5 Questions to Consider When Signing Up Your Child for an After-School Program

Over the course of a typical school year, there are around 525 hours between 3 and 6 p.m. As an after-school professional with more than 10 years of experience designing, implementing and evaluating out-of-school time programs, I’ve seen the after-school hours spent in many different ways. I’ve seen youth participate in sports, church programs, tutoring and school-based programs. As the senior VP of programming and evaluation at Girls on the Run International, I’ve seen girls transform through youth development programs.

These 525 precious hours represent tremendous opportunity: opportunity to learn, to connect, to grow and to be active. A recent external study of the Girls on the Run program showed us just how impactful a high-quality after-school program can be. Once you’ve determined the after-school opportunities available to your child this year, here are some questions to consider to help your family take full advantage of this time based on what we learned from the study.

1. Does the program have specific goals – and do those goals match what my child and I hope that they’ll get out of the program? It’s important to understand what you and your child hope to get out of the experience before you begin to explore a program. Look for after-school programs that have clear goals for participants such as increased physical activity, enhanced life skills or improvements in academic outcomes. For example, Girls on the Run offers an opportunity for girls to become more physically active while also developing important life skills like confidence, caring and connection to others. A program is a good fit when there is overlap between your goals and the goals of the program.

2. Does the program have an intentional structure or curriculum? A high-quality after-school program will have both goals and a plan in place to ensure that participants reach these goals. In our study, we found that girls who participated in Girls on the Run — which has an intentional curriculum — were more likely to learn and use skills such as managing emotions, resolving conflict, helping others and intentional decision-making than girls in other activities.

3. Who’s leading the program? There’s no question that trained, supportive adults are critical to the out-of-school time experience. The ideal program will be staffed with adults who are intentional about building relationships with and among program participants, creating an inclusive environment and focusing on personal improvement. At Girls on the Run, our coach training, small group sizes and low adult-to-child ratios ensure that girls get what they need from program staff.

4. What are program participants working towards? At Girls on the Run, we have two culminating activities – a Community Impact Project that girls develop over time and implement together, and a celebratory 5K event that girls train for throughout the season. Culminating activities do not have to be elaborate – they just need to give kids something to work toward. In high-quality programming, kids have the opportunity to set goals, apply effort over time and complete something that matters to them.

5. How much fun will my child have? Last but certainly not least, after-school programming should be fun! Kids are motivated by fun, and when you find a program that interests your child, they’ll be excited to participate. The best way to get a gauge for fun when you’re considering an after-school program is to visit. Are the kids engaged? Are they smiling when they talk to staff and to one another? Does the program include creative and fun elements? And most importantly, do kids say they are having fun? We hear from our girls all the time that “Girls on the Run is so much fun!”

Whether you have one after-school program available to you or 10 different options, these are important questions to consider as we move into a new school year. Your child is going to be doing something for 525 hours after the bell rings. Make it count.

To register your girl for the upcoming program season, connect with your local council today!

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