Kids at school

The benefits of after-school programs

By Delaney Rombough

Posted on January 13, 2021

Kids with books

Kids need a place to go play and hang out with their friends after school hours. High-quality after-school programs provide a wide range of benefits for youth, families, and communities. After-school programs support social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development in a safe and supportive environment for kids. They are a place where youth can improve their social skills by participating in group activities with their peers. Many after-school programs also provide homework help and extra academic support, which may be helpful for kids who struggle to do their homework at home or need extra help in certain subjects.

After-school programs keep youth busy and out of trouble in the after-school hours while parents and guardians are still at work. According to Statistics Canada, youth are most likely to commit crimes between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. because they are often left unsupervised. Supervised after-school programs help keep kids involved with productive activities rather than risky behaviours. These programs also provide a space of safety and nurturing for children that they may not have at home. Experiencing neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence, and parental loss as a child can lead to unhealthy choices later on. Children, especially those who have experienced adversity and trauma at home, can turn to after-school programs to provide opportunities to foster social relationships with their peers and develop social and emotional skills, confidence, and self-esteem.

After-school programs also help children develop social skills. These programs are built on the principles of respect, inclusivity, and engagement. Many children experience loneliness, fear, and anxiety when they are left alone. Some kids even feel this way at school. After-school programs help youth develop strong relationships with their peers and adults. This fosters a sense of security and belonging, knowing that they are cared for. These programs are safe spaces where kids can freely be themselves and meet like-minded peers. Kids develop their social skills by participating in group activities wherein everyone is welcomed and accepted. They gain the confidence to join a game or start a conversation with someone. They are also mentored by caring adults.

According to a study by Carrie Rishel, Esther Sales, and Gary Koeske for the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, young people show a smaller number of behavioral issues when they form supportive relationships with adults, other than their parents. Staff are around to help youth and encourage them to participate and have fun, while also setting clear rules, boundaries, and expectations. Youth will learn to be kind, respectful, and open-minded because that is what is expected of them.

These programs also promote a healthy, active lifestyle. They often involve physical activity such as playing team sports, and there are also usually healthy snacks provided. Because regular exercise and healthy eating is incorporated into the child’s everyday routine at the after-school program, they are more likely to continue practicing these healthy behaviours in adulthood.
Kids dancing
Many after-school programs offer homework help as one part of the program. However, if children are struggling academically, there are also several private organizations that focus specifically on tutoring, homework help, and academic success. These environments are often quieter and more focused than community centre programs. Tutoring centres provide an individual and unique learning experience. The centres often offer one-on-one sessions, where the teacher and student can work on specific problem areas and subjects. These programs also improve kids’ attitudes towards school and learning. Once kids have a better understanding of the material, they will feel less frustrated and overwhelmed by their school work. This will also improve their confidence and self-esteem. Some of the most popular tutoring and homework help centres are Oxford Learning, Tutoring Academy, and Kumon.

The Ontario government funds after-school programs across the province. Most after-school programs are offered at local community centres or by organizations, such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. There is also often a small fee for participation, and some activities, such as tutoring, can cost more than others. The goal of these programs is to promote physical activity, healthy eating, and health and wellness. Different program centres offer different activities, including but not limited to homework help sessions, sports, cooking, arts and crafts, music, and cultural activities. Often times, kids can choose what they want to do, which promotes individual autonomy. These programs allow young people to try out new activities and roles, which help them develop their self-concept, as well as develop new skills in a fun, safe, supervised environment.

The skills developed in after-school programs such as academic, social, and leadership skills, set up kids for success. Because kids learn these healthy, productive, pro-social behaviours at a young age, these skills are often used throughout their lives.

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