Free After-School Programs

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After-school programs can be an important part of your child’s development. For children who are too young to be home alone, after-school programs are a necessity if you don’t have a babysitter or a nanny. For children who are older, the right after-school program is typically better than the latchkey alternative, which could jeopardize your child’s safety.

Benefits

After school is the time kids get in trouble if they don’t have adult supervision, according to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Many children start using drugs, tobacco and alcohol, commit crimes or are victims of crimes. After-school programs can protect your child, can help improve his academic performance and can help your child develop social relationships. Some also offer physical activity, which gets your kid away from the TV.

Considerations

Some after-school programs are better than others. Look for a program that combines academic, recreational and cultural activities, suggests the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Programs should not be cookie-cutter; rather, they should find and meet the needs of the particular community in which they operate.

Do Some Research

You can make a judgment on the quality of an after-school program you are considering by finding out what the goals of the program are and whether the program appears to have good management. Meet the staff to determine whether they are qualified, committed and have experience working with children. The ratio of staff to students should be one staff member to every 10 to 15 children who are age 6 or older.

Free Tutoring

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, you have a free tutoring option if your child attends a chronically failing school. You have three choices — a tutoring program provided by the school, by the community or by private companies. A PBS news article on this type of free tutoring warns parents against blindly selecting the school district’s program. The theory is that if the school is a low-performing school, it may not be able to offer a quality after-school program, either.

Examples of Success

One school district in Texas partnered with the YMCA, addressing a child’s physical, emotional and spiritual health, according to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. A program in California that focuses on academic achievement offers clubs so that children can learn cooking, photography, science, finances or health and nutrition. A program in New York emphasizes debating and critical thinking skills, the arts, sports, foreign languages, film making and computer workshops.

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