Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Love Letter to After School Care

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An aftercare art project made of empty water bottles

At the start of the school year, I confessed all over The New York Times Motherlode Blog that I was thrilled for my son Max to be starting kindergarten. Gone were the days of kids in different schools on different schedules, with different policies and different vacation days. And, gone was to be my guilt over being a working mom, not staying home with my two children for their earliest years.

Nine school months later I can say that yes, I do feel a lot less guilty. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but I’m happy with the current arrangement. My kids had a fantastic school year, and I’ve done well at work. I leave the house at seven in the morning and my husband takes the kids to school, then I usually arrive at aftercare around 5 pm for pick up, the best part of my day.

I used to arrive at daycare pick up, anticipating scooping up my bundle of joy and being smothered both by hugs and stories from a super fun day, only to at times be met with an unhappy child. Not because they hated being at daycare, but because they did. not. want. to. leave. I was ending the day and ruining all the fun. But by elementary school, kids seem to understand that the friends and games will still be there waiting tomorrow, and that it’s okay to go home. Now my children talk over each other in excitement to tell me all about their days.

But those days don’t end when school does, at 3 pm. Now, the most critically important piece to this juggle of mine is after school care. Both of my kids attend the same program, housed within their elementary school. In operation for nearly 40 years, their after school care program has grown every year as more and more families have working parents and kids need safe and enriching environments after school hours. And so here’s my next confession: I absolutely adore our aftercare program.

I know that the kids showing up at 3 pm each day aren’t at their best. They’re tired from learning all day, anxious to move around, and hungry for that after-school snack. Their aftercare teachers could easily stick the kids in a room with some board games, or have them run wild in the gym, but they don’t. They endlessly create new and exciting ways to engage them, whether through cooking, theater, sports, art projects or stories. Teachers plan theme months and field trips, and collaborate with outside programs to offer karate or pottery classes. They supervise and help with homework, and instill a deep sense of community among the kids across classrooms and grade levels.

Our aftercare program gets what it means to be a working parent, too. They don’t inundate me with emails and requests, but keep me informed through well-written monthly newsletters where I can get information on both my kindergartner and my fourth grader in one place. They tell me about the homework areas that might need extra help, and proudly share stories from the basketball court. The teachers form another layer of support for these kids, so that at the end of the year, it’s just as hard to say goodbye to them as it is the teachers in their regular classrooms.

We do a lot to say thank you to our teachers at this time of year, but my life wouldn’t work without aftercare. I’m so grateful for our program and the staff, their determination and innovation, and the love they clearly have for our kids.

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