According to the United States Department of Education, millions of children are left home unsupervised every day after school. While it's hard to pinpoint an exact figure, estimates range anywhere from 7 to 15 million children are going home from school every day and finding an empty house.
Much of this is due to the spike in two-earner households. Despite an unemployment rate that still hovered around 9 percent in the opening month of 2011, many households are still bringing in two incomes, which leaves no one home to greet the kids after a day at school.
The growing number of latch-key children, those who arrive home to an empty house after school, has led to an increased popularity of after-school programs. Designed to give kids something to do after school, after-school programs can vary greatly and parents should carefully consider a program before choosing one for their children. When choosing an after-school program, parents can make note of several factors.
* Condition of the facility: A rundown facility that does not appear clean is not the ideal place for a child to spend time after school. A good facility will have adequate ventilation and light. What's more, children should be visible to the staff at all times. Avoid facilities in which children can easily sneak off.
* Staff interaction: How the staff interacts with children is of the utmost importance. A welcoming atmosphere should be among the program's goals, and the staff should embody that goal. Staff should be encouraging toward the children and know each child's name. Many after-school programs also have a philosophy with respect to behavior toward children within the program. Parents should discuss this philosophy before choosing a program.
It's also important for parents to inquire about the staff's credentials. What is their educational and employment background? Is anyone on the staff trained in handling emergency medical needs?
* Environment: The environment both inside and outside the facility should be closely examined. How much space is there for children indoors? Since much of the school year takes place during the colder winter months, the inside environment should have enough space for kids to relax comfortably as well as sufficient space where children can quietly do their homework.
As for the facility's external grounds, look for one that has ample and safe play equipment. Facilities with a wide expanse of property can ensure kids won't be confined to a single blacktop but given some room to roam and enjoy warm afternoons.
* Activity schedule: A good after-school program should have a host of activities available for the kids. Children often tire of doing the same thing every day, and not all activities are ideal for every child. A facility with an array of activities will ensure every child has something to look forward to. The activities should also be stimulating. Watching television, for example, would not make for a stimulating activity. In addition, activities should be suited to the child's age.
When choosing an after-school program for children, parents should exercise due diligence to find a facility that's both fun and stimulating for kids.