After School Options
Like most parents, I thought my child care worries were over when my youngest son, David, started kindergarten. But since my husband doesn't get home from work until 4:30 p.m. and I usually get in from the office around 6 p.m., we needed someone to care for David for an hour and a half every day. Luckily, I have relatives nearby who were willing to watch David, and on days that arrangement doesn't work out for some reason, I can send him to our school district's after school program.
That's the option Gwenn Berke of Raleigh, NC chose for her daughters, Rachel, 11, and Shelby, 8 -- she enrolled them in their school district's after school program. In addition to playing sports and doing arts and crafts projects, the girls can get tutoring and homework help if they need it. A bonus: Gwenn found that having her girls complete their homework during the program freed up the family's evenings at home.
As with most types of child care, options for after school care for your elementary school-age child vary from community to community. But the common denominator is the need for before and after school care to ensure the safety of your children if you work outside the home. "There is a growing demand for before and after school care," says Darrell Rud, president of the National Association for Elementary School Principals, and principal of Newman Elementary School in Billings, Montana. "Our society is changing so much -- many parents cannot be home after school due to work obligations."
Here's a look at who is providing after school care these days.Schools
A growing number of elementary schools provide before- and /or after school care right in the school building. "Parents often look to the schools to help them because schools are positive places for kids," says Rud. Sometimes the programs are sponsored by the school district and staffed with regular faculty; other times these programs are sponsored by an outside organization such as the YMCA. In that case, the organization provides the staff.
Often parents prefer a program that is right in the school building because they don't have to worry about arranging for transportation. Many school-sponsored programs also offer tutoring or homework help, and if they are staffed with school personnel, there is continuity in teaching methods. Parents also say their children feel comfortable in the surroundings and know many of the other children so there are virtually no adjustment problems. Also, school programs tend to be more affordable than the for-profit programs.
On the other hand, some parents feel that it's not good for their child to be in the same place for so many hours. They prefer for their kids to take part in an off-site program so they get a change of scenery and participate in a variety of activities.Youth service agencies
The YMCA and YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Campfire Inc. and other youth- and family-oriented groups sponsor school-age child care programs, including before and after school care. These programs tend to be quite popular, and can have waiting lists. They usually offer a variety of activities, including sports and community service projects.Child care centers
Many local and national for-profit day care center chains also care for children before and after the school day. In addition, some child care centers at corporations and on college campuses have expanded their programs to provide for school-age children. Most will pick your child up from school and take them to the center, and provide a nutritious snack, if you request it. Two possible drawbacks: These programs can be costly, and your child will be in a building with younger children and infants, which means it can be quite noisy.Family child care homes
Licensed providers who care for younger children in their homes may offer before and after school care for school-age children. You can usually find these by word of mouth or from local advertisements. Many parents like this option because of the homey atmosphere, with a mom there to watch their child. On the other hand, there's no formal structure to this type of care, and depending on how many children are present, it can get boisterous. Also, the hours tend to be less flexible.In-home care
For those who prefer one-on-one care, the preferred option may be to hire someone (a neighbor, retiree, or a college or high school student, for example) to watch your child in your home. The plus here is that your child will be comfortable and secure in her own home, playing with her own toys. In addition, you can negotiate with the sitter to do laundry or start dinner, if you wish. The cons: This option can be costly, and you are dependent on one person who may not always be reliable.
Another, more affordable, take on this idea is to team up with other parents and share responsibility for child care, either in the form of a co-op where parents take turns providing care or hiring a sitter (or two, depending on the number and ages of children involved) to watch your children in a group.Others
A growing number of churches and temples offer school-age child care to anyone in the community, regardless of religious affiliation. Some community parks and recreations departments also offer after school care.