6 tips for being a great after-school sitter
If you’re considering finding a gig as an after-school sitter, it’s important not to underestimate the amount of work a role like this requires. Not only are you picking kids up from school and getting them home safely, but you’re often the snack prepper, homework helper, activity chauffeur and playmate, too. Some sitters even negotiate with the hiring family so that their role extends into housekeeper, chef and bedtime wrangler, as well.
After-school jobs, in general, cram everything into just a few hours a day, so this means a lot of work in a short amount of time. But with these simple bits of advice, you can totally embrace the after-school chaos — and earn some money along the way.
1. Plan it out
Kids get out of school at the same time each day (block schedules notwithstanding), so you’ll need to plan for your transportation to the school. Know when you need to leave and how early you should get in the pickup line to avoid a long wait when kids get out.
“I would have to wait sometimes up to 30 minutes in the pickup line before school got out,” said Rebecca Webb, a child care provider from Tucker, Georgia. “Parents and other sitters get there early so their kid doesn’t have to wait forever. You’ll want to be one of them!”
Beyond pickups, think about what needs to get done each day before the parents get home. This may include:
Musical instrument practice
Homework or reading
Transportation to/from activities
Meal prep or housekeeping (if part of your job duties)
Once you know what is non-negotiable each day, you’ll be able to work backward to figure out when each “task” can get done. For example, you may need to bring snacks with you to the pickup line so that you can head straight to an after-school activity, or you may need to move up homework time if there’s an activity later in the evening.
Days and schedules fluctuate, so it’s best to map out a plan for the week with the family. This way, everyone knows who is going where and at what time. (Added bonus: Parents will be impressed by how organized you are!)
2. Make time for kids to be kids
If you’re in charge of homework, you’ll likely find that the last thing kids want to do at the end of the school day is sit down and do homework.
Christa Doyle, lead teacher and director of a preschool in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, says: “Give kids time to unwind before homework or chores. This transition time makes it easier for them to get in the swing of their routine.”
It also ensures that kids get the movement they need to develop.
Try some of these ideas to help kids get the after-school wiggles out:
Go for a walk or a bike ride, or stop off at the neighborhood park.
Have a dance party.
Let kids play quietly.
Make a healthy snack together to help recharge their brains and bodies.
Jenny Ochoa, a long-time day care provider from Miami, also recommends avoiding screens at all costs.
“Unplug,” she says. “Play with toys, puzzles, coloring books … anything but a tech device.”
3. Create space (and time) for homework
Homework is a major cornerstone of an after-school sitter’s day. Even if the child loves doing homework (it does happen!), it can still be an uphill battle.
One way to make this time easier for you and the child is to consider the child’s homework space. For many families, “homework time” takes place at the kitchen table. Sometimes, this works well for a child … and sometimes it doesn’t. If you notice your kiddo isn’t working well in such a central space, try to create a homework space that is just for homework. This could mean asking the family to order a desk or using a nook in another room of the house.
Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute from Sarasota, Florida, recommends students have at least a hard surface to write on and a comfortable spot (on the floor or couch) for reading.
“If the child likes to move around a lot, a clipboard can be used to write on,” she says.
But most importantly, Malson says, a child should have an organized and quiet space with easy access to the materials they need.
4. Allow for breaks, if needed
Not every child will be able to finish their homework before the parents get home, and not every child will finish their homework in one sitting.
“Take breaks when a kid starts to lose steam,” say Doyle. “Play a fun, quick game to reset their energy and mood, then go back to whatever homework is left.”
You should also talk to the family about their homework expectations and how to handle this duty between sitter and parent(s).
5. Listen and ask questions
One of the best ways to support the kids in your care is to simply ask how their day went.
“I’m curious about my daughter’s social activity during the school day,” says Julie Macon, mom of two from Golden, Colorado. “I ask her who she played with at recess, or who she sat next to at lunch. I’d want my after-school sitter to do the same.”
To connect with a child about their day, ask simple questions like:
What’s one thing you learned today?
What games did you play at recess?
Do you have any funny stories from school?
How is [friend’s name]?
Who did you play with today?
These are all great conversation starters that help kids open up. Kids will learn they can trust you with stories about their day — and even their concerns. Unfortunately, bullying does happen, kids can get bad grades and friends will fight. All of these things weigh on children. Having someone they can trust with that information is invaluable.
If the child shares information about their day at school that is concerning (such as bullying or poor performance in class), you should relay that to the parents.
6. Be present
After-school sitters have a big job. They have to make sure all the pieces of a child’s day fit together, and they often have to juggle requests from parents before the day is done. But your first duty is always to care for the child.
Even when things get crazy and you’re running late for piano practice, remember to enjoy your time with your kiddo. Their happiness and well-being are more important than perfectly prepared snacks or a jam-packed, after-school schedule.