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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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After-School Care is a Major Issue for Most Parents

LAS CRUCES -- As school begins, one of the biggest concerns of parents is having a safe place for their children after school. Programs exist for elementary kids, but finding options for older children requires a little extra homework.


Parents of younger children, kindergarten through fifth grade, should look for an after-school program, said Merrilyn Cummings, home economics professor at New Mexico State University. However, before selecting a program, it is important to visit the facility.

"Look for a program with a good blend of activities, some type of schedule and a safe environment," she said.

The program should not be so much like school that children resist going, Cummings said. Children should be grouped by age and engage in appropriate activities. Also, kids need a quiet time as well as an active time and a snack after school.

"As we look at the mid-schooler, the issues become very different," Cummings said. "Now, you're dealing with an individual who wants a great deal of freedom and is probably going to resist going to a program they see as something for young kids."

These 11- to 13-year-olds usually want to go home after school, she said. Children at home alone should have well-defined rules to ensure safety. They should check-in with a parent or neighbor; learn safety tips for answering the telephone and the door; know what foods they are allowed to prepare; know what to do in an emergency; and have guidelines for doing homework, watching TV and visiting with friends.

"As students move into the high school arena, they want less restriction," Cummings said. "The pivotal point parents need to stress is that independence comes with responsibility."

Teenagers may not be required to call parents at work, but they can leave notes or telephone messages as to there whereabouts, she said. This may be more effective if parents also leave messages for their children.

"This is a way of cutting those apron strings, but still knowing where everyone is in case of an emergency," she said.

To help parents find the right after-school care or activity for children, Cummings offered these options for different age groups:
Elementary

* Schools offer programs and various activities after school, which sometimes involve collaborative efforts with other groups interested in the welfare of children.
* Home providers keep children in the home during the day and older children after school.
* After-school home providers only keep older kids in their homes after school.
* Community service organizations -- churches, civic groups and agencies like the YMCA -- offer after-school programs.

Middle school

* Baby-sitting jobs allow older kids to help care givers with younger children or siblings.
* After-school activities in clubs, organizations and sports usually meet or practice once or twice a week.
* Community activities affiliated with churches, civic groups and other clubs offer many after-school opportunities.
* Private lessons in piano, dance, swimming, karate and other areas allow children to do something they like to do after school.

High school

* Employment provides an opportunity for teenagers to earn money.
* School and community activities can easily be found for children who want to get involved in sports, clubs, the band or other organizations.
* Care giver is another job opportunity that allows high school students to help care for children in after-school programs or take care of a few kids in the community.
* Household chores allow teens to be responsible for a chore such as preparing the meal for the family once a week.