What You Need to Know About After School Schedule Design
The After School world is so unique from any other educational programs. School Age After School is a rare mix of academics, social engagement and extracurricular activities. Because of this rare mix, running a program like this can be challenging. In order to understand how to effectively run a program like this you must first understand it’s uniqueness.
Once you understand After School Programming and what sets it apart, it will be much easier to build out your program schedules. There are many ways to schedule the activities in an After School Program, but today I am going to focus on tried and tested methods that worked at my center. This is a schedule we developed over years of tweaking as we saw what worked well and what didn’t. I understand every center is a little different, but we also have many things in common, so feel free to pick through the information below and use what is applicable to you and your center.
Schedule/ Daily Flow
When considering creating a schedule for your After School Program it is best to first remember a few things. First, these are kids who have already been in school ALL DAY long. Second, their parents often have one goal in mind, that their child(ren) completes all of their homework. And third, remember that kids want to have fun, be treated as individuals, and feel special.
After careful consideration to all of these items here is the schedule that my center followed each day.
- Van/Bus Pick-up: 30-40 minutes
- Free Time: 15-30 minutes
- Snack Time: 15-20 minutes
- Homework Time: 45-60 minutes
- Clubs and Activities: 30 minutes
- Closing Activities: 15-30 minutes
We used this schedule as the basis of everything that we did. It was our model, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t ever change it up. For example, older age groups need more homework time. We allowed each class teacher or leader to make exceptions in areas like this. It’s important to have a model to work from, but also to build your center around your specific children and remember it may change from year to year.
Each area listed above has its own special reasons for being included in the schedule. Let’s take a closer look at each area and its purpose in your programming:
Free time is so important for young children. This is where most of their social and emotional learning takes place. When kids enter your center after a long day at school they are tired. For them thinking about doing another organized activity may be overwhelming. This is why we ease them into the program by offering free time at the start.
Although free time is great, it can quickly become chaotic without structure. I strongly believe that free time should still be structured. When you are designing this section of time with your team here are a few things to think about:
- Utilize Centers: When you choose the centers in your classroom it creates a space with structure, while the children still have freedom to choose within this structure. Within these centers we allowed the children to choose their activity and also move from center to center as they like, but we controlled what centers were available.
- Variety: Try to offer a variety of centers which give opportunity to engage the mind and/or body in enriching ways. I like to offer a sports center, art center, reading center and gaming center. This will break things up so that each child will likely have an activity that they are interested in. Making sure that you have a wide variety of options is key, as not all kids like the same activities, or they might tire of the same ones. Remember, this is a time where kids get to choose, so make sure there’s something for everyone.
- Supervision: In order for free time to be safe and fun for all, active supervision is essential. Make sure your staffing team is keeping an eye on all of the children and paying special attention to the sports area. Typically that’s where we would see most of the issues. If you can prevent any issues before they arise with planning or guidelines, that’s ideal!
A well designed free time takes planning and structure. Get your team on board and teach them how to create freedom within boundaries, I promise you won’t regret it! (and you won’t miss the chaos of unstructured free time either).
Although most children will not find this to be their favorite, it is a top priority for most families. What I have found is that most parents expect their children to complete their homework in their After School Program. Because the customer is the parent, and the customer is always right, I suggest making this a top priority.
Homework time works best when the kids are broken up by age and in an environment that encourages learning. If you can move the children to a different room (or even a different part of the room) for homework than they were in for free time, that can help them transition into the proper mental space for their work.
It’s important to have structure or rules for homework time as well. Here are the 3 simple rules that we used:
1. Complete Homework
2. 15 minutes of silent reading
3. Coloring or drawing.
When you set up a structure and don’t entertain too many options, there is no question about what the child should be doing. They simply go down the list and come to the answer themselves.
Clubs are usually the child’s favorite part of the day. Make this section as fun as you can! If you do not engage the child at some point in the day the family will not stick around. Clubs are a great way to provide time for a child focused activity. We broke up our Clubs into 5 sections:
- Art Club
- STEM Club
- Sports Club
- Theme Club
- Group Game Club
The nice thing about separating out the activities into clubs is that it gives structure to your activities and provides variety throughout the day. If you have a teacher who likes art doing all the planning, you want to make sure they are planning activities other than art as well. By adding structure to your clubs you can naturally provide this variety no matter who’s planning.
In my experience, investing time to plan the structure and schedules at your after school program will pay off in the long run. Balancing structured free time, homework, and club time for your children creates an environment of enrichment and engagement while avoiding the chaos of unstructured downtime.
As you plan your own schedule, remember that a well planned program creates space for children to be creative as well as productive. Take the time to plan a variety of centres and clubs to engage both body and mind while appealing to as many children as possible.
By keeping these tips in mind while adjusting on the fly to fit the ages and preferences of your children, you can create a great after school program that keeps your children engaged and productive, impresses your clients, and ultimately makes growing and managing your business easier.
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