In today’s economy, more families than ever are relying on both parents to work in order to make ends meet and are in need of some place for their children to go after-school. If this is like you and you also have children, then no doubt you’re also faced with the need to find decent child care for your young ones.

It’s important to remember, when selecting an after-school program for your kids that not all after-school programs are created equal. In fact, here if the Tampa Bay area they’re as diverse as you can be under the sun.

The key to selecting an after-school program for your child is to remember the following 3 things:

1) Your child’s after-school program should pick your child up from school.

This seems like an easy one, but since we have an after school program here at Sidekicks, you’d be surprised that I’ve encountered more than one parent that has told me a tale of woe about his or her child habit been left by the pickup van at their last after-school program. Now, I understand that mistakes happen, but this seems that you would want to make every effort to identify where the child that didn’t show up for pick up was before leaving. I’ve always made sure we knew where a child was, that he or she had made alternative arrangements to get home before leaving to go to the next school. On occasion that’s made us late with the rest of the schools, but we uphold our time honored tradition of never leaving a future black belt (your child) behind!

Questions to ask your potential after-school provider:

  • What are your procedures if my child, that from your perspective is scheduled for after-school pick-up, doesn’t show up for the bus run.
  • Does the after-school van go on to the next stop?
  • Do they try to call the parent at the same time they’re working with the front office to track down the child’s departure method?

We ask that all of our parents let us know by noon if they plan on their child not going with us. On occasion, it’s slipped a few parents’ mind.

However, we always make sure that the child went home by an approved alternate method (or sometimes was absent and mom or dad never told us) before the after-school van goes to the next stop or returns back to the school.

2) Your After-School Program should provide structured activities.

There are many different types of after-school programs out there.  Some specialize in certain specific areas, like martial arts, dance, or tutoring, while the majority are your run of the mill daycare programs.  They basically corral the kids from one yard to the other, giving them hours to come up with their own activity.  Children certainly need free time to run off energy and even learn valuable social coping skills.  They can get a lot of this through free-play with other kids.  However, too much free play can lead to misbehavior, disagreements, boredom, and in same cases bullying.

You should look for a program that has a clear schedule and activities that balance structure with needed free-time.  Sidekicks’ instructors are dedicated to the training of our After-School students.  Every day, the activity of the after-school students is outlined on a per minute basis so that we not only maximize the time we have together, but that your kids have fun.  It’s a great balance of character education, fitness, self-defense, training, and positive social interactions.

Questions to ask your potential after-school providers:

  • What do the kids do once you get here to the facility?
  • How much interaction do they have with the adults in charge?
  • Is there a class planner or some sort of outline for what they do during the week?

Children respond most positively when they have structure.  The after-school program you choose should provide a balance of structured activities, lessons, and games with a bit of free-time in as well.

3) Your child’s after-school program should provide a positive learning environment.

After-School Martial Arts in Tampa, FLI’ve spent my entire career working with children and families, training them in the martial arts.  Over the years I’ve come to know first hand that there is a definite way of working with children that produces the best outcome for the situation (be it in an activity, game, or during one of our many classes) and one that is not quite as effective.  The after-school program you choose for your child should reflect a positive environment that nurtures as well as challenges kids to do better.

Many of the workers that interact with children on a regular basis at after-school programs are not professionally trained to work with kids.  The after-school professionals working with your child should understand what motivates children, their learning styles, and how best to communicate with them.  Additionally, they should be trained in life-savings techniques like first-aid and CPR.  Daycare workers go through a minimum training class in order to be allowed to work with kids, but that doesn’t make the worker a professional.  You’ll need to dig deeper in order to find out if the people interacting with your child have the necessary skill sets to give your child the environment he or she needs to thrive.

Questions to ask potential after-school providers:

  • Do the workers have background checks?
  • How long have they been working with children?
  • How do the workers handle disputes between the children?

After-School activities, like the one at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers, provide a powerfully positive learning environment for your child to build character and learn new skills.

4) Your child’s after-school program should hold day camps when school’s out or there’s an early release day.

Here is Hillsborough County, there are 14 early release day’s scheduled for this school year.  Oftentimes, child care centers charge an extra fee for pick-up on these days or on days when there is no school.  Many of the programs like the ones here at Sidekicks simply include this in the regular fee as an added benefit because it gives the class extra time to train or prepare for an upcoming event.

Questions to ask your potential child care provider:

  • What do the kids do on the days there’s no school, or on early release day?
  • Is that included in the regular fee for the after-school program?

Just because school’s out, doesn’t mean that you’re off of work.  The after-school program should be in session for extended time.

5) You shouldn’t be looking for a place to babysit your kids.

At the beginning of our article, we talked about how even more so in this day and age families just like yours need a place for their children to have a positive place to go after-school.  However, you shouldn’t be looking for a place to babysit your kids.  You’ll actually being doing them a disservice.  My suggestion would be to focus on placing your child somewhere that has a purpose other than to simply store your children until you’re ready to pick them up.  We’ve already said that they should be involved in a structure, however, it doesn’t end there.  Programs like martial arts, dance, gymnastics and others have a goal that everyone is working towards.  It gives them direction and meaning to the time they spend together.

If you’re only concern is that your child be in a holding pattern until you can pick them up, then the program at your child’s elementary school or a typical daycare is probably your best fit.  After-school programs like the one here at Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Center require that everyone understand that the purpose of being enrolled in the program is to learn martial arts and improve character.  Certainly, we allow time for fun and for homework, however we are not a daycare.  We are a learning and leadership program.  And as such, we expect that everyone involved in the program treat it that way.  The dance schools and gymnastics centers I’ve interacted with feel the same way.

Questions to ask YOURSELF before choosing an after-school program:

  • What do I hope my child will gain through this after-school program?
  • Am I making my decision based on what’s best for my child or what’s most convenient for me?

Sometimes the right decision for your family is not always the one that is the most convenient.

Sidekicks Family Martial Arts Centers offers a Transported After-School Martial Arts Program from Stowers Elementary, Bevis Elementary, FishHawk Creek Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary, Lithia Springs Elementary, Cimino Elementary, Alafia Elementary, and Boyette Springs Elementary.  If we can be of assistance in helping meet your families after-school needs or in helping you choose the one that’s right for you please don’t hesitate to call us at 813-661-2224 or fill out the form in the sidebar of this page.

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