Choosing a School Age Program

Guides to Choosing the Right Quality Programs

The latest science tells us that the early years of life matter because early experiences affect a child’s brain development. Like the construction of a house, brains are built from the bottom up, with early experiences setting the foundation for the rest of development. High-quality early care, education and after school programs help children grow socially, emotionally, and physically and enter school ready to learn.

Child Care Center and/or Preschool

A program that provides early care and education for children in non-home settings. Children are often grouped by age into classrooms with one or two teachers. Child care centers have program directors, lead teachers, assistant teachers, and additional staff.

Family Child Care Home

Early care and education offered in a provider’s home. Children of mixed ages are often grouped together and some programs offer flexible hours. Family child care homes include the child care provider provider/owner and sometimes one or more assistants.

School-Age Program

Provides care and youth development to school-age children before and after school, during school vacations and summer breaks. The program may be located in schools, child care centers, family child care homes, or other settings.

After School Programs

How to Choose a Quality Program

  • Characteristics: Think about the type of after school program that would best serve your child and family’s needs, such as hours, activities offered, etc.
  • Search for programs that meet your needs: Contact a BrightStars referral specialist at 1-855-398-7605 or search online.
  • Narrow your search: Once you have a list of after school programs narrow your search by contacting the programs and asking questions to make sure they meet your needs.
  • Visit the programs: After you have narrowed your list, schedule appointments to visit the programs and bring your child with you. Seeing a site in person and asking questions can be crucial to help you make the correct decision.
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What Does Quality Look Like?

After School Quality Programs

A high-quality after school program provides a healthy environment and a range of enriching activities. The following are characteristics of high-quality after school programs that support positive developmental outcomes.

A Healthy & Safe Environment

Before leaving your child in any after school program, ensure that the program is safe and healthy. This includes considerations such as meals, sanitary bathrooms, safe equipment and indoor and outdoor spaces.

A Stimulating Environment & Opportunities to Practice Emerging Skills

It is important for your child to have many opportunities to practice and hone skills. Hands-on experiential learning activities are effective ways to deepen children’s learning and connect to the real-world experiences.

Welcomes & Includes Families

As a parent you should feel welcomed any time you visit your child’s after school program. There should be opportunities for you to be involved with the program’s activities.

Welcomes Child Input

High-quality programs allow for children’s voices to be heard when building various aspects of the program and also provide children with many choices in their after school experience.

Trained & Qualified Staff

The program should have trained and qualified staff to work with school-age children. This is critical to ensure that the staff can recognize and provide for the wide array of children’s developmental and educational needs.

After School Programs

Summer Slide

Summer learning programs are important to a child’s year-round learning experience. The reason is simple: Most children, regardless of socioeconomic status, lose up to two months of grade-level equivalency in math if they spend their summers not engaged in any form of learning. Low income children also experience a loss in reading achievement.

The Summer Slide
Summer learning programs are designed to help offset the “summer slide” that occurs when children are not engaged in active learning opportunities.

Access Your Community
High-quality summer learning programs often take advantage of the treasures of their community (e.g., parks libraries, rivers, and streams) well, allowing for further exciting opportunities.

What You Can Do
Even if you aren’t able to access a summer learning program for your child, you can still play a big part in your child’s learning over the summertime. Fun trips to the beach, the museum, the local market, or the library can not only help build language and simple math skills, but also support important skills like communication and creative thinking. The Rhode Island After school Plus Alliance (RIASPA) maintains a summer learning map that contains over 150 summer learning programs occurring across the state.

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After School Program Checklist

How do you determine which program is best for you and your family? Bringing this checklist along when visiting programs may help you. We also encourage families to ask child care programs whether they have earned or are working toward national accreditation or BrightStars Quality Rating.

A Healthy & Safe Environment

  • Are the indoor and outdoor spaces for children safe and free of hazards?
  • Are there procedures for handling emergencies?
  • Do adults and children wash their hands before eating or handling food and after using the bathroom?

A Stimulating Environment & Opportunities to Practice Emerging Skills

  • Are children and youth exposed to math and reasoning, language and reading, and science or nature activities?
  • Do children and youth have the opportunity to learn new skills and work on long-range projects?
  • Do children and youth have frequent opportunities to be active both indoors and outdoors?

Trained & Qualified Staff

  • Do staff have any formal education and professional preparation to work with school-age children?
  • Does the program director have any formal education & professional preparation to manage the program and to work with school-age children?

Low Child to Adult Ratios & Small Group Sizes

  • Does the program meet Rhode Island licensing standards for supervision of the children and to support the learning and development of each child?
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    Welcomes & Includes Families

    • Does the program welcome families any time the children are in care?
    • Does the program provide parent-staff conferences?
    • Does the program make families aware of program policies and practices?