What to Look For in an After School Program

A quality after-school program can provide opportunities for kids to participate in fun, safe, supervised activities. After school activities can provide an outlet for kids to blow off some steam, learn new skills and spend time with friends. 
Less than half of after school programs in Canada focus on physical activity. The right program and a dose of physical activity after school can help kids move more and develop social, physical, leadership skills. Here’s what to look for:

Strong leadership - A good leader is the most important element of a quality program. Look for a leader that is:

  • enthusiastic and energetic
  • caring and empathetic
  • involved with the children
  • a positive role model
  • able to balance control over the group with some freedom
  • well-organized and prepared

Free play - After a long day in the classroom it’s important kids have a balance between structured and unstructured activities. Consider:

  • time spent learning and practicing new skills in creative ways
  • time spent exploring and problem solving through play
  • opportunities for kids to help determine program activities
  • a mix of competitive and non competitive activities

Environments - After school programs can introduce participants to creative play opportunities in a variety of environments. Look for a program that uses some of the following play spaces in both traditional and non-traditional ways:

  • gymnasium
  • classrooms
  • playgrounds
  • natural places (streams, fields, wooded areas)
  • community facilities (arenas, swimming pools, curling rinks, community halls)
  • outdoor sport facilities (tennis courts, sport fields, tracks)
  • streets, parking lots and sidewalks

Variety & participation - After school programs should meet the needs and interests of the children while providing choice, variety and balance. Consider programs that:

  • offer choices
  • ensure all participants are involved
  • don’t leave kids waiting in line for long waiting periods
  • provide leadership opportunities for participants
  • introduce new activities each day/week
  • provide a range of activities that allow all kids to be successful

Friendship - Kids have the most fun when they can play with their friends. Quality after-school programs facilitate opportunities for kids to spend time with existing friends and make new ones. Watch for:

  • programs that include relaxed time for kids to joke and laugh and build relationships
  • programs that do not tolerate teasing, bullying and other non-social behavior
  • encouragement to share, help one another and demonstrate respect and co-operation
  • evidence that participants have fun and include one another in activities