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Choosing the Best Program for Your Child

There are many different types of afterschool programs. How do you select the best program for your child and your family?

Program Choice

To choose the right program for you, start by deciding what is important to you.

  • Should the program be located at the school?
  • Should it provide transportation if it is not at the school?
  • How much can you spend? Many programs are free or subsidized, while others charge tuition.
  • Are there specific activities you want your child to participate in such as receiving homework supports or being exposed to music?

The Child Care Resource and Referral Service provides referrals to child care programs for school age and younger children. Contact the office by phone at 1-800-691-9067.

Program Standards

Afterschool programs should all meet certain standards. The National Afterschool Association has identified several keys to quality. Look for these keys when you visit your local afterschool program. If you see them, you'll know that your child will be well-cared for in a safe and enriching environment. If you don't see them, feel free to ask the program director about them. Here's what to look for:

How do staff members work with the children?

  • Do they treat children with respect and listen to what they have to say? They should make children feel welcome and comfortable.
  • Do they know each child's interests, personality, culture and home language?
  • Do they help children learn by giving them opportunities to think for themselves?
  • Do they use positive techniques to guide the behavior of children by giving children attention when they cooperate, share, care for materials or join in activities?
  • Are they engaged with the students throughout the activities?

What is the indoor environment like?

  • Is there open space for activities?
  • Is there comfortable furniture for relaxing?
  • Is there a quiet space for homework and tutoring?
  • Is there enough room for all activities?

What is the outdoor environment like?

  • Is there are variety of play equipment?
  • Do children have a chance to play outdoors?

What is the schedule of activities?

  • Is there a wide variety of activities to choose from?
  • Are the activities stimulating?
  • Are the activities planned and well thought out?
  • Are the activities well-suited to the children's interests and ages?
  • Are there plenty of supplies for each activity?

What are the health, safety and nutrition standards?

  • All staff, including volunteers should have a background check clearance.
  • Are the facilities clean?
  • Is there adequate, heat, ventilation and light?
  • Is the play equipment safe?
  • Are staff members responsive to individual health needs of children?
  • Are children well supervised at all times?
  • Are healthy snacks served?

How the program is run?

  • What is the staff to student ratio? It should be between 1:10 and 1:15 for children ages six and up.
  • What are the qualifications of the staff?  Do at least two staff have current CPR and 1st Aid training?  Have staff been trained in child development?  Do they receive on-going training?
  • What is the policy towards parent/family involvement?
  • How does the program allow children to have a say about what they want to see happen in the program?

Adapted from: “Choose an Afterschool Program”. New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition.