the basketball team at school and cannot watch his younger sister). My question is, 'How am I supposed to come up with the time to develop my own program?' I actually could write the grant, but I do not have any manpower to run the program, as I am AT WORK! While I understand the need for awareness, this article actually made me more stressed out than I was before reading it!"
12/18/2006:
"from Georgia divorced single mom with no family around. My 3 kids are now middle school and high school. I use to work 40 hours a week---for 16 years until downsized. I've been through every daycare dilemma you can name--from blessed with the best person, place, pay,and time to opposite worst and paying too much for bad service and time crunches. Near the end of my journey, the recreation center next to my daughter's school kept kids for free intially then 40.00 per month and it was supervised. My next move was the boys and girls club--close to my home and work-supervised, and 10.00 per year---now I think it's 35.00 per year. M to M PROGRAM last of all, for better schools---long hours but no before or after school care because the bus is early and get in late. "
12/15/2006:
"My dilemma with afterschool programs with my local elem school is that my children have autism and they(teachers) keep them separated from the rest of the kids; to give my children the benefits of inclusion and possibility of social skills and play, I am forced to pay $150.00 a week in a private before/after school program. I would gladly pay the $6.00 a day per child for the after school programs in public schools but at the risk of secluding my children. "
12/14/2006:
"I think the reason that we have more children getting in to trouble and dropping out of school is directly to no one being home for the children. Housing the children in daycare, where no one cares is the worse thing parents are now doing. Where are the grandparents, who use to be their for the grandchildren, and their parents. We are living to far away from our family's, the children are the ones that are paying for it! Some one needs to be their for the children from birth to the day they move out on their own!"
12/11/2006:
"I think it's great some of the information out of this article. Like what Tennessee and California are doing to help promote after-school programs for kids. That's great! How about an article or some information on resources to use to find out about after school programs in other states, like Florida and North Carolina and others? Great article though! With myself being a single mom, this information is a great start for me! Thanks!"
12/11/2006:
"For middle school and high school students and even some elementary,It would be nice if dance,nusic,art drama,sewing,cooking etc were incorporated in the after school programs. Private instrutors would offer these class on a group hourly rate basic. It will cost less for the parents and the school will only have to provide the space and a contract with the private instructor.The instructor will also have a regular gig all year round. Students will elect to do what they choose and be happy. not to mention be in a safe enviroment. A win win situation all around."
12/6/2006:
"Perhaps people should re-evaluate their values and expenses. (I realize single parents still have a hard time, I am addressing most of the two-income families). Our family does not have cable TV, we have one car. I take the bus to work. We cut back on our expenses so my wife can be there for our children. We had them, and we are chosing to raise them ourselves. The rewards, time, and the closeness we have as a family are so worth the money we don't have. I prefer not to suffer from 'Parental After School Stress' by having a parent there."
12/4/2006:
"I am currently a junior psychology major at FSU and I work at a boys & girls club. I believe that the importance of after school programs are underestimated. Not only are social interactions and interpersonal relationships imporoved by attending these programs, but the most important thing is the hope that we are able to embed in the child's future. As a staff member, we are a friend, a homework helper, a 'big brother/big sister' figure, and my favorite, a role model. "
12/4/2006:
"HI, I;M AM HAVING THE MORNING CARE PROBLEM I NEED TO LEAVE HOME AT LIKE 5:30IN THE MORNING TO GET TO WORK AT 7:00AM BECAUSE I DRIVE FROM BATON ROUGE TO NEW ORLEANS MON-FRI MY OURS ARE 7:00-4:00PM BUT LATELY I MAKE TO WORK AT 7:30 AND THEN HAVE TO MAKE UP TIME TILL 4:00PM THEN I AM REALLY PUSHED FOR TIME IN BEING HOME FOR WHEN MY DAUGHTER ARRIVES FROM HER AFTER SCHOOL CARE PROGRAM WHICH DROPS HER OFF AT ABOUT 5:35PM. I JUST FOUND A PLACE AROUND THE HOUSE THAT OPENS AT 6:00AM . I WISH SCHOOLS COULD HAVE BEFORE AND AFTER PROGRAMS TO HELP OUT PARENTS THAT MIGHT BE IN MY SITUATION. "
12/1/2006:
"I am employed by Club 18 at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. I'm completing my Masters degree in Counseling Psychology, and I must say I am very impressed with this program, love working here and feel delighted and inspired by the Middle School and High School teens I see who utilize this program. Please check it out as a very affordable ($1 per day) after-school program that operates hours for Middle Schoolers from 2pm-6pm M-Th, 2-4pm Fridays. http://www.jccsf.org/content_main.aspx?catid=99"
12/1/2006:
"I definitivelly agree that after school care is a major crisis that is afecting most American families now a days, specially single parent families with little or no community support. I have a Junior High student that will be starting high school next year, and have been suffering tremendous financial hardships, eventhough I am a professional, because I can only work part time to be able to take care of my teen after 3:00 p.m. And the battle is not over! I still do not feel confident to leave her home alone after school once she enters high school. I for one wouldn't mind starting an effective after school program for junior highers and high schoolers."
11/30/2006:
"I recently moved to Texas from Virginia and have found things very different here. In Virginia they have what is called SAC (School Aged Care) that is held at the school before and after school, but is run by a local daycare center. Its inexpensive and great. Texas doesn't offer this type of program that I can find, but should. My 8 yr old attends Kids R Kids for before and after care ONLY and its 90/week. The only BAD thing about this is that when school is closed, the Daycare is closed as well which still leaves me out of options when I have to work. Keller, Tx"
11/29/2006:
"Very alarmed for next year when my daughter goes to middle school. How will I know if the school we select has any after school programs? Will I have to quit my job? I will not have my daughter at 13 going home and being alone. "
11/29/2006:
"Although the article had some good advice, the statistics cited were alarmist. When you look at the actual results of the study, only 1% of Kindergarten age and 7% of 1st-5th graders are by themselves afterschool. Probably the most concern is with middle schoolers, of whom 34% are by themselves for at least part of that time (I know that I was). 52% of 9th-12th graders are by themselves. I think it's important to really define what the problem actually is. Many older kids are perfectly able to care for themselves for a couple of hours and frankly, probably need a break from being in an intense social environment. I agree with the other comment from California. Knowing your neighbors, using phones, arranging car pools, knowing your kids friends are very important aspects of supervising children, too, particularly for middle and highschoolers. Although I am sensitive to the fact that working parents struggle with how to get afterschool care,I'm concerned about seemingly easy s! olutions of providing on-site care after and before school care in the lower grades. I think younger children also need downtime away from peers, a break from the intensity of their peers and the school environment, and the more personal and loving presence a parent can provide. I have no easy answers but wonder about the advisability of these programs."
11/27/2006:
"I strongly agree with the comment about After-School Programs. They are an essential tool for the development of healthy children. These kinds of programs offer much for children of the twenty-first century. I am a mother of two children and my children are enrolled into cyber schooling programs but my children should be engaged into nuturing social environments which can only bring about positive and healthy adults long-termed. I live in an urban area of the city and there are not many of these programs available. Many of the single parent families can not afford the cost to enroll their children into programs such as these. I have a goal to operate one of these programs within my community but I too fit the mold of low-income families and the start-up cost is not in my budget at this time. I have years of experience resulting from employment from existing daycare corporations which surrounds my community.I am known for having the resources to assist many of the children i! n my community with homework help and organizing research reports. The struggle is not with the 'know how' to run a after-school program it is with the ability of obtaining the funds to operate this facility. I am researching information on non-profit organizations and grant writing. I am often taking advantage of opportunities which may help me to reach this goal. If you are able to assist me I would be more than happy to hear back from you."
11/27/2006:
"THIS IS ALL TRUE. I THINK THAT ALL SCHOOLS SHOULD OFFER AN AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM. I AM A SINGLE PARENT AND I HAVE HAD TO REALLY SEARCH TO FIND A PROGRAM FOR MY DAUGHTER. I HAVE TO WORK 5 MORE HOURS A WEEK TO PAY FOR IT BUT IT IS WORTH IT."
11/27/2006:
"Hi, my name is Ada. I am a resident of New York relocating to Florida next year. I am a single mother who's first concern is what school will my daughter attend. Well, she's 10 and will be going to middle school. Florida unfortunately has no after school programs for middle school because they say the kids can take of themselves at that age. I don't agree with that. Floridians, can you forward some advice or information on any after school programs in the Orlando vicinity? Altamonte Springs, Casselberry? Thank you so much."
11/27/2006:
"Excellant Article. My daughter attends after school Program in Village school, west Windsor. They offer an excellant Program. My daughter enjoys her time in EDP. Thanks to the Program, i work in Peace. 3rd graders MOM."
11/27/2006:
"I am a single working mother of a 3 year old and I am currently looking to relocate to a good community in my budget with great schools and top notch after school care. This has proven difficult to find. I echo KB's comment below in that I am also interested in assisting communities including mine start after school programs if the need is there. ~JC"
11/25/2006:
"I'm a working mom and have found it difficult to find affordable and trustworthy care for after school. Luckily I have a flexable schedule. I would love to help anyone to start and run an afterschool program in our community. Having a 2nd grader and being nurse I know how difficult it is to find help. Im in the community and see alot of elementary and Middle school children without supervision. Willing to help thanks, kb"
11/24/2006:
"I am a counselor through the ymca afterschool program and I love it! Thank you New Jersey."
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