What to look for in an afterschool program

Learn to identify high-quality programs

Quality programs understand that children and youth in different age groups have different academic, psychological, and physical activity needs. Learn what to look for to make sure you pick the right program for your kids.

Ages 5-10 | Ages 10-14 | Ages 14-18

Elementary: Ages 5-10

Characteristics of Age Group (5-10):

  • High energy and need lots of activity
  • Practicing large muscle and fine motor skills
  • Developing physical flexibility
  • Growing attention span
  • Respond to simple rules and limits
  • Eager to learn
  • Creative
  • Beginning to reason
  • Feel their ideas count
  • Easily hurt and insulted
  • Identify with the family
  • Eager to please
  • Enjoy small groups
  • Emphasize fairness

Wide variety of activities and choices, but offered under a set routine. Examples of opportunities to look for:

  • Frequent individual interaction with adults
  • Games with simple rules
  • Quiet areas as well as noisy areas
  • Outside experiences
  • Imaginative play opportunities
  • Some clear responsibilities like clean-up
  • Projects that apply school day lessons about the family and community
  • Opportunities to read aloud, silently, and to talk about books and ideas
  • Matching, ordering and sorting activities
  • Opportunities to apply arithmetic problems in real-world ways
  • Opportunities to ask questions about science and technology and think about how they can find the answer
  • Exposure to professionals and experts from various fields, such as scientists and engineers
  • Small experiments with everyday products
  • Nature walks and talks
  • Opportunities to work with a variety of materials for projects
  • Physical activities that do not emphasize competition 
  • Music, dance and drama opportunities
  • Opportunities to try experiences from diverse cultures

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Preadolescents & Teens: Ages 10-14

Characteristics of Age Group (10-14):

  • High energy and need lots of activity
  • Like to achieve and be seen as competent
  • Seem inconsistent in ideas and moods
  • Use logic and reasoning
  • Think beyond the immediate experience
  • Can exchange ideas
  • Seek independence
  • Want voice in decisions
  • Feel awkward and embarrassed in some situations
  • Need praise and approval
  • Identify strongly with peers
  • Begin experimentation

Wide variety of options. Examples of opportunities to look for:

  • Connections to real-world experience
  • Opportunities to interact in large and small groups as well as individual recognition
  • Experiences that explore ethics and values with respected adults
  • Opportunities to serve others
  • Physical activity
  • Opportunities for decision-making and leadership
  • Opportunities to apply school day lessons through performances and projects
  • Experiences emphasizing reasoning and problem-solving in subjects such as art, science and mathematics
  • Opportunities to explore subjects in-depth
  • Opportunities to meet a diverse group of professionals and exposure to college and career paths
  • Project based learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, applying concepts learned during the school day
  • Quiet times for homework with adult help and peer help when needed
  • Games that provide opportunities to practice basic skills, such as chess, checkers, puzzles and word games
  • Wide range of reading activities with discussion of the ideas found in the books
  • Experiences built on a wide diversity of cultures and ethnic groups

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Teens: Ages 14-18

Characteristics of Age Group (14-18):

  • Concerned about body and appearance
  • Highly developed motor skills
  • Worry about clumsiness, illness and diet
  • Think abstractly
  • Learn by doing
  • Less influenced by parents, more influenced by peers
  • Need and demand more freedom and privacy
  • Mask true feelings
  • Need praise and adult recognition
  • Admire heroes that demonstrate characteristics of friendship and romance
  • Recognize diversity of ideas
  • Earning money/working may be important

 Substantial choice. Examples of opportunities for look for:

  • Opportunities to explore a variety of career paths and college firsthand, and to meet a diverse group of professionals 
  • Real world work experience, ideally with academic credit or tie
  • Opportunities to serve others, contribute to community or mentor or tutor younger students
  • Opportunities to earn or recover credit, or catch up or move ahead with academic interests
  • Opportunities to interact in large and small groups as well as individual recognition
  • Physical activity
  • Opportunities for decision-making and leadership
  • Experiences emphasizing reasoning and problem-solving in subjects such as art, science, mathematics
  • Opportunities to explore subjects in-depth  
  • Opportunities to participate in research experiences and internships with mentors in industry or universities
  • Presentations and projects that involve appearance
  • Opportunities to discuss and address physical risk, including smoking, drugs, drinking and sexual activity
  • Opportunities to show competence in a public setting
  • Opportunities to express feelings through projects and activities
  • One-on-one opportunities to talk with adults
  • Discussions of diverse ideas and opinions with adults and peers, and exploration of ethics and values
  • Specific help with skill areas that are causing problems
  • Opportunities to work on school day projects and papers with library and Internet support

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