Guest columnist Natisha Bowling is vice president for youth development at the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.
Although the start of the next school year still feels far away, it is a great time for parents to start thinking about their options for afterschool programs for their children.
According to the Afterschool Alliance, school-age children spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. And 1 in 5 young people in the US are alone after the school day ends.
High-quality afterschool programs promote positive youth development and offer a safe space where children can explore their potential. These programs can support social, emotional, cognitive and academic development; reduce risky behaviors; promote physical health; and provide a safe and supportive environment.
While afterschool programs come with a cost, they also provide a significant return on investment, with every $1 invested saving at least $3 through increasing youth’s earning potential, improving their performance at school and reducing crime and juvenile delinquency, according to the alliance.
How does one choose among providers? The Early Childhood Resource Center recommends inspecting the center to see if the facility is safe, clean, organized and kid friendly.
Parents will want to ask about sanitation policies for both caregivers and children. Also, ask about the facility’s policies on vaccinations and on allowing sick children to attend. Are there plenty of clean, developmentally appropriate toys and educational materials?
Materials should include:
• Objects for dramatic play (such as a puppet theater and dress-up clothes)
• Sensory materials (sand, water, play dough)
• Materials that help children learn reading, math, science and social studies
• Materials that help children develop gross motor skills, such as pulling up, walking, climbing in, on and over, moving through/around and under, pushing, pulling and riding.
School-age children should be offered programming that aligns with Ohio’s K-12 learning standards.
Not everyone can afford quality childcare. Some providers, like the YMCA, provide financial assistance for those who qualify.
Childcare.gov suggests parents follow these steps in making a childcare provider selection:
Start Early: Start looking as far in advance as you can.
Make a Call: Begin by calling the local experts. For example, the YMCA of Greater Cleveland is one of the largest childcare providers in our region and may have a location near you. There are several other providers in our region, as well.
Visit and Ask Questions: Make sure you visit the childcare programs you are considering. Find out about these key indicators of quality: adult-to-child ratio, group size, caregiver qualifications, turnover and accreditation.
Make a Choice: Think about what you saw at each visit and make the best choice for your child and family.
Stay Involved: The work isn’t over once you find good care. You and your child’s caregiver are partners now. Meet regularly with the provider. Volunteer to help with programming and field trips.
Finding quality, affordable childcare can be challenging, yet few choices parents make in life will be more important.
The YMCA is a national leader in providing enriching afterschool programs to help students continue to learn once they’ve left the classroom. Locally, the YMCA of Greater Cleveland has offered a variety of programs for decades to help students develop social and cognitive skills, promote fun screen-free activities and keep kids intellectually engaged.
The YMCA of Greater Cleveland and other quality childcare providers in this area look forward to speaking with parents and guardians to help them make the right choice for their child.
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