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What are the benefits of afterschool programs? A guide for parents

Published: April 13, 2023
Afterschool helps young people make positive connections and grow

Afterschool: an overview

Afterschool and enrichment programs come in many different names and formats. Let’s break down what afterschool can be and help you find the best program for your child.

Table of contents

    What are afterschool and enrichment programs?

    We find that “afterschool*” can be a catch-all term for different kinds of programs. Often, “afterschool” means any programs that happen outside of the regularly scheduled school day. This can include before and after the school bell, weekend, summer camps, and the breaks between school semesters, such as winter and Easter.

    However, there are several terms that we come across for these “afterschool” programs. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most used terms:

    • Extended learning: a catch-all term for programming that runs outside of the school day and/or regular curriculum.

    • Afterschool: specifically programs run during the week after the school bell.

    • Summer camps: extended learning programs that run during the summer break. They can last for entire weeks or longer, depending on the age of students and the type of program.

    • Winter camps: Like summer camps, but take place in the winter break.

    • Intersession: Programs that take place in the breaks between semesters.

    *Is it “afterschool”, “after-school”, or “after school”? The simple answer is … all are acceptable! Different schools, school districts, and state and Federal legislature all use different versions of afterschool. We like “afterschool” because we believe afterschool programs are so important that afterschool deserves to be a word in its own right! (But technically, it should be “after school” or “after-school if it’s being used as an adjective, such as “after-school programs”.)

    What happens in afterschool programs?

    Afterschool is not like regular school ... Copyright Work ED.

    There aren’t any strict guidelines on what afterschool programs should teach. That’s a good and bad thing: it’s great that students can experience all kinds of programs, but it could mean there are lower-quality programs out there that students won’t benefit from.

    There are all kinds of afterschool programs, from ones focused on getting students outdoors to learn about nature, or physical, movement-focused programs, all the way through to e-sports teams where students play video games cooperatively in competitions. 

    Some programs let ambitious students push themselves at a higher level, while others are focused on helping students who struggle in school find a place where they can shine. Good quality programs will have ways that benefit all students. There really aren’t many limits.

    Because of all the options available for afterschool, it’s important that schools, parents and caregivers, and most importantly students, find programs that are run by reliable companies that meet their expectations.

    After all, if students are going to spend what could be free time doing more learning, it better be worth their while! The last thing a school district needs is to put in the work of setting up an afterschool program only to have no students show up …

    Whatever the focus of the program, organizers are required to keep students and staff safe. If operating in a school site, this means working closely with school staff to ensure that on-site safety measures and procedures are being followed. If at an independently run site or off-site, organizers must follow all local laws and education and safety policies to keep children safe and caregivers informed.

    Why are afterschool and enrichment programs important?

    Afterschool lets young people learn in their own way—and discover new exciting topics! Copyright, WorkED.

    In the regular school day, students are learning a set curriculum. They study this curriculum, do their homework (in theory), and throughout the year get decent enough grades to move through the system and eventually graduate and go to college.

    The question is, is that system enough to create thriving, ambitious young people that will find great careers and make a difference in the world?

    Not at all. Despite teachers’ best efforts (and we all remember our favorite teachers and the impact they had on us), the school day just doesn’t work for many students.

    Every student is unique. Some thrive in the classroom. Others, for many reasons, don’t. And there really isn’t much that can be done for the disruptive students, the daydreamers, the ones suffering anxiety and other mental health issues. The school is still required to try to make these students fit the system.

    But afterschool offers something different. (If done right.)

    Afterschool programs take away the pressure of the school day while still giving students the opportunity to learn—in their own way. 

    Because afterschool programs usually run in school districts and bring students from several schools together, students can make new friends, and take a break from those who know them and act as a bad influence or bully them.

    They can meet new teachers who don’t know them, teachers that don’t have the pressure of having to try and get them a good grade. Losing that pressure can be such a relief to young people. They can become more at ease to be themselves.

    This is all especially true in states that encourage social and emotional learning, such as California. At a state level, extended learning programs have quality standards guidelines that focus on helping students develop their social and emotional capacities and develop a sense of community.

    If you'd like to learn more about social and emotional learning, we have a handy guide.

    A guide to social and emotional learning

    How do afterschool programs help students?

    Afterschool can be a great place for students of all backgrounds and abilities to thrive, simply because it’s a safe space where they don’t feel the pressure of school.

    Here’s a few ways students benefit from afterschool programs:

    • Taking the emphasis off grades. This helps students learn without the pressure of grades, letting them learn for the joy of learning. Students will often still get a certificate of completion and work on projects, which gives them a sense of accomplishment.

    • Letting students find their own way to learn. Afterschool is not like the classroom. It’s a place free from textbooks and whiteboards. Students learn by doing, communicating, and being part of a team.

    • Encouraging social and emotional development. Afterschool environments helps young people work on their social and emotional skills by encouraging teamwork, creating bonds, and letting students express themselves in ways they wouldn’t in school.

    • Create a sense of community by meeting students from other schools. Students get to see what else is out there in their community and make new friends from other schools, building bridges instead of creating rivalries or competition.

    • Introduce them to new careers they didn’t know existed. Some afterschool programs are themed around unusual careers that students didn’t know they could—for example, we run video game design and business startup programs that let young people know they can follow pathways that fit their interests.

    • Helping them build soft skills. Life is about so much more than grades. Soft skills, such as communication, time management, and public speaking can give children the boost they need to gain confidence and thrive whatever the future throws at them.

    • Give high-achieving students a space to push themselves. Some students find school easy and are desperate to explore their skills. Afterschool can let them push themselves in different ways and learn new skills they wouldn’t in school.

    • Help shy and anxious students gain confidence in themselves. Shy and anxious students can discover an encouraging environment that helps them come out of their shells and do things they never thought possible, like make new friends and give class presentations.

    What are the benefits of afterschool programs for parents?

    As a parent or caregiver, you want the best for your child. 

    First and foremost, you want to know your child is safe—safe physically and emotionally.

    You may also worry that in the modern world a good education alone might not be enough for a successful future.

    By signing your child up for an afterschool program, you know where your child is out of school hours. 

    You also see the change in your child when they find an environment that lets them learn in their own way. You can watch your child gain confidence. Make friends. Find their voice. Grow.

    Parents and caregivers can benefit from afterschool programs by:

    • Knowing where your child is when school is out. Find peace of mind knowing that afterschool programs have systems for checking in and checking out students so you’ll know that your child is in a safe place.

    • Watching the effect of positive mentorship on your child. Afterschool staff are driven to help young people find themselves. Afterschool gives your child access to positive role models, rather than the bad influences that young people can find outside of school.

    • Know that they’re learning the tools that will help them thrive in the world. Soft skills such as teamwork and communication help them get employed and move through life’s challenges whatever they choose.

    • Knowing they’ll make new friends. Afterschool programs often bring in students from across the school district, giving your child an opportunity to meet new friends in a safe, welcoming environment.

    • Knowing that they’ll be taken care of. Many states require that afterschool programs provide healthy snacks and breaks to get students moving, helping them understand the importance of a healthy body.

    • Watching your child grow and discover what they’re capable of. Does it get more rewarding than that?

    Afterschool sounds pretty great, but with all the options out there how can parents and caregivers help find an afterschool program that’s right for their child?

    (Want to see how students and parents feel about a great afterschool experience? See our video below!)

    How do I choose an afterschool program that’s right for my child?

    Find a program your child actually wants to attend—one that will be fun and rewarding. Copyright Work ED.

    There can be many programs to choose from, and it’s important to find a program your child will enjoy—it can be hard work to convince a student to spend their non-school time learning!

    Here are a few tips for parents and caregivers on how to find the right afterschool and enrichment programs:

    • Does the program cover a topic your child is interested in? For example, have they shown an interest in coding? If so, find them a program that lets them code for real!

    • Speak to your child about their concerns with afterschool programs. Are they scared they won’t make any friends? Are they nervous about being in a new environment? You can look through programs together—companies should have information and videos that make students feel like they’ll have fun and be included.

    • See if the company running the program has any data on how much students enjoyed the programs. It requires experience for afterschool staff to get good at what they do. Check if they have proof on their website.

    • Look for programs that sound fun! If a child is enjoying themselves, they feel safe and able to express themselves—and they learn better! Look for programs that aren’t just more math class*. Are they interactive? Do they get to build staff? Give presentations? Work in teams? All these things make the program an experience for students they won’t forget. It shouldn’t feel like just more school work.

    *No offense math but come on, everyone needs a break.

    And of course, there’s the cost of afterschool to consider.

    How much do afterschool programs cost?

    Did we mention that there aren’t many limits when it comes to afterschool? Well, it’s the same with afterschool pricing, too.

    Some schools will charge a monthly or annual fee for student participation while others will charge per program or session. 

    The there are programs run by companies that aren’t schools, such as YMCAs or sports clubs. Private sports clubs may cost a lot more than a school-run program.

    However, if you live in certain states such as California, there are many free afterschool programs available thanks to a large amount of afterschool funding, such as the expanded learning opportunities program (ELO-P). Such funding makes afterschool accessible to low-income families. 

    More states are offering free afterschool programs thanks to federal funding (the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER)), which provides a record level of funding specifically for afterschool and enrichment programs in every state—but it’s up to state education agencies how they use those funds. If you think available ESSER funds should be used to provide free or improved afterschool experiences, we encourage you to speak to your school district.

    There are tax credits available to help with the cost of afterschool (though note, these are tax credits and may reduce the amount of tax you owe that year, rather than upfront financial assistance.) Tax credits apply to children under the age of 13 (when they attended afterschool). Parents can apply for up to $3,000 of tax credits per child, or up to $6,000 for two children. Read more on the IRS website.

    Why parents choose Work ED for afterschool programs

    Some happy Work ED afterschoolers! Copyright, Work ED.

    At Work ED, we believe that afterschool and enrichment programs should be fun, accessible to all, and help young people discover what they’re truly capable of.

    We design programs that get students of all ages inspired and learning in their own way. 

    Here’s why parents love our programs:

    • We design programs around fun topics students get excited about, so they show up and want to come back for more!

    • We create a welcoming culture for all students. 

    • Our staff are dedicated to creating a great experience for all students, no matter what their story is or how they do in school. What matters is discovering who they are and how they learn best.

    • We take a social and emotional learning approach to help students understand themselves and their role in their community.

    • Our programs are designed to introduce students to workplace skills. We use a work-based learning approach to designing curriculum that teaches the skills needed to thrive in the workplace.

    • We believe in healthy body healthy mind! Each program has brain breaks built in to get students up out of their seats and moving! We include lots of healthy snacks too to keep them fuelled in a healthy way.

    Want to learn more about Work ED programs? We currently operate in California and New York (for now!). Fill in the form below to learn more.

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