After-school care must offer safety, space, stimulation


August 21, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A new school year is about to begin, which -- if you're the working parent of an elementary-school student -- may mean it's time for you to find a safe, stimulating, reliable after-school program.

Here are characteristics of the best after-school programs:

* A ratio of at least one staff member for every 12 children over the age of 6 and one adult for every 10 children ages 5 and 6.

* Activities that are varied, interesting and age-appropriate. Your child should be allowed to mingle with students in different age groups but should have access to toys and projects appropriate for his or her age alone.

* Enough indoor space for kids to move from one area to another without disturbing other children, plus areas for conversation, reading, homework and other quiet activities.

* Safe, well-equipped outdoor play areas with enough space for children to run, shout, swing, jump, climb and otherwise let off steam.

* An enthusiastic, responsive staff. If the adults in charge aren't actively involved with children and enthusiastic about getting them involved in interesting activities and projects, your child may quickly become bored with the program.

* A flexible attitude. Children should not be forced to participate in a particular sport, game or activity.

* A staff trained to accentuate the positive aspects of each child's personality. School-age children need encouragement to try new things, plus plenty of positive feedback when they succeed -- or try to.

* A clear statement, preferably in writing, of the program's stand on basic safety rules, fighting, television-watching, help with homework and other key issues.

* Clear, consistent policies about consequences children can expect (never humiliation or physical punishment!) if they break the rules.

* Activities tailored to your child's interests. The best programs solicit -- and act on -- input from the children about the projects and activities they want to pursue.

* Tasty, healthful after-school snacks. Children should be able to choose from several, and/or bring their own.

* A willingness to communicate with you. Parents should be able to talk to staff members when they pick up their child or have frequent conferences.

* A check-in system to ensure that children are accounted for at all times. If a child is going to be absent, the program should insist on knowing ahead of time. If someone besides a parent is going to pick up a child, written permission should be obtained ahead of time.

If you want more information about finding good before-and after-school care for your child, you can order a brochure titled "The Right Place at the Right Time: A Parent's Guide to Before- and After-School Child Care," published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), by sending $3 to: NAESP Educational Products, 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-3483.

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