Each morning, your kids go to school, and they're safely held within its confines for the next six to seven hours. But what about when that last bell rings? Many parents who work a traditional 9 to 5 day are unable to pick up their children or meet them at home until a couple of hours after the school day has ended. Not surprisingly, this can be a dangerous time for kids. It's when school-age children are most likely to have little to no supervision -- and when they are most likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors, whether using drugs and having sex or eating junk food and playing video games.
Enter after-school programs.
After-school programs aren't just glorified baby-sitters that help keep kids out of trouble; many offer well thought-out curriculums designed to improve the social, intellectual and physical skills of children and teens. So, if you're thinking of after-school programs as evening versions of "The Breakfast Club," think again as you explore these creative possibilities for your kids.
Are you concerned your child may be a little too self-absorbed? Perhaps all he thinks about is what new video game he's getting for his birthday. Or maybe all that's on her mind is filling her closet with the latest fashions. A great way to help open up your kid's world is through volunteerism. And after-school programs can be a great way to do that. For instance, a statewide program in Georgia -- the 3:00 Project -- offers students community service opportunities that range from stocking food banks to educating younger children on substance abuse.
If there's no such course in your area, consider asking some of your local nonprofit organizations if they offer any after-school activities for kids. Many do. For example, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a Junior Volunteers program that allows students to help out with animals after school. You're sure to find similar opportunities in your area.
The next type of program also fosters love of community.
Regardless of where you live, there are unique cultural and geographical attributes to be discovered. Perhaps your child has even learned about some of these in class. But reading about, say, Appalachian clogging doesn't compare to actually learning the dance. And no picture can prepare a youngster for the experience of seeing a giant redwood in person.
After-school programs with a regional angle can help children explore and celebrate the people, places and customs that make their little piece of the planet special. Whether it's through field trips to local museums, hikes to explore area wildlife or visits to regional attractions, students will have fun learning about where they live.
Keep reading to learn our next creative after-school idea.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about the childhood obesity epidemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American children are more overweight and sedentary than ever. And everyone from first lady Michelle Obama to Elmo on Sesame Street is trying to combat the problem.
This is another area where after-school programs can help. Not only are supervised children generally more likely to be active and make better nutritional choices, some programs are specifically geared toward physical fitness. But just because your child isn't interested in joining the basketball team or cheerleading squad doesn't mean there isn't an activity that suits him or her. Consider something more creative to get your child active, like golf or fencing lessons. And look to not only your school's sports programs, but also to local organizations like the YMCA or an area sporting group (such as a cycling club) to see what options are available.
Our next idea might also help kids get active.
The Great Outdoors
If the closest your kid has been to the natural world lately is the waterfall screensaver on his or her computer, you might want to look into a program that offers lots of outside time. Anything from nature hikes to gardening would be ideal for converting your couch potato into a nature child. And this is an area where you're likely to find many opportunities within your community -- even if your kid's school doesn't offer them.
When it comes to after-school programs with an outdoors angle, consider scouting as a possibility. Another great resource would be your local 4-H club. Look to local gardening clubs and arboretums for more potential options. Many, like the Denver Botanic Gardens, will have you covered.
Keep reading for more creative after-school ideas.
Practically all young kids know what they want to "be" when they grow up. Yet as they grow into their tweens and teens, many children lose those ideals. A career-development program can help them regain those dreams, while also helping them refine their interests.
A nationwide nonprofit organization called Junior Achievement has teamed up with the U.S. Department of Justice to offer career-oriented after-school programs. A middle school curriculum called "It's My Business!" teaches children how to fill a need in the business market and create a product. A high school version called "Company Program" focuses more in-depth on entrepreneurship and enterprise by bringing in volunteer consultants from the local business community.
For business-minded students, economics is sure to be of interest. Keep reading to find out more.
Your child surely has taken math each year of school. It's one of the three "Rs," after all. But just because your kids know how to add and subtract doesn't mean they also know how to budget their allowance money. Nor does their understanding of percentages necessarily translate into them being able to figure out the sale price of a pair of shoes they want.
Economics-oriented after-school programs break down the subject in ways that kids can understand and have fun with. Take investment contests, for example. These competitions allow students to invest imaginary money in the stock market to see who earns the most, giving students an understanding of how world markets operate. Even less ambitious economics programs can provide helpful information on everyday skills like balancing a checkbook or planning a monthly budget.
Another subject worth improving on is coming up next.
Some kids are just science nerds -- they look at bugs under magnifying glasses, ask Santa for chemistry sets and frequent the Discovery Kids site and channel. But some children may not know they like science because it's never been presented to them in a way they found interesting. Maybe that's one reason why the United States has been ranked only 17th in student science performance by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A program called Mad Science lets students participate in scientific experiments of their own, while exploring exciting subjects like rocketry. Such projects may help kids catch up in science by appealing to youngsters' inquisitive sides.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' after-school division, afterschool.gov, recommends several NASA curriculums. That's the great thing about science programs: The possibilities are limitless. So if one kid has more interest in the solar system than a frog's digestive system, there's a program for him or her.
Science isn't the only thing kids like to explore. Keep reading for our next idea.
Exploring Other Cultures
Several decades ago, exploring another culture was a practice that didn't extend far past finding an English-speaking pen pal in another country. These days, however, technology has opened up the world to schoolchildren. Not only can kids learn new languages and study the geography, customs and history of other countries through online resources, they can also interact firsthand with students across the globe -- and other cultures within their own area. The Blackfeet Youth Initiative in Montana is a cross-cultural program that connects students with their counterparts at a local Indian reservation. A school in Columbus, Ohio, reached even farther by sharing a program with a sister school in Japan.
On the next page you'll find another fun, but more traditional, category of programs.
All About the Arts
From time to time you may hear that funding for arts in schools lags behind the funding of other activities -- or maybe you're only reminded of it every time VH1 has a "Save the Music" concert. If you're worried about the dearth of arts education at your school, maybe an after-school program in that area will fill the gap for your child. Many school programs offer arts courses such as painting. Area businesses, such as clay studios, might also offer classes. Another option is to sign your child up for private lessons in anything from creative writing to oboe.
Keep reading for our top idea.
There are plenty of educational and community-service-oriented programs out there, but some let kids do what kids do best: have fun. That's not to say that entertaining topics won't also engage children and help them pick up valuable information and skills. Take, for example, the Lego League that one New Jersey school offers to students. It gives kids an opportunity to improve their building skills while doing something they like. Another school in Baltimore provides afternoon magic classes -- a course that's sure to spark children's creativity.
There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to after-school programs. The options really are as boundless as a child's imagination.
Keep reading for lots more educational information.
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- Afterschool Alliance. "Afterschool, Community Service and Volunteerism." 2004. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/issue_10_comm.cfm
- AfterSchool.gov. "Activity Ideas -- Academics & Enrichment." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.afterschool.gov/xhtml/topic/t_2.html
- After-School All-Stars. "Facts about After School Programs and At-Risk Youth." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.afterschoolallstars.org/site/pp.asp?c=enJJKMNpFmG&b=854685
- Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Childhood Obesity." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/child_obesity/
- Clay Café Studios. "After School Art Programs." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.claywire.com/programs.htm
- Denver Botanic Gardens. "After School Programs." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.botanicgardens.org/content/after-school-programs
- Hampstead Academy. "After School Enrichments." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.hampsteadacademy.org/curriculum/after_school.php
- Hechinger, John. "U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test." Bloomberg News. Dec. 7, 2010. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-07/teens-in-u-s-rank-25th-on-math-test-trail-in-science-reading.html
- Junior Achievement. "High School Program: JA Company Program." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.ja.org/programs/programs_high_coprgrm.shtml
- Junior Achievement. "Middle School Program: JA It's My Business!" (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.ja.org/programs/programs_mid_mybusiness.shtml
- Leeper, John. " DHS team wins investment contest." State Gazette. May 10, 2002. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.stategazette.com/story/1026854.html
- Mad Science. "After-School Programs." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.madscience.org/ourServices/afterSchool.aspx
- Nitkin, Karen. "Ilchester Elementary pupils have a great time in school -- after school." Baltimore Sun. March 29, 2004. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2004-03-29/news/0403290195_1_homework-club-programs-ilchester
- San Francisco SPCA. "After-School Junior Volunteers." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.sfspca.org/programs-services/youth-programs/after-school-junior-volunteers
- Tempero, Suzelle. "Economics 101." Dayton Business Journal. May 22, 2006. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.bizjournals.com/dayton/stories/2006/05/22/focus1.html
- Tippen, Molly. "Teachers fight to keep funding for strong arts programs." The Oakland Press. Dec. 12, 2010. (Dec. 13, 2010)http://theoaklandpress.com/articles/2010/12/12/news/local_news/doc4d04058eaf8be978811521.txt
- The Wellington School. "After School and Summer Options." (Dec. 13, 2010)http://www.wellington.org/programs/afterschool