By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.

As the new school year begins, parents ask themselves whether or not they should enroll their kids in an after-school program. The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Experts agree that after-school programs not only boost kids’ academic performance, they also enhance their social and emotional development, as well as their overall health and well-being.

Academic Performance

Kids who attend after-school programs tend to do better academically than those who don’t.  They pay more attention in class, are more involved in classroom discussions, develop stronger study habits, and earn higher test scores. Researchers believe that’s because they spend more time doing homework and get the material explained by a wider variety of adults with different teaching styles. After-school programs generally offer more hands-on, experiential ways of learning, which are great for many kids.

In addition to their academic tutoring, most after-school programs also offer different extra-curricular activities like art, music, and sports. These activities also have a positive impact on their academic performance. When kids discover they have a particular talent, they gain self-confidence and that translates into better classroom behavior and performance. They also learn important time-management skills. When kids have homework to finish but are looking forward to a favorite activity, they learn how to manage their time so that they can do both.

Social and Emotional Development

After-school programs are great for social and emotional development. Kids spend considerable time interacting with kids other than their regular classmates, including with kids from different grades. This teaches them important interpersonal skills and how to make new friends. They also learn much from the extra-curricular activities. Whether they’re working together on an art project, a music performance, or are preparing for a sports competition, kids learn how to support one another and solve problems through teamwork. These are extremely valuable lessons that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Almost all professional jobs require good communication and conflict-resolution skills, and the ability to work well with others.

Health and Wellness

Finally, attending an after-school program is excellent for their overall health and well-being. Most after-school programs teach kids about proper nutrition, engage them in physical activities that are good for their health, and offer them healthy snacks – all in a safe and structured learning environment. Researchers have concluded that kids who attend after-school programs regularly are less obese than their peers.

What To Look For In An After-School Program

When considering an appropriate afterschool program for your kids, how do you choose among the programs available? What are some important factors to consider? Drawing on the advice of reputable organizations such as the Afterschool Alliance, the Afterschool Network, and the National Afterschool Association, I’ve developed a list of things to think about as you evaluate your different options.

It’s advisable to contact each program director and ask for permission to see the actual spaces where your kids would spend their time before you make any decisions. Look around and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are staff and volunteers listening and interacting with the kids?
  • Is the program specific about the skills it looks to develop and do the activities offered coincide with these goals?
  • Is the homework space separate from the space dedicated to other non-academic activities like arts and crafts, music, and sports? Is the space well-lit and clean? Is it decorated in uplifting, kid-friendly colors?
  • Does the space have areas where the kids can work together in small groups as well as independently? Is it possible for the kids to work quietly on their own as well as to talk and share ideas with other kids?
  • Is there comfortable furniture like armchairs, bean bags or large floor cushions where the kids can relax and immerse themselves in a good book?
  • Does the space have plenty of computers, printers, and other learning tools? Is there a library with a broad selection of fiction and non-fiction books for kids of different ages?
  • Is the space well-stocked with non-electronic games that stimulate kids’ cognitive skills like chess, checkers, puzzles and word games?
  • Is there access to clean and safe restrooms nearby?

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

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