School-age child care is changing the way Americans look at family and community life, and the shared responsibility of raising children. Single parent families and dual career families have created a huge need for qualified programs to take care of children while parents work. School-age care is the fastest growing area of child care today, and is ripe with opportunities to fulfill social needs, as well as opportunities for professional growth and career advancement.
How Long Has School-Age Care Been Around?
School-age child care grew out of child care, early childhood, and Head Start programs. The National School Aged Care Alliance, now 7,000 members strong, began as a 'special interest branch' of members affiliated with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Starting some 15 years ago, after-school providers would gather every year at NAEYC's conference to discuss their needs at a School Age Pre-Conference Institute. As the demand for school-age programs grew, the most active leaders branched off to form their own volunteer board and in 1991 the National School Aged Care Alliance (NSACA) was born. Today NSACA provides information and support to school-age program providers.
Program Types and Models
School-age care is provided by a wide range of agencies and organizations. Some are licensed or accredited, while others are not. Some programs have been around for decades, others are new. Some stress academic learning, others stress recreation. Mary Roberts, a school-based program director points out, "I feel it is very important to stress homework assistance and enrichment.....we offer so much - ballet, cooking, violin, drama, visual arts, cheerleading, music, 4-H, crafts, reading clubs, Lego® team construction building, pottery. All of these enrichments enhance a child's education and expose children to wonderful non-traditional learning and actually offer another form of education."
Most after-school program activities are designed to improve academic and life skills, to promote physical and emotional well-being, and to build self esteem and social relations. The hands-on learning they provide helps children become better learners, and can actually increase children's capacity to learn.
How Do Programs Accomplish Academic Goals?
Many school-age programs acquire curriculum to help structure their day and insure quality. Foundations, Inc., an innovative technical assistance center for low-income after-school programs, was created to assist organizations in setting up high-quality, content-based enrichment programs. Foundations has written a creative school-age curriculum that offers planned themes and daily activities, and can be acquired by any agency that wants to follow a proven curriculum. Larger organizations such as the YMCA and for-profit child care corporations hire curriculum specialists to write curriculum that reflect their own philosophy. Many Boys & Girls Clubs, traditional drop-in sites that emphasize arts, crafts, games, and homework help, are currently developing learning centers for math, science, and academic curriculum as well. Parks and recreation programs, traditionally the least academic, have in some cases turned towards an educational model.
There are thousands of interesting collaborations in after-school care that take creative program planning to new heights. One creative example is the 'Lights in Action'program in the Dallas Public School District. 'Lights in Action,' serving 11,000 children, is a collaborative effort between the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, the Dallas School District, The National Endowment for the Arts, and 50 of the city's arts and cultural organizations. Their goal is to maximize learning in Dallas schools through the integration of arts and cultural programs.
Quality Assurance and Accreditation
School-age programs face many challenges in delivering high-quality care, many of which are challenges of the early childhood community- accreditation, licensing, funding, and parent involvement. In addition, the salaries and part-time hours make it difficult to attract good employees. Many active associations such as The After-School Alliance, The National Community Education Association, and The National Institute on Out of School Time are helping to build this new infrastructure by supporting providers and increasing public awareness.
The National School Aged Childcare Alliance (NSACA) developed the first accreditation system based exclusively on standards for school-age children in the mid-90's, and accredited its first site in 1998. Since then 216 sites have earned their accreditation from NSACA. The highly regarded NSACA accreditation process brings together families, parents, staff, and children in a self-study and quality assurance process. Other associations also provide accreditation for school-age programs. NAEYC has accredited 7,611 child care programs that offer some form of school-age care. The National Association of Family Child Care Providers accredits home based after-school care, and The National Child Care Association specializes in accrediting for-profit organizations.
Opportunities for Employment
Child care providers now have greater employment opportunities, thanks to the proliferation of programs in 'extended care.' Many employment choices are available in most cities. Opportunities abound for people who like to work outside, in active play and enrichment programs. There are many options for child care staff with a passion for art, theater, reading, science, math, or other special interests. Types of employment vary, depending on the after-care setting. The general focus is on guiding children through educational projects that make learning fun. Children participate in a balance of small and large group activities, as well as individual activities, indoor and outdoor activities, and quiet and active play. Some programs operate out of school or childcare centers, while others operate as free-standing facilities that children need to be transported to after school.
Starting salaries and education requirements vary but are roughly comparable to employment in day care centers. Often jobs are part time, spanning the hours of 3pm to 6pm. Site coordinators and directors positions are often full time, and many larger agencies hire full or part-time specialists and trainers. Agencies such as Parks & Recreation or the YMCA offer full and part-time positions that combine after-school care with other responsibilities that can lead to healthy career tracks in child care administration.
Each weekday afternoon the school bell rings, turning millions of children out on the street with neither constructive activities nor adult supervision. But when quality youth programs can provide alternative hours of enrichment, wholesome fun and community service, they protect both children and adults, and help us build safer and stronger communities. Child care professionals who chose to join this movement will discover many career opportunities and rewards. As one parent so aptly put it, "I love this after-school program because my children are safe and learning at the same time."
Anna Reyner, MA, MFT, is a Registered Art Therapist, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, and School-Age Marketing Director for Discount School Supply.
Where do I go to learn more? Many organizations support the after-school care movement, and a wealth of information is available on the Internet. Here are good places to start:
1. National School Aged Care Alliance:www.nsaca.org
2. National Community Education Association:www.ncea.org
3. National Institute on Out of School:www.niost.org
4. Foundations, Inc., Extended Day Enrichment:www.foundations-inc.org/foundations
5. National Child Care Association:www.nccanet.org
6. California School Age Consortium:www.calsac.org
7. Washington State Community Education Association:www.wscea.org
8. The After School Alliance:www.afterschoolalliance.org/about.html
9. The Mott Foundation:www.mott.org/21stcentury
1. NAEYC Position Statement on School Age Care Accreditation, 1999:www.naeyc.org/resources/position_statements/psacrpol.htm
2. Urban Institute Study on Child Care Patterns of School Age Children, 2000:
3. America s After School Choice: Youth Enrichment & Achievement, 2001
4. Partnering for Success:www.childcareaction.org/pfs/index.html
5. The Future of Children: The issue When School is Out (Vol. 9, No. 2), contains 160 pages of 15 articles related to children's out-of-school time:www.futureofchildren.org
1. After-School Training and Resource Center:www.gse.uci.edu/schoolage
2. The After-school Action Kit:www.afterschoolalliance.org/asaction.html
3. Developing and sustaining after-school programs:www.ncrel.org/after/bellkit.htm
4. A Guide for Community Organizers
5. After-school Training Program:www.bringingyourselftowork.com
6. The Partnership for After School Education:www.pasesetter.com
7. National Service Learning:www.nicsl.jaws.umn.edu/
8. Youth Serve America:www.ysa.org/
9. National 4-H Council:www.fourhcouncil.edu/
10. National Youth Development Information Center:www.nydic.org
11. LA's BEST After School Enrichment Program:www.lasbest.org
12. Child Care Resource & Referral:www.naccrra.net
1. Afterschool Government Web Sitehttp://www.afterschool.gov
2. List of grantees:
3. 21st Century Community Learning Centers:www.ed.gov/21stcclc
Curriculum & School-Age Equipment
1. Foundations, Inc. Curriculum: www.foundations-inc.org/foundations
2. School Age Equipment List, request a free copy of this list from:firstname.lastname@example.org
3. General Curriculum:www.theactivitiesclub.com
4. Museum Based Curriculum:www.museumtour.com.
Books & Publications
1. Books, resources & monthly newsletter for school aged providers:www.schoolagenotes.com
2. Books from the National Community Education Association: http://www.ncea.com/pubs_products/
4. Nationally Distributed Youth Newspaper:www.youthtoday.org