By Cathy Saunders, Director of Education, Providence Children’s Museum
Play is important for children’s healthy development. All too often the school day offers little or no opportunities for children to play – recesses are limited or eliminated, “test prep” replaces hands-on exploration, and so on. By the time the typical child finishes 5½ or more hours of school, he is ready for some fun!
Think about your childhood afternoons. What were some of your favorite memories – gathering with other kids at the park? Playing hoops at the local community center? Making messes in the kitchen? Doing Scouts or some other organized activity? Digging into your favorite hobby? I’ll bet that it included some time to rejuvenate as well as opportunities to engage your mind in something interesting to you.
We are fortunate in Rhode Island that there are so many after-school program providers across the state. Some are designed to be daily after-school care, some are enrichment only – classes or workshops based on interest. It’s important to look for programs that that not only meet a child’s physical and developmental needs but her social and emotional needs as well.
Below are some terrific resources for finding the right after-school program for your family. To those resources I add this list of what to look for when seeking a program that supports playful learning:
- A wide variety of activities that offer opportunities for children to do what interests them.
- Resources – like intriguing materials, tools, art, objects, live animals – that invite children’s curiosity and inspire enthusiasm about learning.
- Opportunities for unstructured time and physical activity (especially before homework).
- Open-ended activities or projects in which there is not one right way to accomplish the task, allowing for free choice and self-directed discovery.
- Engaged staff that understand children’s developmental needs.
Tips for choosing quality after-school programs
- RIASPA (Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance) has created an Afterschool Site Visit Check List with 16 things to look for when visiting an after-school program.
- Quality Child Care: A Family’s Guide to Getting Started, a short guide from BrightStars, includes information, tips and a list of RI state agencies that support children.
- The Afterschool Alliance is a national advocacy and resource organization for after-school programming that offers helpful hints for finding a quality program.
- If your child has a disability and/or special needs, visit the Rhode Island Parent Information Network for resources to help you advocate for your child.
Finding a local program
- RIASPA’s Afterschool Program Map lists nearly 200 after-school programs around the state, from daily programs to enrichment opportunities.
- United Way 2-1-1 has a childcare (and after-school program) referral service available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and in 175 languages and dialects and online.
- Middle and high schoolers in Providence have a variety of after-school options through PASA, the Providence After School Alliance.
- If you’re interested in an after-school program that is also a daycare provider licensed by DCYF (Department of Children Youth & Families), check out this search engine.
Enjoy out-of-school time at Providence Children’s Museum this month, including plenty of hands-on Halloween activities. Step into the Spooky Studio for art and science exploration October 23-26, 2012. Meet lizards, snakes and other Creepy Creatures on Saturday, October 27, 2012. And on Sunday, October 28, 2012, join the Boo Bash for haunted hands-on fun throughout the Museum! Click here for details.