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Bright ideas: Evaluating after-school programs

Our readers share their experiences with after-school programs.

By GreatSchools Staff

Many parents are concerned about the availability and quality of after-school programs. Thanks to our readers who wrote in to share what they like — and don't like — about the programs their children attend.

What to look for:

A California mother of a 6-year-old appreciates her program's atmosphere of love and respect.

"The program is wonderful and my son loves it. They have a fantastic staff that is so full of energy and enthusiasm that it inspires my son to play, learn and grow everyday. Part of their program is an optional homework club and my son loves it. He comes home proud of himself that he has completed his daily homework and had fun while doing it. At his last after-school program, all he talked about was the new video game he played and I noticed the staff did not interact with the children much. Now he talks about the outdoor games he plays, as well as board games and children's card games, or new songs he's learned or books he's read. I have seen nothing but improvements since my son started attending this program."

One mother of a second-grader likes her program because it's well organized.

"It includes tutors and a place for students to complete their homework after school if they choose to do so. Once their homework is completed they have a choice to work on arts and crafts or to play games. The children interact with each other very well by age group. They can also view a movie. When I would pick my daughter up early she would be upset, so now I allow her to enjoy the after-school program until it closes."

A Florida mom of a kindergartner boasts of her quality program with a bargain price.

"The program is $6 per day. For an extra cost, from $15 to $30 a month, they also offer a community program that consists of tutoring classes, piano, guitar, judo, ballet, computer and FCAT remedial classes. That's a bargain compared with the cost of private places. My son goes to judo twice a week and tutoring to learn to read twice a week, and he's very advanced in reading. That's what I think every school needs to have in their after-school program. When I pick him up from school I'm not worried about my schedule because he's already done all his activities and I have more time to share a nice conversation with him while I'm cooking, and the whole family can have dinner together every night."

An Illinois mother of two describes the assets of her quality after-school program.

"It hosts grades K through 5 and does a remarkable job of making sure the kids are always busy and entertained. They have a well-trained staff (all CPR certified), varying in age, to supervise and interact with the children. They have an outdoor playground with swings, monkey bars, basketball hoops and a variety of accessories to play with, such as baseballs, kickballs and hula hoops. The building also has a gym, a room for art projects, and a snack room with a working oven, stove and refrigerator. The fourth- and fifth-graders also have access to the computer room. They have a study room where students can do their homework and receive assistance if they need help. The program has more board games, electronic games, books and play stations than you would ever imagine. On rainy days, they will put on a movie for everyone to enjoy. Each month the school prints a calendar of the daily activities that the children can enjoy, such as jewelry making, hairdo days, card trading and cooking classes, along with several other activities I'm sure I'm missing."

Comments from readers

"I am going to go back to work full time and I was interested in hearing from working mothers about child care. I have stayed out of work for 3 years because I am afraid to leave my children with the baby sitter. I have had nightmare situations and I am the best to care for my kids. I appreciate the feedback I have no choice I do not want to lose my job, so I will go back to work, reluctantly. Andrea sahm of 4 NYC"
"Mother in North Carolina: Yes, you do have a VERY strict job. What line of business is this that is so unaccommodating of working moms and/or parents. Isn't there anywhere else you can work that isn't so stressful? I can't imagine having to face that each day. On a daily basis, any number of things can put me to work 10-15 mins late regardless of how early I leave or how hard I try to round everyone up. It makes me sad that anyone would have to work in the environment that you do. I know good jobs are hard to find, but is it really worth the stress on you and your family?"
"Another thing I'd recommend adding to 'watch out for' is staff that yells a lot and is rude/frightening to the children. We eventually had to switch schools due to this (no other way for us to get different after-school care for her). She dreaded going to the program, and is now MUCH happier where the staff is in control, but respectful and kind too."