By Kim McClure of the YMCA of Northwest NC
Why is before and after school important for kids?
From tutoring and the enrichment activities to stimulate the mind to physical activity to improve health, after school programs are an extension of the school day that give kids a sense of the world around them and the role they can play in that world. For some parents, before and after school is a necessity. We work to make sure Y programs are a safe place to go after school that is convenient and affordable. Experts say the hours between 3-6 p.m. on school days are known as the “danger zone” when kids left to care for themselves can get into trouble and get involved in risky behavior.
How is the afternoon structured?
We know that when children have been in a structured environment all day during school, they need opportunities to be active and continue learning in a fun way. We start the afternoon off with healthy snack time, and then have a kick-off group game or song. From there, children begin homework or reading time, then activity time with arts and crafts, team building, math or science, or a character development activity. We then have another group game until parent pick-up. We work with local schools to enhance what kids are learning during the school day. Our activities are structured to bring learning to life, like with fun science experiments or games that reinforce math concepts.
How does after school care help families?
The peace of mind for parents is huge. Knowing that your children have a safe place to go after school that provides high quality childcare, learning enrichment, and caring staff is really important. Like all Y programs, we offer financial assistance for families who are struggling to make ends meet. We also hear from parents that the homework support is a key part of the after school experience. At most locations, certified teachers are on site to help with tutoring and homework help. When homework is complete, that allows families to focus on quality time in the evening and preparing a healthy dinner to enjoy as a family.
What’s new this year?
This year, we are very focused on implementing the National AfterSchool Association Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (known as HEPA Standards). For before and after school participants, that means focusing on healthy choices like drinking water, enjoying healthy snacks, and building physical activity into every day. With childhood obesity rates on the rise at alarming rates, it is more important than ever that we help children build healthy habits that last a lifetime.
Do you have programs for younger children?
At the Y, we believe the values and skills learned early on are vital building blocks for quality of life and future success. This fall, the Jerry Long Family YMCA and Davie Family YMCA will begin new enrichment programs for preschool age children. Preschool is a critical time that exposes children to numbers, letters, and shapes, but more importantly socializes them to be better prepared for kindergarten, as well as better individuals as they grow and develop. Sports at the Y are another great way to channel your toddler’s energy into a healthy interest while learning the importance of focus and self motivation.
Kim McClure is the Executive Director of the Childcare Services for the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina. The Y is the largest collective provider of childcare in the United States and serves more than 5,000 children in the greater Winston-Salem area. Kim is a wife and a mom of two girls, ages 22 and 12. Her favorite part of working with children is watching them grow and develop.