Out-of-school time is a golden opportunity to engage youth in their own development and in serving their communities. Far too frequently, we leave this time to chance.
—Minnesota Commission on Out-of-School Time
Kids can get a lot of benefit out of programs and activities in the community or in schools during “out-of-school time.” But all opportunities are not equal. You can leave less to chance and do a lot to ensure that your child gets the maximum benefit from such activities—whether for fun, learning, childcare, or all three—by starting with the tips that follow.
Tips for . . .
- all parents
- Focus more on activities that help kids have fun, learn skills, and get to know other kids and adults than on activities that emphasize excelling. Consider reading Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff.
- Never punish your child by scaling back or cutting out activities in order for them to do better academically. Kids need to work hard at school, and they also need high-quality activities to grow up well.
- Keep in mind that youth programs and opportunities often are part of larger programs at places like community centers, settlement houses, community learning centers, full-service schools, and museums and libraries.
- parents with children ages birth to 5
- Look for programs and activities that are fun for children. Programs that push children to excel can be harmful. The best programs for this age group are often ones that emphasize play.
- Make sure that childcare settings provide a warm, nurturing environment, with age-appropriate toys and equipment. If you have any concerns, talk with the director or supervisor. If you are looking for care, talk to other parents, guardians, and grandparents about where their young children go.
- Check out Head Start and Early Head Start. The mission of both these organizations is to support the healthy development of young children by providing services for education, socio-emotional development, physical and mental health, and nutrition for children in low-income families. You can find more information online at www.ehsnrc.org.
- parents with children ages 6 to 9
- Through local parks and recreation centers or community education, look for low-pressure, low-cost options such as beginning art classes, dance lessons, clubs, music classes, and other opportunities for youth to try new skills, be with other children, and have some structured time away from home.
- Encourage your children to try both team activities (such as chess club or sports) and individual activities (such as music lessons, swimming, or art).
- As best you can, support your children’s involvement by volunteering to help out, attending special performances or sessions, and getting to know the other parents and adults leading the program or activity.
- parents with children ages 10 to 15
- Volunteer at your children’s school to lead or assist with a club or group such as chess, math, debate, DECA, Great Books, martial arts, Lego League, and so on. If your child doesn’t want your involvement, which can happen at this age, be involved behind the scenes, such as providing snacks for clubs or attending your child’s games (without cheering too loudly if your child finds that embarrassing).
- Make it easier for you and your child to be involved in out-of-school activities by coordinating transportation, snacks, supervision, and any other related tasks and commitments with other parents.
- It’s okay if your child wants to focus on one thing and work hard to excel at that. As long as your child is passionate about the activity, having one activity is just as okay as having a number of them.
- Present your kids with a variety of options for activities and help them think about which ones best fit their interests.
- parents with children ages 16 to 18
- Encourage your teenagers to look for and ask about new or emerging leadership roles in organizations they have been involved with in the past.
- If young people become tired of something they used to engage in, encourage them to talk with the adults and other older youth involved about adding new elements or challenges to the program. Help them develop a strategy for how to initiate these conversations.
- Keep talking with other parents about how their young people spend their time so you have a broad sense of what’s out there and available. At this age you can’t make the decision for your kids, but you can certainly help them filter through the options.