10 Options for After-School Child Care
Figure out what child care option works best for your family's needs.
Parents of school-age children manage a unique balancing act during the school year. Early dismissal days, snow days, teacher work days, and other days off excite kids, but leave parents struggling to meet their children's care needs.
The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day are even more challenging for parents, as they try to fill the gap between the end of the school day and the end of their work day. A patchwork combination of care works for some parents, while others prefer to stick with a single care solution.
For insights into the best strategies for after-school care, we asked two experts for advice: Patricia Dischler, the president of the National Association for Family Child Care, and Susan Stiffelman, a parenting expert and author of "Parenting Without Power Struggles."
"There is no 'one size fits all' child care program," says Dischler. "Children are unique, and so are the programs. It's up to the parents to find the best match for their child."
While filling the after-school time gap may seem daunting, there are many options at your disposal when it comes to child care. Consider your child's personality, interests, and needs when weighing all available options.
"A child who thrives in family child care, due to the small group size, may feel overwhelmed in a larger community based program," says Dischler. "Another child may thrive in a program that is sports-based, and another child may thrive best when cared for by a relative."
Stiffelman and Dischler both agree that providing your children with a place where they are nurtured and provided time to do homework, unwind, and play will make life less stressful. Plus, you won't feel guilty because you can't be there when school ends. The transition from school, to after-school care, to home will be smoother when everyone is comfortable.
Here are 10 suggestions to help your family fill the after-school hours with affordable care:
- Hire an After-School Nanny
Search through Care.com to find an after-school nanny who can pick up your children from school or the bus stop, bring them home, make yummy snacks, help with homework, plan activities, etc. Many will also perform some light housekeeping if you ask.
LEARN MORE: Follow these 7 Tips for Hiring After-School Child Care.
- Get a Babysitter
If your kids are a little older and you just need someone to simply watch them until you get home, a babysitter may be a good option. They're usually not as focused on child development as a nanny, but can be a better fit for your family.
A neighborhood teen may be your family's solution, especially if the teen already serves as your date-night babysitter. Your child has already built a rapport with the sitter and teens are often great homework helpers, too. As with all care providers, a teen caring for your child should hold infant and child CPR certification.
LEARN MORE: Find out the 10 Safety Tips for Hiring a Teen Babysitter.
- Find Family Child Care
According to Dischler, a family child care center can be a great answer to the after-school care question. They're run in providers' homes, so kids benefit from a small, family-like environment, while you know they're taken care of until you get home.
LEARN MORE: Find more resources about Family Child Care.
- Arrange a 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.
PRO TIP: If you go this route, just make sure that your co-op establishes ground rules to help you avoid any misunderstandings that can come up.
- Enroll in a School-Based Program
In some schools, teachers provide after-school child care. Children are in a safe environment and will know the adults involved in providing care. Privately run programs sometimes operate their own after-school program at a school site. A big plus: In either of these situations, your child will be in a familiar environment.
- Sign Up for Enrichment Programs
An after-school enrichment program may offer your family just the right solution. They may include tutoring in one or more subjects, participating in an arts or crafts program, learning at a museum-based program or another enrichment program. You may find these programs locally at children's museums, zoos, recreation centers, or tutoring centers.
- Head to the YMCA
In some areas, the YMCA offers after-school care on the school premises. In other locations, after-school care is provided at the actual YMCA -- buses will shuttle the kids from schools to the centers, and 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.
PRO TIP: No chapters near you? Investigate what other community-based organizations might offer a similar service.
- Rely on 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 help out a few days a week. If you're lucky, you can cobble together child care with a combination of other relatives, friends, or hired child caregivers pitching in the rest of the week. Relatives are often familiar with the children's daily routine and generally flexible about transporting children to activities.
- Establish a Flexible Work Schedule
A flexible work schedule can help with after-school care. An arrangement like 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.
LEARN MORE: See if your employer is open to this arrangement and read about the "10 Things to Ask HR for Today."
- Work From Home
Working from home is often an ideal solution for parents whose companies offer this opportunity. Some companies even have policies that those who work from home may not care for children. Check with your HR department before considering this. Just know that working at home while caring for younger children isn't as easy as it is to care for tweens or teens.
LEARN MORE: Check out our article, "10 Tips to Make Working from Home -- Work."
Sandy Wallace is a freelance writer in Lynchburg, Va. You can find her work here.