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Checklist for Parents
Use this checklist of questions to evaluate the programs you are considering. You should look for:
- A caring staff that genuinely likes children. Talk to parents of children who attend the program and ask: How do their children feel about the staff? Are they patient and fair? Ask the director about the staff's background -- what kind of experience do they have? Have all current and potential staff members undergone a standard background check? Are the staff sensitive to racial, ethnic, religious and gender differences? Do staff members appreciate all cultures and abilities and welcome all children equally? Is there a high staff turnover rate?
- Interesting and challenging activities. What kind of activities does your child enjoy? Active, outside play? Reading? Arts and crafts? Computer games? Sports? Drama? The best programs have enough variety to accommodate all of these interests.
- Healthy, safe and comfortable surroundings. Is there enough room for kids to move from one area to another without disturbing other children's activities or projects? Are there quiet areas for conversation, reading or homework, small group areas for games, art and science projects, open areas for noisy and active play? Is there an outdoor play area available on site? Is it well-supervised and protected from traffic? Is the equipment well kept and plentiful?
- Hours that suit you. How early can you drop off your child in the morning? How late is the center open in the evening? Is care available when school is not in session? Does this cost extra?
- Reasonable costs. Many programs have a sliding fee scale, based on income. Some offer scholarships or subsidies. Be sure to ask if there's a discount for families with more than one child in the program. Also find out if there are extra fees for sports programs, tutoring or field trips. What is the fee if you pick your child up late?
- A flexible activity schedule with many interesting things to choose from. Look for a place that offers children their choice of activities and plenty of time to play and run around. Can children spend extra time on projects they are interested in, or are there stop and start times for everything? Can children participate in outside activities like scouting, dance lessons or Little League? If so, is transportation available? Most after school programs emphasize fun, physical activity, and relaxation -- a real break from the school day. If you prefer that your child spend time on homework, look for a program that offers a quiet place to work and tutoring help.
- A program that is age-appropriate. Are different activities provided for different age groups -- team sports for older children, building blocks for younger ones? Is there a range of supplies and materials available? Are dangerous materials kept out of children's reach? Do they introduce ideas and skills that are right for each age group -- kickball for 6-year-olds, basketball for the 10-year-olds?
- A program or provider who is licensed or accredited. While school-run programs may not be subject to state licensing, they still should meet or exceed licensing standards for programs run by others. Always ask: Is there a careful check-in and check-out procedure so that children are always accounted for? Is the staff trained in CPR and first aid? How are emergencies handled? Is water available at all times?
- A discipline policy you agree with. Ask about discipline procedures. How does the staff handle behavior problems? Is there a stated policy? Is it understood and followed by all staff?
- Small group size. Smaller groups and more staff often indicate a better quality program. The National Association of Elementary School Principals recommends programs have no more than 12 children per staff member -- enough staff so the program can offer a variety of activities and children can get help when they need it.--Sylvia Barsotti