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10 options for after-school child care

Get to know the unique solutions that can help fill the gap between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. during the school year.

10 options for after-school child care

Parents manage a unique balancing act during the school year. The hours between 3 p.m. (or earlier) and 6 p.m. each day are challenging, as you try to fill the gap between the end of the school day and the end of your work day with some type of after-school child care. Add in schedule changes like early dismissals, snow days, teacher work days and other days off from school, and the struggle is real for many parents. 

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ child care program,” says Patricia Dischler, author, speaker and former president of the National Association for Family Child Care. “Children are unique, and so are the programs. It’s up to the parents to find the best match for their child.”

Consider your child’s personality, interests and needs when weighing all available after-school care options. “A child who thrives in family child care, due to the small group size, may feel overwhelmed in a larger community-based program,” Dischler says. “Another child may thrive in a program that is sports-based, and another child may thrive best when cared for by a relative.”

Providing your children with a place where they are nurtured and provided time to do homework, unwind and play will make life less stressful, Dischler says. Plus, parents won’t feel guilty for not being around immediately when school is out.

Here are 10 child care suggestions to help your family fill the after-school hours with quality care.

1. School-based before- and after-school child care

Many local schools provide (or work with other agencies to provide) before- and after-school child care at the school site or nearby. Not only are these programs one of the more cost-effective child care options for before- and after-school hours, many of these programs are held on school grounds so transportation is not an issue. The best part? Children are in a safe environment with familiar adults and other kids they know from school. Contact your school to find out what programs might be available.

2. Community-based child care

Local recreation centers, places of worship and youth programs, including community-based organizations such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs, may also offer before-and after-school child care programs. In some areas, the YMCA offers after-school care on the school premises. In other locations, after-school care is provided at the YMCA, and buses shuttle kids from schools to the centers. Some of these programs even offer full-day care on vacation days. Your child may also participate in sports programs during their time there. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America offer comparable options.

3. After-school programs

An after-school enrichment program may offer your family just the right solution and can provide kids with unique opportunities they may not get elsewhere. These programs may be focused around music or the arts, STEM activities, sports and fitness or other forms of enrichment. You may find these programs locally at children’s museums, zoos, recreation centers, tutoring centers or organizations like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs. 

4. Before- or after-school nanny

A before-school nanny can get your kids up, dressed and fed breakfast before school and then drive them to school or walk them to the bus stop. Similarly, an after-school nanny can pick up your children from school or the bus stop, bring them home, make yummy snacks, help with homework, plan activities or whatever your family needs. Many will also perform some light housekeeping if you agree up front.

5. Full-time nanny

For families who have younger children at home, in addition to school-aged kids, or for parents who work long hours, a full-time nanny can be a great solution. With a nanny, meals, activities and transportation, among other child care needs and details, can be tailored to your family’s specific needs. Depending on your agreement, tasks like house cleaning, meal prep and errand-running can be part of the deal. The cost of a nanny varies, but generally, they’re more expensive than day care or after-school programs. However, for many families, this extra cost is worth it just to have individualized, hands-on care for their child in their home environment.

6. After-school babysitter

If your kids are a little older and you need someone to simply watch them until you get home, an after-school babysitter may be a good option. Babysitters are usually not as focused on child development as a nanny, but they can be a better fit for your family. A college or high school student may work as your family’s after-school sitter solution, especially if they already serve as your date-night babysitter and your child has already built a rapport with them. Students are often great homework helpers, too. As with all child care providers, a college or high school student caring for your child should hold infant and child CPR certification.

7. After-school day care or family child care

For younger kids, after-school day care is a good option that provides a structured environment and socialization. Also, day care works with almost every parent’s work schedule since they’re typically open during regular work hours. 

“We initially started off with a nanny, but after encountering a few scheduling snafus and sick days, which of course the nanny was entitled to, my wife and I decided to put our daughter in day care,” says mom of one Lauren Matthews of Buffalo, New York. “Every day we — and our daughter — know exactly what to expect with our child care.”

According to Dischler, a family or in-home child care center can be a great answer to the after-school care question. They’re run in a provider’s home, so kids benefit from a small, family-like environment, and you know they’re taken care of until you get home.

8. Child care cooperative

Child care cooperatives can be formed by a group of parents, by neighbors in a community or by businesses that want to help their employees by providing professional co-op child care. In most neighborhood child care co-ops, no money changes hands. Parents simply ask for care when they need it and care for other members’ children in return. If you go this route, make sure your co-op establishes ground rules to help you avoid any misunderstandings that can come up.

9. Family

Grandparents and other relatives are a favorite after-school care solution. Some grandparents are able to care for the children daily while others can only help out a few days a week. If you’re lucky, you can cobble together weekly child care with a combination of relatives, friends or hired child caregivers. Relatives are often familiar with the children’s daily routine and are generally flexible about transporting them to activities.

10. Flexible work

If we learned anything in the pandemic, we learned that flexible work arrangements can be a lifesaver for parents trying to juggle school year demands. Such arrangements may include:

  • Flexible work schedules. This might involve one parent dropping off the kids in the morning while the other parent gets to work early. That way, the parent who got to work early can put in a full day at the office and get home by the time the kids are out of school.
  • Work-from-home options. For parents whose companies offer this opportunity, working at home a portion or all of your workweek can help with the juggle. Check with your HR department before considering this option. Be aware that working at home while caring for younger children isn’t as easy as it is to care for tweens or teens.

Ultimately, there’s no perfect after-school option for every family. In fact, you may have to shift or adjust throughout the school year to find the right fit. That’s perfectly normal, and that’s also why it’s important to do your research on all your options early and check in with your family often to make sure your solution is working for all. 

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