A world of opportunity

After-school programs offer chances to learn — that’s why activity types, social aspects and instructors are all factors to consider when it comes to finding a space for your kids, Janhabi Nandy writes

Children can spend up to 25 hours a week in before- and after-school programs. So, what should parents consider when choosing the right program for their family?

It’s about the needs of the child, says Robin Cloutier, recreation director at Dovercourt Recreation Association, which offers before- and after-school programs for children from over 10 area schools.

For some students, a transition from school to an after-school program at another location may be stressful; for others, it may be an eagerly anticipated opportunity to play and socialize with different children. Gareth Reid, director of Turnbull School, observes that “seamless transition from school to care” is a key feature for parents. One of the main reasons for parents to choose the onsite aftercare program offered for Turnbull students are “trust in the school and the convenience of the program running on site,” Reid says.

“After a school day, kids need different things; some need to get out energy and others need to quietly read a book — in our program, choice is a main focus,” says Cloutier. At Dovercourt Recreation Association, children “choose whether they want to run around or have some quiet time. Kids get to choose what to do, and often, who to do it with,” adds Cloutier, observing that the choice often reflects on how a child’s day has gone.

Turnbull School’s aftercare program also offers a choice of activities, including arts and crafts, activities in the gymnasium or outside and for older children, the option to work on homework.

For after-school programs that incorporate or provide access to classes, there can be a benefit to having extracurricular activities done at once in the same site, reducing time spent driving to different locations for different activities all through the week. At Dovercourt, participants can take swimming lessons, play a variety of sports and practice skating — and parents have one regular pick-up time and location at the end of the day. Turnbull School’s aftercare program hosts an an independently run after school music program that’s attractive for families interested in instrumental music.

For some children, a specialized program in a dedicated location can offer a different type of experience. Children learn martial arts in a program that emphasizes discipline, focus and self-confidence to build character both inside and outside the dojo, says Sensei Sean MacFadyen of Tina Takahashi Martial Arts. In addition to attending a minimum of two sessions a week in the dojo, students are asked to complete assignments at home, such as helping their parents, reading or making healthy eating choices. Completion of these tasks earn advancement in the martial arts program.

Sean MacFayden and Tina Takahashi. Photo Courtesy Tina Takahashi Martial Arts

Reflecting on the social opportunity provided by an after-school program that is not at the same school the child attends, Cloutier describes how program participants at Dovercourt generally live in the same neighborhood but attend different schools. For kids who don’t make connections at school, after-school programs can provide a distinct opportunity to socialize, including friendships with the program facilitators. Activities at Dovercourt are delivered by high school students; in some cases, students who were once in the program, says Cloutier. “Seeing kids sit down to do an activity and talk about their day with the high school student facilitator… the connections that happen in those relationships are amazing,” Cloutier adds.

The staffing model can be an important feature of an after-school program. Reid observes that at Turnbull School, the program, staffed by part-time college and university students, has a low staff-to-student ratio, and similarly, MacFadyen describes a low instructor-to-student ratio and the advanced training of the martial arts instructors as part of the emphasis on “quality not quantity” at Tina Takahashi Martial Arts.