There’s no shortage of enrichment and afterschool opportunities available to kids these days. Music, dance, karate, swimming, theater, art, and gymnastics are just some of the options that kids and parents can choose from. But with so many choices available, narrowing down which are the best programs to pursue can be a task. To help with that process, here are a few questions to ask when selecting an activity for your child.
How long has the program been around?
Before enrolling your child in an enrichment program, take a look at how long the organization offering the activity has been in business, suggests Taryn DeVeau, an instructor at DeVeau’s School of Gymnastics. DeVeau’s mother opened their business in 1982 and still coaches every day at the gym. Because they’ve been in operation so long “the things we do here are tried and true,” says Taryn. “We’ve tried a gamut of different things and we’ve found what works best for our program.”
What is the teacher to child supervision ratio?
“The state of Indiana [requires] a 1:20 adult to child supervision ratio for ages 6 and above,” explains Amy Panetta, Executive Director for Youth Development at the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis. She adds that at the YMCA they strive for a 1:15 ratio for ages 5 and above. Teacher to child ratio is important to ensure that your child is well-monitored and getting the kind of specialized attention he or she might require. Even smaller ratios may be necessary in some situations to maintain proper guidance. As DeVeau says, “If a [gymnastics] instructor had ten 2 ½ year-olds by themselves, it would be chaos.”
Are the instructors knowledgeable, well-trained and good with kids?
“Coaches should be upbeat and fun and kids should have a happy and positive experience,” says DeVeau. She says it is also important that when it comes to sports, an instructor should have experience not only as an athlete, but in teaching the sport as well. Panetta adds that it’s key to look for programs where instructors are provided with the chance to stay up to date in their field. “If we are asking our staff to provide STEM opportunities for participants, we provide our staff with training so they can do that in a knowledgeable fashion,” she says. Inquire about staff turnover rate, too. Finding a program with instructors that stay year after year is a good sign.
Are all staff properly screened and is the facility clean and safe?
Dropping your child off for their class or lesson means you are entrusting other people with the care of your son or daughter. “Make sure that staff are properly screened, background checks are performed, and find out what kind of certifications are required,” says Panetta. “Make sure the program has safety policies and procedures in place and that you as a parent are aware of them.” Also ask if staff are CPR and first-aid certified. In terms of athletic programs, DeVeau says, “When you go on a tour, look for safety and cleanliness of equipment. Is the equipment updated? Is it constantly evolving? Is it age appropriate?” Your safety check should also include noting if there are surveillance cameras, inquiring about the number and location of exits, making sure there are fire alarms and a fire escape protocol, and asking about safety procedures for tornadoes, etc.
How do children progress through the program?
Find out how kids typically advance through skills and how it is determined when they are ready to move on to new levels. This may mean that your child has a curriculum they must complete or a series of physical skills they must master. Understand this process before signing up to avoid unnecessary surprises later.
Are kids encouraged to share their opinion about the experience?
Great afterschool and enrichment programs want to hear how they are doing – both positive and negative comments. “The children should have a voice in what is happening in the program,” says Panetta. Organizations that strive to truly provide a good experience for their participants welcome honest feedback because they know this input can help make their program better.
Finding the right program for your child requires a little bit of legwork in the beginning, but seeing your efforts pay off is worth this investment. There’s nothing more rewarding than watching your child learn and grown in a new environment – because that’s what an enrichment program is all about