Why The After School World Is So Unique

Julia Erman
October 8, 2020

When I was hired into my first management role, I was a little unprepared for the road ahead. In fact, if I had known all the challenges ahead, I may not have even signed up. But ready or not, I was hired as an After School Program Director and tasked with increasing profit to save our program. We needed to add more students or close the program, so my After School Director debut was a real sink or swim scenario! I’m happy to say that I managed to swim, and I hope to share with you some of the things I learned that I wish I knew then.

Directing an After School Program for 5 years taught me so much about the uniqueness of the program and the families that attend. After School is it’s own world that you cannot understand unless you have lived it yourself. Today, I will look at 3 ways After School Programs are unique and share a few director’s tips that I learned along the way. 


Transportation is a unique part of the planning and daily operations of a school-age After School Program, whether you are providing the transportation or arranging it with the school. At my center I arranged transportation for 160 children from school to our center. Needless to say this was a HUGE responsibility. Transportation has the potential to be very complicated and a big liability, so lots of planning must take place to make it a smooth process for both your staffing team and the children. Here are some tips I used to ensure a smooth ride: 

Tips and Tricks

  • Have reliable van or bus drivers: It is a nightmare chasing down someone to drive a van or bus at 2pm when school releases at 3pm. Head this off by vetting your drivers carefully for dedication and reliability. 
  • Service your vehicles on a planned schedule: Plan ahead and schedule all of your service and maintenance while the kids are not in school, when there is no rush to get your vehicles back on the road. This will take a huge weight off your shoulders during the regular school year. Try using a maintenance checklist to help you schedule your check-ups. 
  • Use an Online Check in System: When you use an online check in system such as Sandbox Childcare software, your drivers will have access to child attendance and schedules right there at the school!
  • Promote Safety First! Always remind your drivers that being on time for a pick up always comes AFTER being safe. 

Program Duration

Another very unique aspect of After School Programs is the duration. It is most common for After School Programs to run from about 3-6pm depending on release times. Not only is it a short program in the grand scheme of things, but parents can also pick up their children anywhere within the 3-6pm timeframe. What is most challenging is planning and providing a quality program knowing that a child can be picked up at any time. With some intentionality and planning, however, this can be done well.

Tips and Tricks

  • Be intentional about your schedule: Free time, Homework and Activity. Keep it simple and stick to the basics. 
  • Be Flexible: Plan your schedule in a way that is flexible for early pick up. Encourage parents to pick up early, because let’s be honest, we work hard to take care of our children, but we can never replace their own loved ones! 
  • Share your Schedule: Let parents know the schedule and activities ahead. This way they can plan ahead if there is something they wouldn’t want their child to miss. If you are using a management system like Sandbox, the Parent Portal and Parent App make this super easy.

Being an “Add On”

The last aspect that makes After School Programs unique is that they are almost always IN ADDITION TO something else. They are the aftermath of the long school day! When a program is designed as an addition, consideration must be given to what this means to parents and children. What have they done already and what might they have missed? How can we fill in the cracks of their day with the best programming? With proper design the addition of an After School Program to a child’s day can be a positive experience: 

Tips and Tricks

  • Remember Children are Tired: Give them time to rest their body (and mind) before they jump into a high energy activity or start an intense learning activity. Just like in our own lives, free time is important for kids too.  
  • Limit Events: Don’t expect parents to want to attend many events after the program is over. At the end of a day, both parents and children are tired and often have events from the main school they need to attend. Support them by being careful not to add too much into your After School Programming.
  • Don’t Overwhelm Parents: Limit your communications outside the center, and limit the amount of forums you use to communicate. Use affordable, intuitive software like Sandbox Childcare software to allow parents to easily access billing, teacher notes and photos, attendance, and messaging all in one place. Make payment and communication as simple and as easy as possible, and you’ll be the most popular director in town!

Closing Remarks

I hope this blog at least scratched the surface of why After School Programs are so unique, and what you can do to help your program thrive. Sometimes you need to understand the ‘why’ before you can implement programs that are truly effective. If you are leading an After School Program or plan to in the future, stay tuned for more tips and tricks to come!

And remember: predicting transportation challenges, being mindful of varied duration, and realizing that After School Programs are “add on”s should always be kept in mind to inform your planning. Address these three concerns early and often to see success. As always, check out the best childcare blog for more tips, and remember we are all in this together!

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