“I want to go to aftercare!” This comes up in our house periodically. The aftercare program at my kids’ school is good, I hear parents say. Many parents from our immediate neighborhood choose to send their kids there, so many of the kids are friends my kids have known since they were very young. The program includes outside playground time every day, snack, a choice of games, crafts, activities. The kids do their homework together, order pizza, have movie afternoons. There’s a talent show at some point in the year. But the biggest draw for my kids, looking in from the outside, is the thrilling idea of being part of a group of friends that gets to spend every afternoon together – this is what we can’t do at home, there just aren’t enough kids around.
My husband and I put a lot of effort, energy, thought into arranging our lives so that one of us can be home when they get home from school, and I do think that my kids appreciate this. They usually have time to kick back after their day, read or do an art project or play a game, go to the library, do their homework, roam outside, sister bond (which I’m hoping is what all that fighting is about). It’s not all unstructured time though, their afternoons are also filled with plenty of activities. This spring my older daughter has something going on every day after school: girl scouts, piano lessons, violin lessons, ceramics, practice for the school play, synchronized swim team practice twice a week, book club and choir. But while she hangs out some with friends on weekends, her non-aftercare friends are generally as booked up as she is, so it’s challenging to get together much outside of scheduled activities on weekdays (unless it’s carpooling to said activity). Very occasionally we arrange to bring a friend from aftercare home with us for the afternoon.
Of course my kids see their friends in the school day – whether or not they attend school aftercare, the kids at school mix regularly and easily at recess and free times. However, my daughters still get the taste of a club they aren’t included in: games and discussions started in aftercare spill over into recess. The aftercare group is often a good way to narrow down the size of a birthday party. Parents of kids in the aftercare program (naturally) arrange for them to go to the same camps together over the summers.
Much of my children’s wishes to be in aftercare is “grass is greener”. My kids do like what they do; they’re happy, have friends, and as I mentioned above are involved in good extra-curricular activities (many of which are, in fact, at our school). While busy, our schedule is relaxed enough that my husband and I spend a good amount of time with them, and we’re connected with their activities and their homework. And although they do comment wistfully about aftercare, given the choice between staying at school until 5:30/6 and their current situation, both my kids ultimately say they would choose what they have (fortunately, since that’s how it is!) Ironically, though, I thought perhaps being home with my kids in afternoons might facilitate more unstructured playtime rather than the explosion of activities it has evolved into. Indeed, if there were more kids around I would reduce their activities and leave more time fallow for unscheduled goofing around.
As my kids get older I wonder how this will play out. In middle school there is no school aftercare program, but lots of school-sanctioned afterschool activities. Will there be time/opportunity for kids to hang around together in casual settings as well? We’ll soon see. What do your kids do?