How to Pick the After-School Program That's Best for Your Child

How to Pick the After-School Program That's Best for Your Child

When you’re looking for an after-school program, keep these tips in mind.

By Judy Koutsky

These days, working moms looking for after-school child care have a variety of programs to choose from where their kids can be in a safe, nurturing environment while learning and playing with other children. Here are some things to keep in mind, and some warning flags that you should heed, when considering the available offerings.

1. Make sure the program is licensed. Programs should be licensed and regulated by the appropriate agency in your state. “Each state has different guidelines and names of regulating agencies,” says Noreen Corcoran, executive director of KEEPS Inc., a child care center for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. She suggests looking at the state’s website to see if a program has any violations. Violations can range from “no hand-washing signs” to “unsupervised children.” Corcoran suggests that parents bring up any concerns to the director. If a director is reluctant to discuss a violation, it should be a red flag for the parent.

2. Look at size. You want a small student-to-adult ratio, so you know your child is being adequately supervised. You also want to make sure there are enough kids to make it fun – your child might be bored if he’s the only fifth-grader in the program -- but not too many kids that it’s overwhelming.

3. Are there activities offered? Some after-school programs are simply open play in a gym or cafeteria. Others may offer options like music lessons, science classes, reading rooms and art. “With school becoming more and more focused on the scores of mandated tests, less time is being spent on enrichment. Children need to learn about social studies, arts, and how to play. A quality after-school program will try to introduce various types of learning into each day, without children feeling pressure to keep up at a certain speed,” says Corcoran.

4. Is it clean? As a parent, we know kids can be messy, but if you walk into an after-school program and it feels dirty or cluttered, that should be a red flag. After-school centers should always be clean, bright, and inviting. Some programs are offered in a shared space like a church, temple, or school gym. For these programs, it’s important for the after-school staff to prepare for the arrival of children by vacuuming, dusting, and cleaning on a regular basis, says Corcoran.

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5. Does your child seem happy in the program? If you’ve already enrolled, check in with your child. Does he seem anxious or weepy when he knows he’s going to the facility? If so, it’s important to bring it up to the director. It may be that the program isn’t a good fit or it could be something unrelated (maybe there’s a conflict with another child).

6. Do the adults interact with the kids? Like any job, some adults are fully invested and others are not. If you pick up your child and you see the adults on their cell phones or only interacting with the other adults (and not the kids), this should be a warning sign, says Corcoran.


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7. Does it seem chaotic all the time? Chaos and kids are not mutually exclusive, but if it seems like the center is chaotic at drop off or pick up every day, that should be a warning. Chaos can lead to unsafe environments (like kids throwing things) which isn’t good for anyone.

8. What does your gut say? Parents are attuned to what their kids need. It can be hard to find a place that feels like home, but if you feel like the program is clean, nurturing, with good adult supervision and plenty of fun games and activities, your instinct will tell you if it’s the right fit.

Does your child attend an after-school program?

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of, AOL Parent and Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

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