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Mendo Lake Family Life

15 Questions to Ask After-School Program Staff

By Tanni Haas

When considering an appropriate after-school program for your kids, how do you choose among the programs available? What are some important factors to consider? Drawing on the advice of reputable organizations such as the Afterschool Alliance, the AfterSchool Network, and the National AfterSchool Association, I’ve developed a list of things to think about as you evaluate your different options.

Before you make any decisions, it’s advisable to contact each program director and ask for permission to see the actual spaces where your kids would spend their time. Look around and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is the homework space separate from the space dedicated to other, non-academic activities like arts and crafts, music, and sports? Is the space well-lit and clean? Is it decorated in uplifting, kid-friendly colors?

2. Does the space have areas where the kids can work together in small groups as well as independently? Is it possible for the kids to work quietly on their own as well as to talk and share ideas with other kids?

3. Is there comfortable furniture, such as armchairs, beanbags, or large floor cushions, where the kids can relax and immerse themselves in a good book?

4. Does the space have plenty of computers, printers, and other learning tools? Is there a library with a broad selection of fiction and non-fiction books for kids of different ages?

5. Is the space well stocked with non-electronic games (chess, checkers, puzzles, word games) that stimulate kids’ cognitive skills?

6. Is there access to clean and safe restrooms nearby? 

It’s also advisable to ask each program director, or alternatively the senior staff member in charge, the following questions during your site visit: 

7. What are the program hours? Can parents sign up for specific days of the week, or must they commit to the whole week? Is the program open only during the school year or also during holidays?

8. How much does the program cost? Is payment due in full up front or on a monthly basis? Are there extra fees for personal tutoring or trips? Will parents be charged a late fee if they’re late for pick-up? Are needs-based scholarships available?

9. Does the program follow a specific teaching and learning philosophy? Is there a daily routine that all the kids follow, or do they have lots of choice? What is the age range of the kids, and how many kids are there in the different age groups?

10. What is the staff-student ratio, and what kind of credentials does the staff have? Are they licensed and certified teachers or otherwise educated and trained to take care of kids? Do they have experience assisting kids with special needs? Are one or more of the staff certified in CPR and first aid? Does the program have an emergency preparedness plan, and are staff trained on how to handle emergencies?

11. Before the program starts, does the staff meet with parents to discuss their kids’ specific circumstances and learning goals? Does the staff offer parents regular feedback on how their kids are doing? 

12. Does the staff actively monitor the kids when they’re doing their homework and offer help when needed? How does the staff handle behavioral issues, and do they mediate conflicts among the kids?

13. Do the kids work only on school assignments, or does the staff give them age-appropriate tasks as a supplement?

14. Do the kids get a nutritional snack and time to play before they start doing their homework? How are they supervised during snack and play time?

15. Do all the kids participate in the same extracurricular activities, or can they choose activities based on their interests?  

Tanni Haas, PhD, is a college communications professor and parent.