After school clubs are often overlooked and misunderstood. Many schools and families view them as a convenient necessity or as that extra bit tacked on to the end of a school day.
However, they can much more than that. The staff at most after school clubs plan and prepare all year round to make that couple of hours and the end of the school day the highlight of your child’s week. Interactions in these environments can form and cement friendships and even provide experience that are crucial to children’s development.
Let me show you what is so great about a good after school club and uncover five things that you probably didn’t know.
They are affordable and offer great value childcare
While you may know how much after school clubs cost you may not know whether they are good value. The best ones have strong leadership systems that allow for strategy and long-term planning to improve their offer throughout the year.
Part of this is making sure that staff are properly trained. You may not realise it but working in a childcare setting is not only a highly skilled job it often comes with extensive training and relevant qualifications.
When the club leaders select the training, they create a strong ethos within the setting. Training is chosen if it reflects the values of the club itself and can be used to further the understanding of each staff member.
This continues through policies, procedure, recruitment and even how the physical environment is presented.
They often have dedicated facilities
Having a dedicated space for an after-school club can be the difference between, “Please break it up and put the parts away in the boxes” and “Leave your den there, you can come back to it tomorrow”. This is huge for children, the ability to develop things over time and feel an ownership of a space is worth far more than any sophisticated play equipment ever will be.
Dedicated space also allows the environment to be modified to ignite play. There can be permanent structures, buildings or even boats and caravans.
As well as more permanent features, staff can also modify the play space daily. The power of stepping back and observing play is often in how you can use the knowledge gained, to inspire, facilitate and further the play.
So, when you look at an after school club don’t look for a perfectly built wooden climbing frame, look for sticks, boxes, trees, mud, dens, planks stacked in odd shapes and other inspiring mess.
They liaise with teachers and schools to enhance their personalised provision
The environment in an after school club is often very different to that of a school, children are free to manage their own time in a way that isn’t possible in a structured situation. Because of this, staff view children in situations that are often very different to those seen by teachers.
Staff in the best clubs form close relationships with the teachers who teach the children during the day. They listen to teacher’s knowledge and observations about children so that they can be ready to support those who’ve had a tricky day or need a little extra support.
In return, after school staff can add a wealth of information to teacher’s assessment by detailing their behaviour in a different situation. The closer the links between schools and afterschool clubs are, the more effective each can be.
Staff members often have a wealth of training in play
Not only does training build up the ethos of a club, it also guides how staff set up activities and interact with the children. It may surprise you to hear that you can often spot the most experienced staff by how near they are to the children.
With training comes the ability to stand back, observe and allow the children the opportunity to lead their own play. It takes confidence and skill to know when to support a child, but it takes perseverance and hard work to know when not to.
Staff training not only covers interaction and observation but also how to create opportunities that children find inspiring without being led. It helps staff to see the difference between setting out a beautiful scene in a dolls house and leaving a huge pile of brown boxes, some parcel tape and lots of pens and paint.
They have a defined child development ethos
Great value childcare, dedicated facilities, play training and a close bond with schools all add up to create the ethos of a club. All these relationships, interactions, policies and practices feed into how leaders direct it.
After school clubs are not just about winding down and killing some time before mum or dad gets there, they are about winding down in a way that inspires and develops.
Most of the choices you will observe at a club will be linked to the club’s ethos and how leaders believe it can best provide opportunities for child development. It is often when children are tired, a little bit grumpy and just wanting to take their mind of something that they make break throughs and further their own development.
Go and check out your local after school club today and see what you can spot going on under the surface. Look out for the trained staff maintaining their distance but always around when needed. See if you notice how the environment has been modified to inspire play. Is the ethos clear from the space around you and how staff interact with children and each other?
You may be surprised at the wonderful things that can happen at an after school club. Why not give your child the opportunity to find out for themselves?