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Tips aid search for afterschool care
JACKSON – Afterschool programs can help keep kids on the straight and narrow, and parents can choose the right program with a few simple tips.
“Attending an afterschool program improves academic performance, school attendance and college attendance,” said Brittney Rye, project manager of the out-of-school program at Mississippi State University’s Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network. “We know kids are less likely to become involved in negative extracurricular activities if they participate in adult-supervised activities in the hours after school and before a parent gets home.”
Many organizations offer afterschool programs. Rye said parents should first check with the child’s school to see if it offers any programs.
“If the district doesn’t offer an afterschool program, they likely will be able to tell parents which organizations do,” she said. “Churches often have afterschool programs.”
Other groups that offer programs include 4-H, local parks and recreation departments, and Boys and Girls Clubs.
Carla Stanford, child and family development area agent with MSU’s Extension Service, said parents should look for a few key elements in a quality afterschool program.
“Make sure there are enough adults to adequately care for the number of children in the program,” she said. “Check to see if the program provides help with homework and provides enrichment activities. Also ask what kind of training or experience is required of the supervising adults, if the facility is properly licensed and accredited, if transportation is provided to and from the program, whether nutritious snacks are available, what the hours of operation are, and the policy on who can pick up the child.”
Once the list of programs has been narrowed, parents should schedule interviews and tours at each facility they are considering.
“Parents need to have an intimate knowledge of the facility, the people and the activities their children will be in contact with in the program,” Rye said. “The best way to do that is to go to the facility and ask questions.”
Programs offered through the school will most likely be facilitated by teachers. Other programs should employ individuals with the proper training and experience.
“Though caregiver qualifications will vary by program, all programs in the state of Mississippi require that caregivers be 18 years old and hold either a high school diploma or GED, a child development associate credential, or have three years of experience,” Rye said.
Parents should not dismiss a program simply because the adults are not experienced teachers.
“We are encouraging a shift in the curriculum of afterschool programs so that children are totally involved and engaged in learning,” Rye said. “We want to have kids physically active because they’ve been sitting at a desk for eight hours. Play is a very important part of learning.
“Homework is important, and if a child needs help in a certain area, parents may want to look for a program that incorporates the assistance they need. But make sure they have fun, too,” she said.
Finding an afterschool program in a small town is challenging, but that doesn’t mean parents should give up.
The Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network provides guidance for finding and choosing a quality afterschool program. Visit their website at http://www.msucares.com/childcare for a list of licensed programs in the state and questions to ask when researching a program.