It's 3PM...Now What?

By Liza Hards

At 3 p.m., the school day may be finished, but your child’s learning doesn’t have to be.  Many parents wonder what should be kids be doing after school and where is the best place for quality after school programs? It is important to also ask, what is the goal for your child in the hours after school finishes?  Is it to fill the time before you get home from work, provide interesting “out of school” experiences, reinforce newly learned skills, increase their confidence, meet new friends or to explore new interests and activities?  Most likely, it is for all of these reasons and more. Finding the right after-school program to meet these needs doesn’t have to be a struggle.  Here are a few things to consider before choosing the right after school option that is best for your child.

Ease of Transition - Try to find offerings where your child feels comfortable with the surroundings and the instructors.  Go with a friend from school or observe or visit a class before committing to the whole semester.  In order for it to be a successful experience, your child needs to feel safe and comfortable.

Build Confidence - Look for experiences where your child can take on a new role, learn a new skill or make a new friend.  Successful after school experiences can boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence in many ways by allowing children to discover new talents or challenge themselves.

Reinforce skills - The practice and review of newly learned skills is essential for mastery of a topic, especially in the area of math. Your child may benefit from programs which reinforce skills through repetition and practice. Just make sure that their learning is geared toward hands-on application and not just skill and drill exercises that lack real meaning and content.

Try something new! - Maybe your child has expressed in interest in something, but you would like to have them try to out before investing more time into the area.

Deepen Interest - After School programs are a perfect time for children to gain new experiences in topics that they already enjoy.  Working with different materials or a different instructor can allow children to challenge their prior knowledge and gain new perspectives

Ask Questions - Look for programs offered through your child’s school or local vendors.  Ask what the teacher to student ratio is, who develops the curriculum and what kinds of activities will be done during the class.  Ask your child questions about what they enjoyed, what was hard for them or what they are looking forward to doing next.

Less really may be more - Sometimes the greatest successes are built from the simplest things.  Research continues to show us that children need time to play and that play time provides children with opportunities to build valuable skills, such as cooperation, compromise and conflict resolution. Also, by choosing one or two after school activities, children can be focused on what they really enjoy.  Allow some down time for children to be creative, imaginative and to just be themselves.