Finding quality after-school care that fits into your busy schedule feels nearly impossible, but a wide variety of part-time and drop-in programs exist, as well as at-home options. Kindergarten age to early adolescence usually comprise the age groups that attend such programs once schools close.

You may consider family day care providers, youth organizations, recreation centers or arts programs. Some schools offer extended day programs which help parents place their kids in educational and caring environments before or after the traditional learning period. Some parents prefer the convenience of hiring a nanny or a worldly au pair. Options abound for the busy parent, which can be overwhelming in and of itself. Here’s what you need to know.

Weighing Options for School-Age After-School Childcare

In recent decades, family values and structure have shifted childcare. Millennial moms work hard at their careers and make as much time as possible to care for their little ones. In a two-parent household, quality childcare may mean one parent considering giving up their job to provide that care, but many families can’t afford to do that.

The situation calls for creative approaches to childcare. Many parents mix and match childcare options, such as having their child attend programs that meet certain days of the week while having a nanny work part-time or a parent at home during the off days. It makes balancing the schedule stressful on the nerves, but possible.

Every option has its pros and cons, so you have to look at your child’s interests and needs as well as your schedule and budget. Some children thrive in a slow-paced, intimate family daycare as a home away from home. Others may prefer the challenge of an academically focused, sports or arts program. Some rely on the outside services of an additional single person, like an au pair, to supplement childcare and educational growth alongside assistance with the household duties.

School-Age Children Developmental Needs

Some school-age children may be able to take care of themselves, but are still young and need to make friends and develop other skills. After-school programs and services provide opportunities for this growth as well as the child receiving the appreciation and attention from role models they need.

Hiring a Nanny or Au Pair to Supplement Childcare

If you prefer having your child in the home, you may look to a nanny or an au pair. The difference between the two is that an au pair travels from a different country and offers the chance for cultural exchange as a bonus to helping around the house and caring for your child. She’s typically unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 26 and may offer an average work week worth of childcare, working basically full-time. A nanny or au pair can also help get your child to and from other activities.

Characteristics to Look for in Aftercare Programs

Sit down and make a list of what qualities you want in a program, versus what your child needs or expresses interest in. What do you think the best aftercare program would have? They may share these common elements:

  • A safe and fun environment that cultivates optimal development
  • A proper number of well-trained, qualified staff
  • Care administered efficiently and interactively
  • Staff interacts with parents and keeps them informed
  • A balanced mix of activities to include unstructured and structured time, with a wide range of activities where both caregiver and child direct the flow, especially in play
  • Pays attention to and fosters the interests of children and their learning
  • Gets the children involved in the community
  • Communicates clear expectations of children
  • Provides fair discipline that you agree with and keeps you apprised
  • Offers access to nutritional meals, snacks and beverages, if required

Many of the above-mentioned characteristics also meet the standards of The National Association for the Education of Young Children. The association started the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs to offer accreditation to programs serving kids up to age 8, as early learning programs are so critical.

Backup Support for Self-Care-Oriented Children

Besides adult-supervised aftercare programs, support services exist for kids who need or choose to stay at home on their own, often referred to as latchkey kids. Communities offer educational materials and telephone assistance to talk with counselors who can offer a friendly voice and the odd bit of advice. Some screened volunteers also have after-school hours in their homes available in the case of emergency.

That doesn’t mean latchkey kids are completely alone all the time. Some aftercare programs may only meet a few times a week, and a single parent may work two or three jobs to stay afloat. Some counties provide programs for children who come from low-income households.

Being a parent in the modern day requires mixing and matching what works best for your family. Your best option may mean a science program for kids that meets two days a week, extracurricular activities and a nanny or au pair to fill in the gaps when you have other requirements to fulfill in your schedule.