The Best Ways to Partner With Families in After-School Programs

Often, the time after school can be just as important as school itself. How can you best serve your after-school program participants to maximize their time?
min read

The time after school is hectic. Kids are coming and going, and parents are tired after long work days. Often it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time or energy to have any extra touchpoints with caregivers. However, this time is just as important in a child’s day as school itself, and caregivers deserve to know how their kid is doing in your program–and you, as the care provider, can best serve kids by knowing more about their lives. With that, consider how you can best partner with families.

Survey Families and Kids to Learn More About Them

Many of us conduct brief surveys at the start of the school year to learn more about the kids in our care. The best surveys go beyond health and safety questions and ask other things about the child’s life, including about their household, interests, concerns, and more.

However, kids change a ton throughout a school year—the answers on a beginning-of-the-year survey are almost certainly obsolete by holiday break. Consider doing an end-of-season survey two more times: once at the end of fall and once at the end of winter.

Ask questions like:

  • What are the child’s interests and hobbies?
  • What has the child’s school experience been like so far this year?  
  • Is there anything the child is working on in school (academically or socially) that we should be aware of in our after-school program?
  • Have there been any changes to the child’s living and family arrangements in the past three months, such as a change in housing, new additions to the family, deaths in the family, divorce, etc.?
  • Is there anything else we should know to best serve your child for the upcoming season?

Send Home After-School “Report Cards”

You may not necessarily call them report cards—we aren’t really scoring participants but rather sharing our experience with them. However, besides the little bit of chit-chat that can happen at pickup, parents and after-school care providers don’t often have time to really discuss a child’s time in the after-school program. Similarly, full “conferences” aren’t feasible for most providers and caregivers either.

A short, written report about the child’s experience (conducted when school sends home semester report cards), can be an important way for caregivers to understand how their child is doing in the after-school program. Children don’t need letter or number grades but rather reflections from after-school caregivers on the following types of questions can be very illustrative for parents wondering about their child:

  • How has the child grown over the past semester?
  • What are the child’s favorite parts of the after-school program?
  • What are a few things that staff members appreciate about the child?
  • What are the staff members’ goals for the child for the upcoming semester?

Not a fan of writing? Try recording your answers! One or two members from the after-school team can record their responses using a smartphone and simply text it to the parent, who can watch the video message (and even share it with the student!).

Work on Becoming a “Third Place” for Grownups, Too

As part of the after-school care team for a child, you are a part of the “village” raising that child. Although the core of the responsibility is to provide a safe place for the child to go after school, you can expand that role with minimal effort—while still making a big impact.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg defines “third places” as “public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact." Different from first places, the home, and second places, work, third places allow individuals to leave their worries at the door and enjoy being with those around them.

The after-school community is definitely a “third place” for kids, but can it be a third place for their grownups, too? We think so. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Have a standard response for big life events that happen within your after-school community. Having a library of greeting cards absolutely helps with this. For example, always send a card when you know of a birth in someone’s family; include a small gift (small rattles, for instance, can be bought for around $4).
  • Once a month, offer a refreshment table for caregivers and kids around pickup time; invite them to stay and talk with other families. Even better, offer dinner once a month; busy families will be relieved by not having to cook, and hopefully they’ll build some connections with others while they are eating.
  • Attend community events. Do you have a little extra budget where some of your hourly, after-school staff can attend and even volunteer at some important events at the local schools? Whether it be the school play, the town ice cream social, or the homecoming football game, having a presence in the community goes a long way.

After-school care providers are essential partners in parenting. You make it possible for caregivers to work and provide for families. Although it takes a little bit of extra work to strengthen the partnership, it is incredibly important to the families in your community to do so.

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