Unfortunately, not every afterschool program is created equal. Because of that, it is crucial for parents to do their homework and pick the program that is right for their children.
First step: talk with your kids about what they are interested in. Let’s be honest, kids interest change all the time, so find out what sports they like, are they into music or art, or what about languages? Make a list of what they would want to do afterschool.
After you select a couple programs that match up with your children’s interests, it is time to go to work on researching the programs and their staff. The quality of staff is critical to the overall quality of the program. You will want to make sure that all staff is screened by the FBI and local law enforcement and that all have had CPR and first aid training.
Then ask about the credentials of the staff – what degrees and certifications do they hold? Ask about staff experience and education in early childhood/school-age care, recreation and, if needed, serving children with special needs.
You also want to ask about the child/staff ratio. Florida’s maximum staff-to-child ratio for school-age children is 1-to-25. National quality standards recommend between 1-to-8 and 1-to-15 for children age 5-teens, and group sizes no larger than 30. You want to ensure that your child is being attended to at all times and get one-on-one time.
Now that you have narrowed down your list, plan a visit. Every program should welcome parents to come and tour the facilities. The same is true when you enroll your child in the program. Ask to see a lesson plan. Quality programs provide more than continuous free play. Plans should be consistent with the philosophy of the program and should include indoor, outdoor, quiet, active, staff-planned, child-initiated and free choice activities.
Bring your child with you to the tour. Although you as the parent want to be happy with the program and facility, more importantly, your child needs to be happy with it. This should be a joint decision, so make your child as part of the process as possible.
Remember, do your homework and find a program that has a quality staff and is best in line with your child’s interests.