What Afterschool Care Should Provide


Scripps Howard News Service

Q: My third grade son is bringing home bad words and gestures. I believe they come from his after-school program. I really need this program, but I am dissatisfied with the general chaos and the shocking attitude that "nobody cares." What should I do?

A: After-school programs should reflect the same philosophy as the school. If the after-school care is not equal to what you are getting in the regular classroom, you have a right to complain to whoever is in charge of the school. Satisfaction should be as forthcoming as your next payment.

All after-school providers run into the problem of this kind of behavior, and providers must repeatedly discourage it. The best way of discouraging sexual precociousness is keeping children busy.

Any provider who is presenting an afternoon of child care needs to plan, and that takes time off the job. If she isn't planning, then the children will, and the result will be tantamount to "The Lord of the Flies." One of the best after-school providers I know, Nita Burg, an artist and school counselor, offered a unique program for the Princeton, N. J., area. She spent many weekend hours collecting a whole roomful of games, books, art supplies and just plain junk. She spent the afternoons teaching children how to paint, sculpt in different clays, sew and make leather products and theater props. Discipline needed was nominal.

After-school programs should provide four basic elements:

- Safety: The physical and emotional needs of the children should be met. That means low ratios of children to adults. It means an active, interested provider who will stop aggressive behaviors.

- A filling snack: Kids are hungry after school. It's been hours since lunch, and it may be hours until dinner. Providers should serve children enough of an afternoon treat to satisfy growing bodies. The snack should include milk or a 100 percent fruit juice.

- Organized and planned exercise: Children who have been sitting most of the day can be wild after school. Just letting kids run is an invitation to chaos and injury. When exercise is controlled by the children, bullying is the usual result. For large school programs, exercise should vary from month to month and include ever-changing teams.

- Entertainment: That means more than TV movies. Entertainment in a group situation means involvement of the members. After a snack and exercise, a good after school program will have a group project for children who don't want to do homework. It's a way of channeling physical energy into a more cerebral energy suitable for evening hours.

Every parent should re-examine any child care situation on a regular basis. Ask: how is your child spending his afternoons? Are children caring for children? Must your child defend himself? Is he hungry? What is he really learning?

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to jlyden@evansville.net.

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