10 options for after-school child care
Parents manage a unique balancing act during the school year. Kids might get excited by early dismissal, snow days, teacher work days and other days off from school, but these schedule changes often leave parents struggling to find after-school child care. 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.
"There is no 'one size fits all' child care program," says Patricia Dischler, the 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 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 ends.
Here are 10 suggestions to help your family fill the after-school hours with affordable care.
1. Hire an after-school nanny.
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 or whatever your family needs. Many will also perform some light housekeeping if you ask.
LEARN MORE: Follow these seven tips for hiring after-school child care.
2. Get a babysitter.
If your kids are a little older and you 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 it 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.
3. 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.
4. 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, make sure your co-op establishes ground rules to help you avoid any misunderstandings that can come up.
5. 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. In either of these situations, your child will be in a familiar environment.
6. Sign up for enrichment programs.
An after-school enrichment program may offer your family just the right solution. The program may include tutoring in one or more subjects, participating in an arts and crafts program, learning at a museum-based program or other forms of enrichment. You may find these programs locally at children's museums, zoos, recreation centers or tutoring centers.
7. 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 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 YMCA or B&G Club chapters near you? Investigate what other community-based organizations might offer a similar service.
8. 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 only help out a few days a week. If you're lucky, you can cobble together child care with a combination of relatives, friends or hired child caregivers pitching in the rest of the week. Relatives are often familiar with the children's daily routine and are generally flexible about transporting them to activities.
9. 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.
10. 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 while they're on the clock. 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.