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. But the hours between 3 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. There is no ‘one size fits all’ child care program. Children are unique and so are the programs and options. It’s up to the parents to find the best match for their child. Here are nine suggestions to help your family fill the after-school hours with affordable care solutions:
1. 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 activities at the school site. A big plus: In either of these situations, your child will be in a familiar environment.
2. 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 in the mornings while the other gets to work early. Then, by the time the kids are out, the early working parent is home after putting in a full day at the office.
3. Work from Home
Working from home is often an ideal solution for parents whose companies offer this opportunity. Caring for children while working from home doesn’t work as well with younger children as with teens. Some companies even have policies that those who work from home may not care for children.
4. Hire an After-school Nanny
Search 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.
5. 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 trained to focus on child development as a nanny, but can be a better fit for your family.
6. Find Family Child Care
A family child care center can be a great after-school answer. 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.
7. 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 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.
8. 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 course, learning at a museum-based program, etc. You may find these programs locally at children’s museums, zoos, recreation or tutoring centers.
9. Arrange a Child Care Co-op
Child care cooperatives can be formed by a group of friends who are all parents, by neighbors in a community or by businesses helping 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. Establish ground rules to avoid misunderstandings if you are creating a new co-op.
While filling the after-school time gap may seem daunting, there are many options for 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. Another child may thrive in a program that is sports-based, and another child may thrive best when cared for by a relative.
By 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.
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